Brett Colman often goes to work with sand between his toes. As owner of Hikaui-based Sticks IT Solutions on the Coromandel, Colman likes to work a surf into his day.
With a home-office set on a 1.5-acre property amidst chickens and pigs, this is how Colman likes his life. It's a marked contrast for the former IT manager of the now-defunct Freedom Air.
When Freedom Air was grounded 2008, Colman, his wife and three children moved to the Coromandel for a "better sense of community", rejecting corporate life and setting out on his own with the belief that a good internet connection should allow you to work anywhere.
Moving to 'the sticks' gave him the name for his venture. The shop aims to provide one-stop IT services for customers, from PC sales and support, to database development. His business covers many small communities in the peninsula around Tairua, Waihi and Whangamata.
Colman has worked in IT since the late 1990s when he was based in Wellington and tested software for a friend and undertook his apprenticeship.
He worked five years as a programmer and then two years as IT manager for the airline.
"Freedom was a great organisation to work for, very open to new technology and try ideas out,"
Colman says. "We had a small, dynamic IT team doing almost all development in-house. We might discuss an idea at lunch and then by the next week almost finish a proof of concept or be in production. Nimble, agile development, helped when the developer is also the support person, so nothing is lost in handover."
Colman says he enjoys working alone, but can call on contractors as needed. He prides himself on personal service to customers in his small market, with on site visits made easier by Colman's central-Coromandel location.
Sticks IT customers include community organisations and tourist-sector organisations that rely on the web to promote their business.
"Sticks offers custom websites, based on our own content management system. I don't like any off-the-shelf CMS products and with a database background, I have been refining my own.The basic premise is that most customers don't want to update all their site, just the images and text, so that's what I offer.You can't change the menu or page layout, sort of like a DVD player with only play, forward and back, stop, eject. We also support some complex systems for clothing production and sales incentive reward schemes, plus a number of e-learning websites," he says.
Sticks IT's main challenge is limited courier delivery, and up until a recent electrical system upgrade, power supply. Internet access is reliable, Colman says, but dear food and petrol requires vigilant budgeting of time and resources.
"We sell most brands but tend to sell Toshiba laptops, which seem to be a good price and reliable. We do a far bit of driving on some demanding roads, so vehicle wear and tear is something to watch for," he says.
Other brands he deals with include LG, HP, TP Link, Linksys and Logitech. His main distributor is PB Technologies.
Colman says business in 2011 improved over 2010 when customers were squeezing months of lifecycle out of their current PCs. Sales have recently returned to a "new normal" as customers know they can shop around to get more for their dollar.
"2011 was the year of the tablet and many people appear to have purchased tablets without any idea of why they wanted one or what they were going to use ir for, or how to use it. For the end-user, the endless variety of devices is confusing and baffling as to which is right for them," he says.
Last year was also the year of 'social media hype.
"Having removed myself from Facebook a few years ago, I'm somewhat sceptical of the hype. Does the emperor have any clothes? I know of a number of people who have removed themselves and quite a few who have never used their Facebook logins," he says.
This year, Colman will homeschool his children, with the family enjoying the peace and space of rural life, and the neighbouring beaches and river water holes.
"Surf at lunch time is a big pull as well," he adds.