Featherston-based services company Chalfont prides itself on remote support. Some of its support is so remote, in fact, that it’s provided for a farm in Suffolk, England.
Owner-operator Dave Lewthwhaite found the British customer during an online search a solution to a problem with a web page.
“Obviously, I won’t pop out there to change a CD drive. If there’s a physical problem I can arrange for that to be done by a local shop,” he says.
Born in Cumbria and hailing from the English Lake District, he and wife Cheri emigrated to New Zealand five years ago.
He spent 20 years in IT in the UK, and began his career in New Zealand by contracting in Wellington. However, he was attracted to low house prices in Featherston and the quality of lifestyle provided by proximity to Wellington.
He established Chalfont three years ago and it began trading last year as a home-run business, with Cheri handling the business’ administration. The name was an easy one to remember, says Lewthwaite and there are villages of that name in the region where Cheri previously lived in the UK.
Remote support is a far more efficient way to serve clients, some of whom are based many hours from Featherston, Lewthaite says. He has experience in the business model, having specialised in long-distance service while running a small IT services business in Luton, England.
The benefits of a remote support system were clear to Lewthwaite when he set one up for a company in Otago.
“They had a huge distance to cover and you could spend half a day going to a site. That has a knock-on effect on how much you charge for a job. If I have to drive out, you might have to charge $200 for the drive and just $30 for the job. But if I can charge just $30 for the job, that’s far more competitive,” he explains.
The firm specialises in serving home and small business users in the Wairarapa region, including farmers and vineyard owners. He also provides support for customers who live locally but work in Wellington.
“There’s a large commuter contingent. They don’t have the option of taking their PC to a shop in Wellington. I am open 12 hours a day, six days a week,” he says.
Working from home also means you can “put in stupidly long hours and not even notice it,” Lewthaite says. He believes spending this amount of time in an office environment in Wellington would be “grinding”, and says if there is not work to do he can always put his feet up and watch television.
Chalfont also provides hardware in the form of laptops, desktops and Windows or Linux-based servers, networking gear and peripherals.
Featherston is a friendly town and good service translates to business through word of mouth, says Lewthwaite. Because of this, he doesn’t spend money on advertising.
He says customers tend to delay upgrading their computers, but believes repairs will end up costing them more if they delay too long.
Business wasn’t too bad for the company last year, and Lewthwaite is optimistic about the prospects for 2010. “There’s a lot of encouraging noises around,” he says.
He aims to pick up more work among small businesses this year by offering Microsoft Small Business Server, and will continue to provide support for local schools.
He also wants to move into e-recruitment systems, another part of his earlier work in the IT industry in Britain.