IT@Work owner Brent Oldham has an extensive history in the industry. He can, for instance, remember using a $20,000 Dos-based computer while working for the government in the 1980s.
“As the new guy in the accounting section, it was my job to read the manuals and make it work for us,” he recalls of those early days.
A fourth-generation West Coaster, Oldham joined Westport-based Dellaca Group (now Postie Plus Group) as computer systems manager, after five years in the government role.
“I worked for around 10 years as the computer systems manager [for the Dellaca Group] and learnt a heck of a lot from Bob Dellaca, one of New Zealand’s most respected IT gurus,” he says.
In 1996, after turning down offers to relocate from Westport, Oldham struck out on his own to service the expansive region.
However, he says six years of long drives up and down the West Coast made him so busy he was close to losing his sanity, so he decided to open IT@Work at Westport.
The company now has seven full-time staff, which consists of four technicians in the workshop facility that joins onto the back of the premises, along with two administration staff and a retail manager in the store.
In addition, a former technician from the Greymouth store, which closed in February 2009, now subcontracts to manage some of the company’s bigger accounts based in Greymouth.
Last year was challenging for Oldham, as it was for the whole IT sector, and he says he was forced to close the Greymouth store when the landlord suddenly demanded a 30 percent rent increase.
He has now returned to making long drives to serve the Greymouth district, as the company provides technical engineering for Gen-i, has certified HP technicians and is a service agent for Brother.
“It’s not uncommon for me to drive on an eight-hour, 600km roundtrip to work 30 minutes on a PC,” Oldham says.
IT@Work’s customer base stretches from Karamea in the northwest to Reefton in the east and as far south as Haast. Clients comprise educational institutions, small and medium-size companies, enterprises and home users.
“Being an HP Enterprise Business Partner has helped us compete locally and nationally, while working with and for Gen-i on some fairly high-tech gear has also kept us sharp.”
The company is an Apple Authorised Reseller as well. Oldham says the high design standards of the vendor’s product fit with his firm’s philosophy of supplying only products its own staff would use.
He says the company must be flexible and quick to respond to any competitive threats.
“While competition is important in any industry, we’ve consistently seen off any significant intrusion into our sectors,” Oldham claims.
The Westport location has proved no hindrance in getting supplies, even though it is several hours from Christchurch. The firm orders stock online through the company’s website itexpress.co.nz.
Publicising the West Coast connection has also proved a boon, as customers confess a fondness for the West Coast, Oldham says.
“I think they see us as being the last piece of the ‘real’ New Zealand left, where the people are renowned for their humour, honesty, friendliness and hard work.”
However, coastal life can sometimes present a problem.
“Basically, all my staff are given the same speech. ‘Keep your noses clean in this town, the person you punch at the pub tonight might be the person who supplies and services a large client’s system or be related to me’.”
Now the worst of the recession has passed, Oldham says business is looking up thanks to the diverse West Coast economy.
“The recession was a word we heard, but thankfully, it didn’t have to endure. Growth is fairly consistent here,” Oldham says.