Stephen Carr of Bright Star PC Services in Amberley might only be 20, but he has been in business since 2005.
The company was formed when he was just 16, after his accounting teacher at Rangiora High School sent him on a young enterprise course.
Now, the sole trader has the only IT services business in Amberley. Carr’s customers include local schools, as well as businesses and home users in an area stretching from Kaikoura and Rangiora to Hanmer Springs.
Starting so young meant many challenges, such as having to register the business initially in his mother’s name and finding a bank — and suppliers — that would take him seriously.
“Kiwibank, I get on with them like a house on fire. It’s brilliant ringing up knowing you are only going to speak to one of five people in the call centre. They all know you, it’s fantastic,” he says.
Bright Star started on a minimal budget, carrying out servicing and selling no hardware. Then it needed to order parts through resellers and the business started using Dove Electronics until Carr came across other distributors.
Christchurch-based Dove remains his primary supplier, helped by Ingram Micro, Synnex and Altech in Auckland. Insite Technology in Christchurch also helps with Bright Star’s custom-build PCs, which use products from Logitech and Seagate.
“We do a lot of big orders and education projects in North Canterbury and we put them through Insite. Since there is just me, there is not enough manpower to build all the PCs in such a short time.
“Insite makes own-branded PCs. We have been specifically using their R1 education machines, which are quite cool and are pumping them into schools across the district,” says Carr.
Bright Star initially saw its target as the small and home office market, but Carr has been surprised that much of the work now comes from the education sector.
“We picked up Rangiora High School work as I was a student there. Then, their technician did a lot of work with other primary schools in the area. Through that relationship we were able to sell hardware to schools in the area,” he explains.
Sales, especially of custom PCs, are rising, with latest monthly sales twice the norm.
Another factor in Bright Star’s recent growth is the closure of a rival computer shop in Amberley, and Carr believes his firm is the only one serving the area.
At present the work is mainly hardware sales and repair, and Carr advises people who phone for advice about buying components.
“We have picked up a few wineries and generally they want to network their sheds together. We haven’t [targeted] the big guns, we’re just targeting the smaller companies for now. We have also got into the hospitality market and a few cafes that we keep an eye on.
“We do mainly break/fix. We have remote access services, but no monitoring as the people we deal with have a couple of computers and no centralised server,” he says.
He wants to do more remote management work and aims to recruit a second technician to reduce service wait times. Work is mostly carried out at a customer’s site, with the home business running a company vehicle.
“We do servicing back here for people out in the remote areas like Rotherham. It can be expensive for them to call us out. They prefer to drop equipment off when they are on the way to Christchurch.
“On-site work is good as it gives us the personal relationship with the customer. Being in a small town everybody tends to know everybody,” he says.
However, being rural may make it hard for him to find his first technician this year, so he is keeping an eye on local high schools for students to follow in his footsteps.
Bright Star also hopes to move into an office in Amberley this year, but is holding back due to the recession. Carr also wants to find exactly the right site.
“In a small town, the prime real estate tends to stay occupied for quite some time. A shop would definitely bring the street frontage rather than being tucked away at home. It will make a big [difference in terms of] awareness of who we are in the district.” Word of mouth and repeat custom have helped generate trade.
But there remains the challenge of being relatively young. “Some just want suppliers who have been in the industry for a certain number of years, but as everyone knows with the IT industry, it changes every five minutes anyway. It’s all about keeping up to date.”