Times have been tough for Huntly’s Allenmara Computers, especially when local customers aren’t paying up too quickly, and when the business has had to offer a few free services.
Such is the plight of Greg Allen, owner/director of the company, his wife Janice and two other employees.
The computer repair shop and cybercafé has operated in Huntly’s Main Street since 2002, after beginning in a farm shed.
Allen left Huntly College to become a shepherd and beef farmer. However, his father said computers were the way of the future, and Allen’s interest in computers developed into more than a hobby, with Allen completing six months of IT training and experience.
Following two years of doing repairs in a shed, Allen opened a shop in town having realised a central location was essential. Allenmara is the only such shop in Huntly, though there are several home-based PC technicians in the area. The main retailers are in Hamilton.
Sales and repairs are the mainstay of the business, with about 60 percent of this business done for home users, 30 percent for businesses and 10 percent for schools.
The company serves an area from Ngaruawahia to Te Kauwhata, including the surrounding rural areas, with a small amount of business in Hamilton.
“I was originally a farmer. My parents are in retailing and have a shop next door. I would hope we are special because of our friendly service and we go the extra mile. In a small town you live and die by your last job. You have to make your customers really happy,” he says.
This includes not charging for every job.
“We have set fees for certain jobs, but a lot of jobs fall outside that, so we do a lot where we don’t charge. That makes us different. Our customers don’t get a huge bill for a repair unless there are large amounts of hardware involved. One of the things I have seen is customers are genuinely scared, thinking a bill will cost hundreds. We do charge for repairs but not all our time.”
Allen says his business has not noticed “the recession everyone is talking about” but Huntly has much poverty, which makes running a small business there hard work.
“Somebody comes in and buys cartridges and they want to pay them off over weeks, which can make it difficult. You have to give them credit. It is the same with repairs. They are often not picked up for six months, so you need extra space for storing stuff.”
Allen says 20 years of farming gave him no experience of debt collecting. In a small town where you know people and many are friends, he has often had to wait and sometimes he hasn’t been paid at all. Recently, he appointed EEC Credit Control to help chase debtors, and while it has not been there long enough to chase debts yet, it has provided a framework to send proper letters and get systems in place.
Huntly’s poverty also means a relatively large cybercafé.
“That has 50-plus customers a day. It was something we needed as Huntly is a poor town and not everybody can afford their own PC,” he says.
The cybercafé has grown to provide 12 seats and would be bigger were it not for the limited space. It charges $3 an hour and faces competition from the local library, which has eight seats. However, Allen hasn’t noticed a decline in usage. Customers usually check email and look at social networking sites. There are few gamers and some users are visitors passing through Huntly.
Another side to the business is web design, run by son Chris.
All this means a variety of suppliers including Synnex and Dove; with main brands including Asus and Sonic monitors, and Anyware for TP Link networking gear.
Allenmara builds its own PCs but also sells ex-lease stock. Allen reports a recent upsurge of interest in Skype webcams, though usually spyware and viruses are the main customer issues.
Allen has no major plans for the business, other than staying afloat. “We’ll just ride out the recession, still be here, keep costs down and offer good service,” he adds.