Mobile computer service company Geeks on Wheels’ ambition is lofty: to become as synonymous with its specialisation as the AA is with on-the-spot car repairs.
Beginning with himself and one technician in Wellington in 2005, general manager Matthew Carr-Gomm has built the business to operate in four regions and wants to go nationwide through franchising.
The company’s philosophy is based on high quality, affordable customer service and sticking to core skills. Part of this is a response to some negative industry aspects Carr-Gomm, a former Apple technician and website project developer, has observed during his career.
“People within [the industry] can be unaware of the jargon they use in front of people that are not necessarily tech savvy. The perception customers have is they’re a little bit uncomfortable approaching an IT company to sort out mundane problems, because they’ll be made to feel stupid.”
The Geeks on Wheels name helps people feel more comfortable approaching its staff, especially as families and older people are key parts of its target market. However, he says it also had to be memorable.
“People may really like us and have every intention of using our services, however it may be three months, six months or a year before something goes wrong with their computer. The challenge for us is will they remember who we are when the problem arises?”
Carr-Gomm has also experienced small IT firms who “try to be everything to everybody”, and was adamant Geeks on Wheels wouldn’t go down that road.
“I didn’t want to be selling computer systems, providing support, upgrading systems, doing websites, fixing their mobile phones, plugging in their TV and setting up exchange servers. Even our competition, in my opinion, spread themselves very thinly on support.
“Right from the outset I was very clear, we were providing computer support to users, home or business, and helping people with the everyday frustrations they experience.”
Although home and home business users are its core clients, the company serves some retail outlets with PC help and some small and medium enterprises.
It has also established partnerships with TelstraClear and Slingshot for new internet installations and technical assistance for clients, while the AA and Vero Insurance group use Geeks on Wheels technicians for IT assessments and repairs.
Carr-Gomm says he saw a gap in the market for mobile computer servicing on moving to Wellington in 2002. He had been an Apple Mac technician in the UK, then became a director for website firm Apple Web Services.
He continued as a director with Apple Web Services in his first years in New Zealand, but sold out his interest in the company last year. He found travelling back to London to meet clients and generate new business had become tiresome and wanted to “get out of the rat race”.
His partner in life and business, Sarah Teagle, is a former New Zealand teacher. She is the director of Coriglade, the company that trades as Geeks on Wheels, and Geeks Franchising, established this year.
The Geeks on Wheels opportunity dawned when Carr-Gomm needed a wireless network set-up, and found most service firms were geared to working with enterprises.
“I was categorised as the home-user underclass,” he says. “There was a real gap in the market here and I thought if I didn’t do something, somebody else is bound to do so.”
There are now seven technicians in Wellington, and three each in Auckland, Christchurch and Hamilton. Russell Masters became the first Geeks on Wheels franchisee in Hamilton last year.
Carr-Gomm says the hardest part of his job is finding good technicians, but he’s happy to hire young, new industry entrants.
“There’s lots of bright young people who want a foot in the industry door,” he says. “Some of my best technicians haven’t had any formal qualifications, but have just had a deep seated desire to be involved in the IT industry.”
There may not have been many, if any, similar businesses in Wellington when Geeks on Wheels started, but the market is becoming more competitive.
Carr-Gomm cites two big players as PC People and Computer Troubleshooters, but says its “closest real competitor” in terms of size, style and direction is Hawkes Bay-based Need a Nerd. It also serves customers in Tauranga, Rotorua and Taupo and offers franchises, he says.
However, he believes there is plenty of business to go around as his firm, and similar ones, expand.
“We’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg. Every household seems to have several computers and like a car, they break down and need servicing. With all the new stuff coming into the market the requirement for support is only going to become greater.”