Lifestyle outweighs business challenges in Winton

Lifestyle outweighs business challenges in Winton

English couple Stewart and Emma Bryan have been running Central Southland Computer Services (CSCS) in the small township of Winton, just north of Invercargill, for seven years.

The couple arrived in New Zealand with two children nearly 10 years ago, after they decided to leave the crowds and congestion of the ‘M4 corridor’ that is England’s version of Silicon Valley.

Stewart graduated with a BSc in Computer Information Systems from Glasgow Caledonian University in 1990 and worked in a variety of programming, technical support and senior management roles, including seven years with Sybase – where he was in charge of 30 technical support engineers before switching roles to be responsible for European and Middle Eastern distributors.

The couple had fallen for the New Zealand lifestyle on a holiday here, and settled on Winton as Stewart had a brother living nearby.

Thus, he took a voluntary redundancy in the UK and soon found work here with Computerland, which later became Gen-i.

Stewart soon saw an opportunity to start his own business. Initially a home-based, part-time venture, it blossomed thanks to hard work and a booming dairy sector that presented opportunities for the couple.

The company brands itself as “computers without the bull.”

“We keep things as simple as possible and explain things as simply as possible,” Stewart says.

After 15 months Stewart was able to leave Gen-i to work fulltime on CSCS. In 2006 the company moved into its Great North Road premises in Winton.

Emma does administration and technical work, as well as looking after the family, which includes their son Archie.

Stewart says they are passionate about service. Many larger Invercargill-based companies tend to forget “the little people,” he believes. Such service includes visiting customers and always returning phone calls.

CSCS claims to serve half the businesses in the Winton area, most of the area’s homes and many farmers, noting other IT companies tend not to realise they are valuable small businesses in themselves. “So our customer mix is probably 40 percent farming, 40 percent home users and 20 percent local businesses, give or take,” Stewart says.

Services include remote access and on-site repair work. The company does not stock PCs, preferring to discuss customers’ needs and supply to order.

CSCS supplies HP computers, and Canon, HP and Fuji Xerox imaging and printing products. Toshiba, Acer and Sony prodcuts are available on request.

Ingram Micro used to be the main distributor, but CSCS now focuses on Dove, Computer Dynamics, Synnex and Duo. Supplies usually take a day or two to arrive, but overnight delivery from Wellington is possible.

Stewart finds Winton a challenge. Work must always be good, since “bad press travels fast in a small town,” he says. Although the company uses Facebook for marketing, word of mouth is key. Stewart and Emma often will be asked about work while in the supermarket or watching the kids play touch rugby.

Winton’s relative isolation also makes it difficult to keep up with technology and taking trips for HP or Microsoft training is impractical.

Stewart says 2010 was good for the company, as a broad customer base meant no downturn and notebooks and netbooks were “hot”. Further growth is expected in 2011, with more expansion into the small business server market, along with selling Vodafone Vodems and Bluetooth handsets via Cellnet.

The couple live on a lifestyle block in Winton and have a crib at Riverton.

“It is safe for kids and they can grow up feeling secure and in a great environment. Winton is a great little community. The kids have sheep in the paddock and can roam safely — what more could we ask for?” he says.

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