After the September 11th terrorist attack in New York, business was so bad at Computer Valet in Wanganui, it nearly went under.
However, owner Geoff Campbell says his hobby, kite flying, helped save the business. He filled the shop with kites and found they sold so well, he still sells them today.
Now, Computer Valet generates 15 percent of its trade from kite sales, adding to the 20 to 25 percent it makes from offering second-hand IT equipment.
Situated on a main corner site in the Wanganui city centre, Computer Valet has been in operation since the early 1990s.
A former fitter and turner for New Zealand Railways, Campbell started the business from home after several years working at other IT stores in Wanganui.
Prior to starting Computer Valet, he and another ex-railways staffer operated Cursor Computers, but a falling out between the pair prompted Campbell to start his own venture.
The prime site in leafy Victoria Avenue has given the business a high profile and turnover, which Campbell says has helped it provide more customer support.
“[Customer support] is our forte. The sales are just an added bonus. If people don’t buy from us, that does not worry us. The margins are so slim ... and Wanganui is a depressed area. People prefer to pay less, but they pay more later on when they have support issues and that is where we come in,” he says.
Computer Valet has four staff and business, typically hardware sales and support, is divided evenly between business and home users. Its business customers include Warehouse Stationery.
“We offer personal service. We are a lot more relaxed and people appreciate that,” he says.
Suppliers include Ingram Micro, Computer Dynamics, Morning Star and HP for printers and computers, with Philips used for monitors. The business carries out on-site warranty work for HP as well.
Computer Valet serves an area covering Taihape, Ohakune, Waverley and, if needed, as far as Palmerston North and Foxton.
Campbell says when the recession started to bite last year, there was an increased demand for second-hand equipment. Campbell believes some of this equipment is just as capable as new machines, and can last five to six years.
A local insurance broker has begun buying second-hand equipment from Campbell, along with farmers and other individuals.
“They don’t break down. The machines that we pick and choose for the second-hand market are business tier, and picking the right quality will ensure you get longer life out of them,” Campbell says.
“It’s the quality of the units we are picking. We are not interested in cheap and nasty [equipment]. These units are ex-lease and have had reasonable care and time spent on them. We re-format them, load the OS, do the updates, put them on the shelf and they go. People buy them for their kids,” he says.
Campbell says recycling the gear reduces waste, which he sees as a bonus, but he is more interested in supplying good machines that do the job.
“We have been doing second-hand [equipment] for five years, but certainly in the past six to eight months the volume has probably increased 100 percent,” he says.
Campbell expects the demand for second-hand gear to rise this year, while the demand for hardware sales and support has slightly decreased. Usage at the internet terminals in the store, however, is up. Kite sales remain steady.
Yet, it was the kites that saved the business back in 2001. They sell from $10 to $10,000, with the huge Gecko kite going for $3000 to $10,000.
“When September 11 happened, we [didn’t sell] a computer until mid-November. We were about two weeks from shutting the doors. I had a hobby with kites and Christmas was coming up. People were looking for something different,” he explains.
“[Kite sales] saw us right through until now. They sustained the business [back then]. I could pull them, but they saved us so I leave them in the store. They are a constant income source. There isn’t a day that goes by where we wouldn’t sell a couple of kites and the margin is a hell of a lot better than computers!”