Ashburton’s Robin Gourdie spent 10 years as a truck driver and has also worked in the local freezing works at Fairton. Yet, when his sister’s 386 computer broke down he began fiddling around with it, awakening a previously untapped interest in technology.
Gourdie taught himself DOS, studied for a computing certificate and began doing home IT repairs, while still working as a truckie.
He bought the Ashburton business he now runs — Canterbury Computer Centre — 18 months ago when he saw it for sale on Trade Me.
The company has been operating for 12 years, covering Timaru, Geraldine, Methven, Rakaia and even Mesopotamia – a station at the headwaters of the Rangitikei river, which sends computers down for repair.
Gourdie has many farming clients, including some he has known since his trucking days. Working so closely with customers in the rural sector meant he had to learn how to configure the Livestock Improvement Corporation’s MINDA desktop software. It is used to record animal information that is sent to the corporation’s national database.
His other customers are either home users or small businesses who want to buy equipment or have it repaired.
Gourdie isn’t afraid to chase people who are slow to pay and has enlisted Baycorp to deal with bad debtors.
He says he is planning on asking for advance credit references before he will do work for people.
Once, he says, he secured a payment after encountering a customer at a local club. “Be involved in as many organisations as you can. I am. If you bump into them and they haven’t paid, they will feel guilty.
“You get a few no hopers. The ‘Joe Bloggs’ that get their computers repaired and don’t pay straight away. One in particular, it’s only a small amount, but the debt is a year old. One even pays it off at $5 a month.”
Word of mouth tends to bring in the clients, as he rarely advertises; with some having bought at big box retailers and need support in getting the PC to work.
Gourdie does a lot of remote support work, including sorting out problems over the phone.
His main IT brands are Toshiba, HP, Acer, IBM, Sony and Lenovo. Dove and Ingram Micro in Christchurch are the firm’s major suppliers, along with JDI and Checksun in Auckland.
At present his big sellers are laptops, because people who have previously bought laptops are coming in to upgrade their machines, he says.
“It’s not a huge margin, but it’s all repeat business. The customers keep coming back,” he says.
Business has picked up in recent months, especially after a mid-year quiet spell.
However, he doesn’t want to stop this momentum by risking a repeat of last year, when the business was hit by thefts of digital cameras.
“My wife purchased some digital cameras. We had more pinched than sold. We had them on display and a side window was taken out. They reached and grabbed what they could without setting off the alarm. The store’s pretty secure now. We have shock sensors everywhere,” he says.
As Christmas approaches Gourdie says he won’t stock the cameras, but will order them as customers require.
Gourdie’s wife helps the company out by working one day a week. As well, a secondary school student comes in every two weeks to clean data off old PCs, which customers are happy to see donated to an organisation that refits them and passes them to families with no computer.
Gourdie doesn’t plan to make any major changes to the business, saying repairs are keeping it busy and that word of mouth continues to bring customers in.