Working in finance and accounts for New Zealand Post led Murray Butler to move into the world of information technology.
For the past 20 years, Butler and wife Yvonne have owned Mandy Computing, one of several resellers in Nelson.
Butler began writing software for the finance director during his four years at NZ Post, then moved on to IBM for a year, after which he spent eight years at a Wellington software house creating applications for Wang systems.
Then, in 1988, Butler and his family sought a new life and the opportunities they believed were available in sunny Nelson.
“Nelson was different then. There were lots of little computer companies trying to do it. We have seen most others come and go along the way,” he says.
Today, Mandy Computing operates as an all-purpose outfit, servicing the many small businesses in the region.
“We sell hardware and perform services and repairs. We like to think we look after anything to do with IT and anything that hangs off IT. We will even sell you the chair to sit on,” Butler says.
Mandy Computing covers the area from Nelson, across Golden Bay, plus it serves a few national clients for a software product that Butler still “dabbles” in.
Typical customers will have a server or two and up to 15 work stations or thin client devices.
Though Butler is proud to have grown the Cawthorn Institute from three machines to 100, before the Institute took IT in-house.
His business typically uses HP “by first choice” – an association that started when Mandy Computing was the only Nelson certified repairer of Digital, before it merged with Compaq, which in turn was swallowed by HP.
“HP suits our customer needs and there is no need to change. We have looked at other equipment from time to time and we keep going back to HP. I like the scenario where you can get printers, scanners, etc, from the same company. HP has a pretty comprehensive range,” Butler explains.
The company can also procure Epson, Insite, Microsoft, Sony and Toshiba.
Other products include gaining the New Zealand agency for the Seat Advisor Box Office online events ticketing system, which is aimed at multiplex cinemas, theatres and similar outlets. The deal followed involvement with a local theatre that sought an online booking system.
Mandy Computing also supplies Medtech software to doctors and has local agency deals with suppliers of biometric products.
Nelson is of a size to have larger systems integrators like Gen-i, says Butler, who had the repairs agency for Wang when he first came to the area, but lost it after Telecom acquired Gen-i (formerly Wang).
Losing the franchise did not impact too severely on the business. Butler still claims good relations with Gen-i in Wellington, where he can call for help if need be.
Many businesses prefer to use long-established smaller outfits like his over the big players, Butler says. “I have support contracts I guarantee for several years. You can do that when you have been around for the past 20 years.”
While acknowledging that business has not always been easy, Butler says specialised and personal service has been a success factor, along with keeping his business small. “I quite often get the comment ‘we would rather buy from you and pay a little bit more and get the service’.”
Customer service also extends to sending one of three engineers out on the road, though many jobs can now be fixed using remote desk support.
Mandy Computing has five staff, with Butler saying finding staff is easy in Nelson as it is an attractive destination.
“I get emails from England from people saying they are looking for a job in New Zealand and they hear Nelson is a nice place. I could certainly employ more people if I wanted, but I’m happy keeping the business the size it is.”
Butler’s summer season is typically for upgrades or other projects, when a business is closed down and needs a longer timeslot.
This year, he says better broadband and Nelson’s perceived isolation will see Mandy Computing involved more in videoconferencing and ‘live communication’ deals.
Upgrades and the release of Windows Server 2008 will help facilitate this. “We have used Polycom in the past. We are keeping our minds open but we are interested in the Roundtable offering from Microsoft, the voice-activated camera,” he says.
Butler is optimistic about business in 2008, saying his passion for customer service, that turns customers into lifelong friends, will safeguard the business.
Outside work, he is district chairman of the local Rotary club, which brings international students to New Zealand and sends Kiwis overseas on similar exchanges.