The air of Rotorua is famous for its smell of the rotten egg-like sulphur, but the city’s distinctive odour makes for a brisk business in computers and accessories.
The sulphur wreaks havoc on PCs and servers, forcing users to regularly purchase new systems. But for those involved with IT, this also means opportunities with the aggressive nature of the sulphur-laden air.
Among them is Ezy PC, a small repair and reseller business formed in 2004, that operates from the Ngongotaha home of Matthew Hill and wife Brigitte Anderson.
Hill is a Microsoft Certified Professional with more than 15 years’ experience in computer services, graphic design, server installs and networking. Anderson is a full-time accounting technician and looks after the paperwork, as well as doing some of the website design work for the couple’s other company, Xaeco Ltd.
They have one staff member Danny Sorrell, who is training for his MCSE.
Hill says they started the business after helping a friend with his computer business. He had also fixed computers as a sideline for many years. And having worked in computer graphics and design, he could see potential.
Not liking the long Auckland commutes, Hill and Anderson moved to Gisborne for a time, before settling in Rotorua.
“There are lots of self-employed, small operators in Rotorua,” he says.
Some of them can be ‘cowboys’ Hill claims. They are people who say they know enough to fix computers, but their work has had to be completed by someone else.
“We have had to do follow-ups on their jobs,” he says.
Ezy PC covers the Rotorua business area, plus neighbouring suburbs.
Small firms are the company’s customer focus, providing three-quarters of its clients. The home market is seen as unpredictable and requires to much advertising to support.
As well, the company operates a fixed-price system that is more cost effective for business customers. These include tourism ventures, lawyers and manufacturers — some of whom use an advanced retail POS system that Ezy PC developed.
Ezy PC’s sister company Xaeco has also developed a process management system called Flo. which is used by a major kitchen manufacturing company and a joinery firm in Rotorua and is about to be marketed nationally.
That aside, Ezy PC typically sells PCs and servers, with HP the main brand as it is “very good and very consistent”, says Hill. Ingram Micro is its primary distributor.
Despite talk of recession, Ezy PC claims not to have suffered.
Business does tail off over summer, however, with a shutdown over the Christmas break. Plans for 2009 include the company focusing on increasing its business client base by 30 percent and selling its Flo software tool.
Nonetheless, the unique geographical nature of Rotorua will always mean plenty of work.
“The sulphur totally obliterates computers and it is very specific to the area you are in,” explains Hill.
“For businesses next to the sulphur outlets, you can almost guarantee when the computers are going to die. The sulphur, plus the heat and electricity corrodes the computers. It eats away the copper. We can have computers that can die within a month. But 500 meters away, they may last two to three years, as opposed to guaranteed failure within six months.”
Ngongotaha, a short drive west of Rotorua, has very low sulphur levels.
Hill explains other than keeping computers in an airtight office, there is little people can do to keep the sulphur out.
Some businesses, like hotels offering internet services, have decided that it is not worth investing in expensive, new computers. However, some suppliers will accept warranty claims on computers damaged by sulphur. This is why Ezy PC is sticking by HP. The more expensive HP products seem to last longer, while repairs under warranty are done quicker than with other makes he claims. There is a balance of cost versus downtime.
“Definitely, sulphur is a problem in Rotorua. That may be a reason why there are so many [IT] companies in Rotorua. They can see there’s a potential for lots of work,” he adds.