DIY

Is there a future for locally owned PC retailers?

I made a welcome discovery while wandering a shopping center yesterday: I found an independent computer sales and repair business. Before the Internet and the big box stores, these establishments formed the backbone of the computing community. Are they viable anymore?

I made a welcome discovery while wandering a shopping center yesterday: I found an independent computer sales and repair business. Before the Internet and the big box stores, these establishments formed the backbone of the computing community. Are they viable anymore?

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I did not get my own personal computer until 1995, midway through my freshman year of college. I finally decided it would be more productive to write papers in my dorm room, rather than hoping a machine was available in the university lab. I could also get connected to the campus network and browse the World Wide Web, which I'd just begun hearing about.

When I was shopping for my first machine, the landscape was completely different. RadioShack was the big name in the electronics retail, and Internet shopping did not yet exist. When I decided I wanted to get a computer, I had to find someone who could help me make educated choices.

I got the help I needed at an independent computer shop. Run out of a storefront on Chicago's North Avenue, it was a playground for my nascent interest in technology. I have forgotten the name of the store, but not the hours I spent there. Every time I needed some help with my computer — upgrades, repairs, even just new software to play with — I would hop on a bus and visit the shop. Hanging out there set a hook in me and put me on the path to working with technology professionally.

More than once when I was visiting, I thought about how cool it would be to own my own PC shop one day. As volume retailers and the online shopping have become the norm, though, I wonder where a small technology business could carve out a niche.

Focusing on sales seems to be a lost cause. Volume retailers have the advantage, with their purchasing power and relative immunity to market fluctuations. I like to think that entrepreneurs can find success by providing technology services, either for consumers or for small businesses. Service firms don't need a retail presence to attract customers, though. Such a business could be marketed online, and services could be rendered at the client location. An investment in a brick-and-mortar location would hardly be needed.

I have a hard time justifying the creation of a sales-and-service storefront like the one I admired in my youth. Creating a physical space like that seems a frivolous use of capital when the work doesn't require it. Do you have fond memories of a locally owned computer shop? Any ideas about how one might survive in today's economy? Are you a business owner who has managed to stay afloat? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments.

75 comments
ozi Eagle
ozi Eagle

Hi, If you are looking for a career path in the PC business, as an owner operator, I would suggest that you forget about a shopfront selling PCs, for the many reasons given above. I went solo 9 years ago, I service small business and try to stay away from domestic work ( it doesn't pay well, many never paying). Business is more aware of the costs to them if the computer falls over, and is prepared to pay $100 + per hour to have it fixed quickly. I supply business quality computers that I source from a local wholesaler, with whom I have a good relationship. I have learnt a particular off the shelf software package for the retail industry and have become certified in it. This gives me exposure via the principal company and also makes me part of the community of IT pros that work with this package. I have a room at home set up as office/workshop so my overheads are minimal and deductible. Herb

V
V

Yes. But only if they adapt for a shrinking market, and provide other services that can compensate.

sborsher
sborsher

I don't know if viable is the right word; maybe relevant. When I was young I hung out at electronics stores of the time, being an amateur radio operator (ham) at that time. Most of those are gone now where they sold electronic parts, kits, and educational items. The range of electonic items is now so vast that no mere storefront could stock all the items necessary to be useful. Radio Shack still stocks a handful of electronic parts, but they keep sweeping the store inventory every few months to get rid of obsolete items. Radio Shack has remained relevant throughout its existance, to the best of my memory. They transitioned from a name appropriate business, through the computer age, to the digital entertainment and cellphone age. However, they're slogan "you've got questions, we've got answers" has not been accurate for a very long time, except on an extremely hit and miss basis. So what of your storefront computer store? Similarly to the electronics store problem, one store just cannot stock all that one would want. I used to buy all my early PCs at Staples, but no longer; there are simply to many choices for a discriminating PC buyer. The next time I upgrade I will probably build it myself as all major parts are now reviewed on line and I finally feel that I can't make a mistake in the process with all that is available online today. And not only are the parts available, but any help one would need with a PC is available in a Google search. Try walking into any store that sells PCs and ask them what error such and such means. Now, all that being said, it does amaze me that something as complicated as a PC can be owned and operator by an average consumer and have flourished without neighborhood support. I think that Best Buy, Circuit City, and others have finally started covering that issue, and cheaper than a smaller operation could. And, finally, all that being said, I do lament the loss of those storefronts of old, as I'm sure you also do, but the Intenet is a 24/7, tireless, accurate, reliable, if not interpersonal, purveyor of all items, if you're careful, of course.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

For this to have been a possibility as when I was young there was no PC's. However when I was considerably younger there was a Hobby Shop that specialized in model Aircraft of the control line type as RC stuff back then was way too expensive to even consider by all but the super rich which I wasn't. Anyway it was a poky little store in the back of nowhere and there was no room to move the place was literally crammed to the Rafters with stock of one kind or another and there was even some non Model Aircraft stuff in there which was show I initially found the place when I went looking for some Scaletrix Spares. Anyway this place had one low wattage light bulb in the entire place maybe it even reached 25 Watts on a good day but it was dark dingy and the absolute best store I have ever been in. Granted you couldn't move down the one isle if there was someone else already in there but it had everything that it was possible to buy and quite a lot of other stuff that just was no longer made. Today at least 40 years latter whenever I mention this place I have yet to find any person who doesn't know of it and most are way too young to ever have walked into this place as it shut a few years latter when the owner died and the family sold off a lot of the stock or gave it away to some of the many customers who lived there. Places like this are no longer feasible these days it's not possible to compete with the Big Boys who have massive shops with wide isles and Designed displays to attract your attention. The Malls that are so popular now are the single biggest reason that this type of place can not exist as these places are way too controlled by the owners who want Bright and Fresh Displays and shops. While they look great they also have a lot of unused Floor Space which is what the shop owner is paying Rent on and these Malls kill you in rent. They start off being almost reasonable and then after 3 or 4 year when you have established a reputation and a half way decent business they up the rent to a outrageous amount and then want a % of the take and just to make sure that you are not robbing them blind they insist that you employ one of their staff to work the till to make sure you don't underpay the Owners. Unless you actually own the store in a backwater location there is no way that you can run a business that attracts Loyal Customers the same way that store of old used to attract and keep customers who literally became part of the Family. Modern Shops are not worth entering unless that have several Million Candle Power of Lights blazing attempting to blind all who walk past in an effort to attract attention as well as all the bright flashing lights that seem mandatory to advertise the marvelous bargains inside. Today it's all to do with the bottom line and the turnover and customer satisfaction barely rates a mention and when on the rare occasion it does some Pimply Faced young punk will laugh at your face insisting that is not the way to attract business as no one now wants to be served. It costs too much money and is way too slow. With Computer Retail the reality is that there is very little money to be made in new computer sales the real money is to be made in the Service Side of the business as this has a Rate that can be increased as the cost of things goes up not cutting back profit margins just to be able to pay all of the bills that arise from places like this. People have also changed a lot since my younger days as I used to have a shop 20 years ago and I had a bad reputation for repair work not because I didn't do good work but because I put myself out for the customers and tried to help them by doing things the same day for out of town customers and within a week for the locals. This resulted in the mistaken belief that I wasn't doing good work because it was too fast the guy 200 KMS away who held a unit for 6 weeks and would then hand it back with a big bill without actually powering it on was OK because he took time to repair things and the fact that you had to return 5 times to get it fixed properly was a good thing from the customers prospective as they had to return several times and on each occasion spend more money as well as being sold product to use. What cruled it for me wasn't even the customers but one of the major suppliers who I had left used me as a Unofficial Warranty Agent for them so I would routinely get machines sent to me by their customers without any warning or lists of what was wrong and be expected to fix them for free. What was the most galling thing for me was the number I got from that Great Repairer down the road who couldn't fix their machines but this bad repairer was put down for fixing them properly with a 1% return rate in a day. :^0 Na I cut my losses and sold the place for about 5 times what I considered it was worth to the guy down the road who stuffed up all the time and got the hell out of the place. Wasn't worth paying the rent and keeping the Banks, Landlord, Power Supply Company, Phone Company and so in in business just so I could bring in less that what I would get on Social Security and needing to work long hours into the bargain. OK so I was bringing far more than Social Security ever would but I was also spending far more to support the Banks, Landlord and so on for nothing. The only way I would consider opening another shop is if someone gave me the block that the shop was on and I didn't have to pay rent then just maybe I might consider it but even that is unlikely. Actually borrowing money to buy a place and then paying the Lender back for 25 years so that one day maybe I might own it if the council didn't come and seize it for some new development that they had planned and their minimal Compensation packages that you have to fight like hell to get 1/10 of it's actual value just isn't worth the effort. I know 2 shops like that old Hobby Store and when I ask the owners how they stay in business their explanation is I own the place nuf said. Three others have been resumed by Council to widen a Road or add buss lanes I just don't see that it's worth the effort now holding a shop front. Col

adpicurro
adpicurro

I hope there is, I just got ripped off by New Egg, will never make a puchase from them again. When you by local at least you can test befoe you buy

computer_solutions
computer_solutions

I have a locally owned PC retail shop. I sell some machines all built by another company. I do service calls and dropoffs. I am in a very small town with 50 miles to go to the next city. The rumors of my death are greatly exagerated.

usdad
usdad

I just recently built a PC and ordered all the parts, including case at a local shop that beat even all on line and large storefront(Best Buy) pricing.

enfield_john
enfield_john

Yes, I think that as long as the "Big Box" stores continue to have such abominable customer service, slow turn around times and inflated labor prices, there will continue to be a market for locally owned PC shops. I personally work on PCs out of my own home and have several repeat clients as well as some occasional new ones. I'd have more work than I have time to complete on my own if I actually advertized. Word of mouth seems to be working fine for me. Most of my clients are people who have gotten burned by one of the "big box" stores and they swear they'll never go back to them for service if they can help it. I can do the same repairs the big guys do at a fraction of the cost in labor and with much less down time for my clients. I also take the time to get to know my clients so that they feel less like a number and more like a friend. Lots of people are sick of being treated like they are nothing more than a wallet for the store to pry open. The trick to staying in business is staying up to date on the latest developments in computers. Every now and then, I get an issue with a computer that I haven't seen before and I have to educate myself to figure it out. I used to work at "big box" PC stores and hope I never have to again. It's better being your own boss.

rmlounsbury
rmlounsbury

I have two local PC shops that I frequent for odds-and-ends type stuff. A good example was when I was building "the ultimate budget PC" based on the specs that Ars Technica cooked up I found the case I had with two IDE Drives just wasn't going to work so I hit up the local shop for a IDE/SATA bridge. No way I could wait for newegg to mail that piece. I wanted my new Ubuntu station working that night! So they are great resources for odd parts you need in a pinch. I've noticed that both are offering "you pick the parts and we build it" services for just $25. They all seem to do well business wise and typically offer prices competitive with newegg.

john.hellmann
john.hellmann

I have run a modest computer business out of my HOME for the last 15 years in a town of 15,000 (community overall about 40,000). I've watched competitors come and go, after opening a storefront and stocking it with display parts and systems, and a counter person there for that 9-5 open availablity for walk ins. That just isn't much of a viable business model in this community. I don't make enough for a new BMW, but its a modest living. I have reasonable hourly rates, don't charge if I don't fix, and do not deal in used parts. I actually have very few 'whole system' sales, most of my business is service (sometimes just tutoring), setup, software installation, virus removal, data recovery, and networking (home and commercial). I do EVERYTHING by appointment, have a dedicated phone line with an answering machine (funny how customers are amazed when I actually call them back), and I am very careful where I spend advertising dollars (phone books, magnetic signs on my truck, Chamber of Commerce). It was part time for many years, now its full time, and no sign of 'going away' anytime soon. I expect an honest technician with a good reputation (word of mouth can go BOTH WAYS) can make a go of this business, as long as he or she develops a reliable business model and sticks to it. John (Computer Tech since 1981, in business since 1993)

icbhod
icbhod

My IT career started here in Gainesville, FL and after 10 years of being away in Nashville, TN, I have come full circle and, I am pleased to report that local computer shops and locally owned IT companies are still the way of things here. Sure, at UF there are lots of Dell's and Mac's but when the students need repair work done and the on-site service is unavailable, they turn to locally owned IT companies. Gainesville is an anomoly and, I fear, becoming more of one daily. Here, the "Mom and Pop" shops are the way of things. Locally owned businesses thrive even in the shadow of the Wally Worlds other big box retailers.....I love that about this town. This same mentality bleeds across all of the industries and so it is far more likely that a company in Gainesville, FL will call one of the local companies to resolve their issues than they are to call an outfit like BancTec. Same goes for installing networks and maintaining servers. I love this town.....one of the best places in the nation to live.

ssine
ssine

Having done some side consumer jobs for a little extra cash, how does one (local store or individual tech) deal with the nagging customer who has an issue, you resolve the issue, then 2 days later calls you and says "ever since you did this, now my system is doing this". The second issue may be the same issue you fixed (like virus, spyware, etc.) because consumers don't care where they are going, what they are downloading, or keep their systems updated, or maybe the new issue has nothing to do with what the original issue was but the customer thinks it does. Either way, you go and fix the second issue because you do not want the person to feel like you took them over and then a couple days later they call you with "ever since you did this, now my system is doing ..." and the small easy job turns into a non profitable nightmare that you can't walk away from.

dick.hawes
dick.hawes

Absolutly! I build my own computers and need to talk to a person once in a while. I hope a few of the stick around.

kehoffman
kehoffman

Check out http://www.mapletronics.com/ Started from a Radio Shack outlet in 1992 With 2 employees, now has 63 employees with branches in Fort Wayne, IN and Sarasota, FL. Has a full training center, engineering, building, repairs, managed services, internet provider with everything from dial-up to fiber, and a redundant data center. We aren't going away. We have a better idea than the big box boys. Keith Hoffman

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

There will always be a good market for local business focused on building relationships. All you have to do is look at a similar industry that has had a similar trajectory: automotive. First it started with the tinkerers and daredevils, then it moved into the giants and now there's room for both small shops, vendor shops and big box retailers. The key is probably arriving at the right mix of product sales, services and custom development. Although most focus on just retail sales and maintenance, many are now branching into business consulting, small custom programming development or custom software maintenance. Many are also moving beyond the PC/MAC space into networks, advertising, VoIP home telephony, personal gadgets, wiring, security and even custom sensors and actuators. In my area I do lots of business with a chain of stores called Intrex Computers.

jimpg
jimpg

Apple's "walled garden" approach seems to allow retail stores in expensive locations because they control the prices and eliminate true competition. They always seem to be busy with potential customers and if they're not, they shut down the store.

jsaubert
jsaubert

I think that people are becoming more apt to fixing their own computers or have a friend or relative that can. The days of the storefront are nearing the end. Having face-to-face service is nice if you don't know what you're doing and don't have anyone to turn to but that percentage of people is quickly shrinking. Even the market for custom built computers is dying, people that want them are mostly becoming DIYers or, like me, just mod a pre-built system. ----- There are three different computer shops in my town, at one time there were five. The two computer shops that were very good decided that they would merge and become one company a few years ago when the local computer business were taking a hit. One shop went out of business. One does networking and web design in addition The last one ought to have been shut down years ago, they are basically inept shysters that sell broken goods and pirated software.

George@2ndfloorcomputers
George@2ndfloorcomputers

William, I assume your still in University (13th year now is it?)...because only narrow minded or unenlightened individuals could judge the market with one large stroke of a brush. Best Buys, Staples, Future Shops (Canada) are the joke of the PC industry. You go there when you have to trust a commerical on TV to make your computer choice. Believe it or not William, there are Businesses out there, and individual consumers who HATE the big box stores. It dosent matter how many leather sofas they have in front of the big screen TV, you don't get personal Service, you never talk to the same person twice (high turn over in Retail), the service is awful on a good day and people question why they should support a store "with all their purchasing power", as you put it. The big screen TV's in the show room, the commerical's at half time, the flyers in your mail box, are just a gimmick to move cheap (electronic) stuff out the door, and that includes computers. God bless you though for buying into their Marketing, that's exactly what they want.

clwyattjr
clwyattjr

I have owned and operated a local shop for more than 8 years now and we have grown each year. Our current economy has actually helped us because people are willing to spend 100-200 dollars to repair now, whereas a year ago they would have just bought a new one. Another thing that helps us is the fact that the big guys (Dell, Emachines, HP etc.) have contracted out their support to places like India, Pakistan and the Phillipines. I have about a dozen customers each week that call or come in for service who say they where on the phone with them and got frustrated because they can't understand them. I also am selling a lot of new machines because we are still building with XP and many customers don't want Vista. Just as a side note, a Microsoft rep called me last week and wanted to know why I had not bought any Vista's (I buy from MALABS), and I ask the rep what was running on his computer and he simply said have a nice day and ended the call!!!! I plan to be in business for a LONG time!!!!!

itpro_z
itpro_z

I owned and ran my own PC shop for 15 years starting in the mid-80s. Over that time, the margins on computer sales steadily eroded to the point where it did not make sense to sell PCs, but there was still good money in service and support. Once I simplified my business and stopped selling big ticket items, my cash flow was better. I would still sell those items, like cables, that had decent markup, but every thing else was labor and consulting. My major customers would consult with me about their needs, and I would recommend specific models from Dell or CDW. When the new equipment arrived, I was paid hourly rates to configure and install. I was set up with most of the on site warranty companies, so if the unit broke, I got paid very well to fix it. Add in network support and management, and I did quite well. I see no reason why this business model would not work well today. You can also keep your overhead low by working from home. Why did I leave that business? One of my best customers got bought out by a big company, who promptly offered me a full time position with excellent corporate benefits. I sold my business and moved on, but in some ways still miss being my own boss.

silverweb
silverweb

I live in a very small town in Ontario, Canada and we have two local PC stores. There are no big box store here at all. silverweb

AndrewB
AndrewB

I would like to think so. The local shops were so convienent... but now, so expensive. The big box and retailers have killed them... I remember fondly the local computer store in my home town. They were friends... they also ran a BBS out of their!!! This was in the mid 1980s!! This was went my 1200 baud modem was a rocket ship! :) I rued the day when corporate America killed the little guy... for my friends, the first thing to go was the name... the cute techie names from the 1980s were being wiped out in favour of more business professional names. I guess that happens when any industry matures. But the days of "Intergalactic Digital Research" were gone...

reisen55
reisen55

Just a little on in Ramsey on Route 17. I bought a copy of DOS there in 1992 and it is still alive, by what means I know not. I think they have an excellent lease which allows for financial footing. I worked for a MicroAge (remember) in Mahwah NJ and it moved to Paramus. Excellent full service shop that was destroyed when four large accounts pulled out. A sales rep had a wonderful markup ratio there: selling $13.95 Belkin cables to Mt. Sinai Hospital for $ 1,300 dollars. No kidding. The small stores are mostly gone, for the cost of brick and morter for a store is high indeed, and profit is non-existant. The PC Warehouse in Ramsey is a total shock to the above rule. I truly wish them well. Larger chain: MicroCenter is an amazing concept, and I commend any professional on this board to VISIT A LOCAL STORE IF YOU CAN FIND ONE.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

I don't own or operate a store front business but I build and sell an average of four desktop units a week. These are custom units, built to the clients specs and parts are procurred from the local Fry's and other distributors. I also provide the service for those units so it's important to me to get some kind of gaurantee from my suppliers so I can help to keep my costs low. I don't think that owning a shop would increase my income and would be a big liablity when it comes to maintaining a store front operation.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

As long as they provide a level of service that the big-box places cannot/will not, they will survive.

timmyjohnboy
timmyjohnboy

I think there still is a need but I'm not sure for how long. In my experience, there still are those people out there who have a hard time shopping on-line, either because they fear doing business online or they lack the ability to search out the equipment they need or want. I suppose a good compromise would be offering shopping assistance along with the technology services. This would remove the need for the brick-and-mortar.

sizemoreg
sizemoreg

I myself am an avid fan of the local PC shop. True you can get a new PC for less from the big guys, but do you really get your moneys worth? NO! I have been a "Techie" since the mid 70's ( remember the big terminals--woo-hoo). I have always prefered the smaller company over the big one for the simple fact that you could get a computer the way you wanted, and the tech would set your system up so that you could easily upgrade. More or less securing your patronage to them. To me that meant I recieved higher quality equipment. Now I build my own and the cost offset isn't really that much different from the big guys, considering what they charge you if you don't buy off the shelf units. My plus is that I get what I feel is the highest quality parts. What I have issue with, is that these big companies prey on consumers ignorance of computers. Buying computers can be compared to buying a car. There are a lot of swindlers out there (corporate type), that will tell you that you need these certain brand and that the little guy out there is going to take you to the cleaners by selling you something that is completely inferior and sub standards parts. Which is so far from the truth. truth be known, and I know, I work for one the service centers where two of the big guys have their in warranty units sent when they break down. let's just say it ain't pretty sometimes. The little shop should be saved at all cost, and I think eventually people will get tired of being pushed around by the big guys, and they will start moving back to the local shops.

williamjones
williamjones

I stumbled across a independently owned computer sales and service business yesterday, and it brought memories rushing back. Without similar places to cut my teeth when I was younger, I might be in a different profession today. It seems like shops like this are disappearing. As computers became commodities, the business of selling them became less specialized. Volume sales and Internet retail has brought prices down, but it's also sent the buying experience down the tubes. Is there still a role for the independent computer shop, or have they been replaced?

adpicurro
adpicurro

I just got ripped off by New Egg, will never make a puchase from them again. When you by local at least you can test befoe you buy

roughdoc
roughdoc

I've been doing this in a brick and mortar store since 97. There will always be a demand for someone who can build, rebuild, tuneup, repair computers at a reasonable price. Sure it's gotten more difficult to compete with the big boys on a new system. However, as the price of new systems has come down, so has the price of buying used systems. Recently bought a local hospital's complete inventory of old systems. Dell's, 2.4 GHz processors, 512 memory, 17" monitors for $30 a piece. Easy to sell for $125 and get decent systems into the hands of folks who would never have a computer otherwise. Same with tuneups/system cleanups. A small store front can do it cheaper, more personalized service and in a very timely manner. Probably given away more free advice than paid for advice. Maybe I've tweaked the interest of some young kid who will someday invent something important. Plus the big box stores don't provide real service. Impersonal, parts replacers. Who replaces capacitors at a big box store? Save the customer hundreds of dollars and make money yourself.

bens
bens

Are you noticing the customer trends of 'buy a new one VS repair the old... ? The ideals of a lot of my customer have been this way - "why spend 150, if I can buy a new one for $300". Have you been changing your pricing to accomodate for this or do you just tell them the truth about those 'wal-mart' specials?

mark
mark

I did a job last week where I competely re-installed a latop with a damaged screen. It worked OK with an external monitor. The customer had the gall to expect me to install two printers on two machines which took 1 and a half hours and didn't pay any extra! She rang a day later to say "since you brought the PC back... I had had enough by this time and decided that from now on I would just say that I cannot provide the type of service she requires. What winds me up is that I had another customer who after being told that he owed me 70 pounds said "so you will be happy with 100 then!" I could waste time on the first person which could be used to help the second one. After a while you learn that you must never lower your prices or give extra time for nothing - the big retailers wouldn't do that so why should we?

bens
bens

I run a local repair shop which is kind of a side venture for our telco/ISP and I get 'ever since' card played occasionally. What I've had to do would be to explain the labor warranty we have and stick to the problem at hand. Our warranty for example does not include the re-infection of virus/malware. We usually print out a clean system report. Eventually they get the idea that THEY are the root of the problem. At least the ones I've worked on. You can't get run over by this kind of thing, your policies have to be in place - no matter how much of a side job it might be.

john.hellmann
john.hellmann

Who says you can't walk away from a job? Even a refund ($50 for example) is better than half a dozen hours down the rathole. I've advised customers before that the system is clean now (and shown them scan results to back it up), and told them if they click where they shouldn't, it will come back, that no AV in the world will protect them from those clicks. Then when they come back, I charge them again for the NEW repair. But I've given refunds or just told a customer I would not be able to fix their machine. Its not the end of the world, and sometimes, yes, you just have to cut your losses. I would also tell you, doing it 'on the side' rather than having a BUSINESS with a license etc makes you more a target for that kind of customer. John (advice is free, Labor is billed in half hour increments)

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

That's a biggie market for the independents. Home Depot has discovered that as well.

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

Apple has always been a different fish, IMHO. I believe they sell to a cult or separate society, not a market, which allows them to more easily rape and pillage from a profitability perspective. Things may be changing as they try to open their opportunity by going more mainstream and they bump heads with the commoditization curve of the PC technology, but I doubt it. There have been times as a CIO I've considered building a corporate enteprise structure with Macs as clients and Linux on the server side, but held back because I can't quite get comfortable with Apple as a corporate partner, particularly in the area of application development. Maybe it's their arrogance that turns me off. On the other hand, if I was working as an independent writer, creative advertiser, painter, musician, etc., it's a great tool and very tuned to that type of business.

Dave Baker, PMP
Dave Baker, PMP

No need to be a jerk. He was only opening up a discussion.

JCitizen
JCitizen

you'll be in business for a long time! Folks balk at the price of the hardware it takes to truely run Vista and actually enjoy any of its features. Big Box retailers have let Microsoft bully them into a fear of selling XP machines; so customers in this part of the country have no choice but to go to the little shops and buy custom. They get the license/hardware cheaper, and the quality higher for competitive price. In fact, I'd wager a small shop can build a decent Vista machine far cheaper that you could buy a ready made one(I'm talkin a PC that actually runs Vista!). Plus they would do it with an eye to back compatibity to XP without the hassle of having to purchase a business class machine. That ain't gonna happen in the big box stores!

dilbert
dilbert

The small company that I work for is being purchased by a much larger outfit and I have turned down a position. My wife and I are equity owners (small percentage) and both have decided that fitting into a large corporate culture is not for us. I'm opening a small one person service business. I've been self employed before and much prefer it to the corporate environment. Since the new owners are closing down the hardware/networking support division after the transaction closes, I can cherry pick the customers I want to retain. Since I only want to work 25-30 hours a week at best, I don't feel that I will have any problem filling those hours.

JCitizen
JCitizen

in Canadian currency? Just curious!

rrspeed
rrspeed

If it's on sale there, it's as cheap -- often cheaper than ONLINE.... no kidding. I shop that store near-weekly and see what's really cheap. And I buy if it's that cheap, even if I don't need it. How about 100 ft. CAT5 cable (WITH ENDS)for $9.95. ???? Can't even think about things cheaper than that. Comments?

annonymous
annonymous

I live in Central N.J. - gotta go visit that PC Warehouse! I really can't stand the big box stores - they treat me like I have no idea what I need, until I explain it to them (I used to get that at car dealers, too - guess it has to do with being female). True, I don't look like the "typical" geek, but I am and I know what I want. I like to see things in my hand before I buy them, though there are some very good Internet shops out there that I like and use. I'd love to be able to find a good small retailer in my area that won't talk down to me and won't try to sell me what I don't need. AND knows what they're talking about!

half
half

My wife and I both do computer work. upgrades new builds repairs,training, from home. We have a good client base and look after them, its only part time and we will never get rich at it but we keep up with the new stuff and when we retire we hope to do it fulltime. We are a bit careful with the customers we take on, and it is all mostly cash work. but we do have a builder and a plumber on our books and we do barter with them, and it works, we always do the extra effort for them and if we need some work done it is top of their list. we never wait for service

rraisley
rraisley

About a year and a half ago, I bought a new, custom PC from a local shop. I wanted a state-of-the-art unit, and the video card and other options I wanted were not, at the time, available from Dell or Gateway. And a custom Alienware unit would have been much more expensive. So, I had the local shop build mine up for me. I figure it only cost about $200 more than it would have cost me if I had purchased all the parts and built it myself. It had exactly what I wanted (things like drive drawers for hot-swapping four hard drives, and huge cooling fans). Another reason, for now, to go with local shops is that they'll put Windows XP in anything you want, unlike Dell and most other big brands.

davidt
davidt

Among the new laws that took effect on September 1, 2008 are new rules for recycling and branding of computer systems. In my conversations with the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality, (TCEQ), ?white box? computer systems will be illegal to sell in Texas after that date. I don?t know how this will affect the enthusiast who buys components from different vendors, then assembles his own computer from those components. I?ve only run into a couple of people who that would interest, but in larger markets, who knows? At any rate, the new rules require all computer manufacturers who sell in or into Texas to have a program for recycling their brand of system. The law only requires that we have a program for recycling our brand of system, and even then only when it?s owned by a consumer, or home-based business owner. The law requires that the recycling be free to the consumer at the time of recycling. It also requires that recycling be made convenient for the consumer. ?Convenient? is a term whose definition has a lot of variance built-in, so it will most likely be left up to the businesses, consumers, TCEQ, and the courts to decide what ?convenient? actually means

wmpierro
wmpierro

I own a small one man computer consulting business. I started out many years ago working in IT for large companies, becoming certified by Microsoft and CompTIA. I started my business when I was laid off and found that in the computer industry grey hair is not good. I was doing very well until the Big Boxes and the Franchises started moving in. They are putting the final nail in the small business cofin with their seemingly unlimited marketing capital and unexperienced low paid tech.s. To answer the question asked, yes, small business is the foundation of our great country and if we can bail out the Big Guys in Wall Street, we should definitely save the Little Guys trying to make an honest living. Warren Pierro Professional Computer Services

ProperName
ProperName

Reading through all of these posts, does it not seem that many here believe that the small computer shop are what keeps everyone else going? I totally agree. I run a small business which serves the needs of a predominantly over 70 crowd. Each and every client who calls me does so after having been run through the mill of big-box support. One client bought his computer from London Drugs(web)...., they were happy to deliver it and set it up for him, but the second he needed support, he was told to package it up and bring it down to the store. He is unable to do any such thing (the reason he bought said computer online) as he's in a wheelchair. Three years ago he was sold a computer running Windows XP SP2 that still only had 256mbs of Ram. When it crashed repeatedly, he found my number. He was convinced he needed to buy a new computer!! Instead, since he was learning anyway, he now runs Ubuntu Linux and does really well with it. Which big box would have taken him there?

john
john

here is the proof: www.imcco.net I have been doing exactly this since 1991, full time. This is my job. No brick and mortar storefront-Just me and my truck fully loaded with IT stuff. I have always competed with the big box guys successfully. How? Service: I answer the phone when a customer calls. I soothe my customers and solve their problems. I still BUILD and sell my computers and servers from scratch in my HOME office. If they want a Dell, I will sell them a Dell. If they want to buy it themselves that is tolerated too-I still get to install it, service it, etc.

Komplex
Komplex

for somebody to open up a storefront PC shop. Unless you are able to specialize and expand like Tekserve in NYC. Or in Hong Kong there are centers dedicated to computer stores (and black market software), where it creates a central location and the big box stores just can't compete on price.

RicoSpain
RicoSpain

In our town here in Spain there are plenty of small retailers. They help small businesses with purchases, networks and software. They help older people to purchase a product which matches their needs (how may people have spoken to a 60+ year old who has a better pc than the average media developer just for navigating the internet and email because the "young man at the store recommended it"?). There is also a lot to be said for building up a relationship with your local store. When things go wrong they are genuinely interested in putting it right... because they know you'll be back. I think there is a place for them as long as they are versatile in their work and adapt to fill any need the larger stores leave. But then surviving as a business because we fill a business need is essential for all of us.

lance
lance

I opened a small New, Used, Sales, Service computer shop in a small town of under 5000 population a little over a year ago. There had been a couple of computer shops here that closed up and there was not one open for about a year here until I opened. Another guy opened up out of his house here about 5 months after I opened and another computer store in a near by city is marketing in this area now. Niether has inmpacted on my business at all. I think what has kept my business going is that I provide services that others do not. Treating the customer like they are Kings and Queens, being local and having a store front that shows that I'm not in it for the short run, I beleive, is what keeps them coming back. I attend Chamber meetings and events, Business after hours events, help the local Optimist club and generally donate my time and some services to help raise funds for different things such as the High School Band, Cheerleaders etc. I do beleive that I can only take in so much in a town this size but will be adding more services such as a internet gaming / cafe set up, doing LAN parties, giving lessons and may take on other items to sell such as cell phones etc. to help raise the gross income but all seems like I'm needed here and don't plan on closing up shop anytime soon.

fgrambs
fgrambs

As long as the big box stores hire incompetent techs and the name brand computers keep making support difficult for end-users, the local computer store will be around. Most of these local stores have techs with years of experience and decent customer service skills. With the prevalence of overseas, script reading tech support and hiring the cheapest labor possible, big box stores and name brands are doing customers a disservice. This leaves the door open to the local computer shop. I will admit that I run a small shop. My business is up 30% over last year and I'm getting more desktop sales than last year. Most of the business is service and I have a good relationship with many of the local business owners. Based on my experience, I believe that local computer stores are a niche service aimed at customers that prefer better direct service instead of lowest price. In addition, local businesses like having a direct contact that can come on site when needed.

LarryD4
LarryD4

I certainly do hope so, my plan, if it ever actually happens. Is to open my own little computer shop. Aside from the usual PC sales and troubleshooting I hope to have weekend Lan Parties, RPG borad gaming, and teaching classes. Who said Geek! :)

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

at least till monstrosities like Dell stop defrauding customers. They don't cheat everyone but the internet is rife with endless stories: lying about stock and ship dates endlessly slipping lying about credit, and charging more or more interest lying about total $ on order and charging you more than what you ordered online. sending different PC than what you ordered having incompetent support people not sending spare parts having 'dell hell' phone bank where you wait 12 hours to be connected to someone who doesn't have authority to help you people who read scripts in customer service .... read the bad comments on resellerratings.com for dell.com in all fairness, gateway, hp and others don't have much better ratings. Yet people still buy because enuf of the PCs do work, and there are bargains. I'd say yes, there is room esp for repair shops to fix and rid of viruses / reinstall OS also. I had great experiences with a local PC shop but they closed. The only solution to the fix-it hell is that in near future PCs will become modular in a way that allows the owner to pull a 'cube' of logic or similar shape off without opening up a case and dealing with wires, swap it out in seconds, after being told by comprehensive test circuitry where the problem is exactly.

john.hellmann
john.hellmann

I tell them the truth. If I think its salvageable and still a decent computer, then I tell them that. If I think they're putting money out for a risky computer, I tell them that too. As the economy tightens, more are willing to repair vs just run out and get a new one. John

George@2ndfloorcomputers
George@2ndfloorcomputers

Obviously your the only one that replied directly to my post, didn't get the sarcasm in that post eh?

cbrennan
cbrennan

I will never again shop at this store. I do not know if every store has the same lack in customer service, that the one in Boston has, but it has gotten so bad that I will never go back. Sure there prices are good on sale items, but I have not once gone in there and found a sale item in stock. When I do decide to buy something else because they are of course out of stock of the items I came in for, while I look around the store it is always taken out of my hand by a salesman saying, "Oh, what is that you have there?" While they slap their commission sticker on it, which I promptly tear off and hand back to them. If after that encounter I decide to purchase an item, there is at least a 28 minute wait in line. Yes, I started timing how long the checkout took after my first visit there ended in me loosing 60+ minutes of my life that I will never get back. It is not that the store is busy, or that there is a large line (generally 2-3 customers in the lines) the wait is so long because the cashier who is checking people out has to have the price checked on every item, because nothing rings up correctly. My final gripe with this place, is after I have waited in line to buy a $5 bag of RJ-45s, they ask for my name, phone number, and address. There is no reason at all that they should be asking for this information, much less insisting on taking it. To say no to them means that you will be waiting for another 20 minutes, while they call the manager over to try and get the information out of you. At this point I generally get a little satisfaction out of the trip, because inevitably one of the people behind me buying a $75 printer, has now been waiting in line for 45 minutes, and promptly places the big ticket item down and leaves the store buying nothing. I have now gone back to the small shops. The trip is always pleasant, it might cost me a little more money, but they save my sanity.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

But that doesn't mean that they wouldn't have made him poor attempting to move him onto something better. :D Col

GeneS
GeneS

This is very true. I'm an independent but don't own a store - I just do the service part. And I've never lost a customer to Best Buy's Geek Squad. My backup for vacation and overload is the little computer shop not far away. We've been working together for almost 20 years. Keep up the good work!!

NIPSTech
NIPSTech

I too have a small business geared to small business, but find that the majority of my work comes from home users. Mostly repairs, upgrades, virus removals and networking setups. Since I already have most of the tools I need, start up costs were low and I keep no inventory. I do have reseller agreements in place with both hardware and software vendors which allows me to make some margin on sales; right around 3% for a new PC and up to 20% on software. The real money is in services, since anyone can buy a PC at Wal-Mart, the other big box retailers or direct from the mfg. As far as support, I couldn't agree more about the big box stores. They are purely revenue and quota-driven and quality of service loses out. That is the nature of retail. And, their services are way overpriced; understandably considering all the overhead costs associated with operating a storefront in a mall. Bottom line, if you can deliver quality work at a reasonable price and establish good relationships with your customers, they will refer you to their friends and your business will grow.

rhomp2002
rhomp2002

what I see in this part of Queens is a lot of small PC stores that offer repairs and upgrades and they will build you a computer if you want. The other half of their business seems to be that they help the smaller businesses who want help with computers. Between the 2 parts they seem to do reasonably well.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

sports card store :0 We had lots of non-sports stuff. I was hired because I knew a lot about Magic the Gathering card game. We ended up tarting Friday night tournaments, and Saturday Night RPG's (D&D, Vampire, etc.) Fun days those were. There was a pizza place close by too! :D

StealthWiFi
StealthWiFi

Funny thing, I live in a smaller town and we actaully have 2 local PC shops. Both offer PC sales and service along with parts, networking equipment, monitors... and the usual goodys Best Buy would have. The closes Best Buy store is around 30min away (not very far) but it seems people prefer to buy local around here and don't like the hassle of the Bix Box store.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

People can keep both of those stores. The pains outweigh the cost benefits for me. They could rename the stores 'Deficients R' Us', and it would be just as appropriate, in my estimation. I have a Tiger Direct outlet nearby the casa, and that is where I go when I need a quick component. Always friendly, and competitively priced.

brent.harmon
brent.harmon

I have never been to a MicroCenter, but have been to Fry's Electronics many times, always with a similar experience. Long lines, defective merchandise repackaged and much more. I wanted to buy a 2GB USB drive, and they only had one model in stock that wasn't covered in cartoon characters. The problem was, this SKU was on sale with a limit of 3 per customer. Even after I offered to pay full price for the 4th, they still wouldn't sell it to me. I left $1,200 worth of merchandise on the counter that day and went back to the office to order it online. On another occasion, the Head Cashier or whatever he was called wouldn't sell me an item at the price listed on the package because he claimed it was mis-tagged. After I told him the BBB would see differently (and nearly made him cry, I think), I was able to get the 4GB USB drive for $34.99 instead of the normal price of $39.99 - he was willing to lose a customer over $5.00! But of course, I go back because they have many of the items I need to run my Service Desk efficiently.

mark
mark

Hi. I used to run my business full time from home. Here in Lincolnshire UK I have a steady stream of private customers and small businesses who come to me because I go to their place and fix the PC/Laptop. I couldn't make it pay full time so I just do it evenings now. I wondered whether to have a shop but could not afford the business rates. I don't get passing trade but I think there will always be a place for people like me because I do a thorough repair job and treat the customer the way I would like to be treated. Honesty is my policy. People respect that. I'm not the cheapest and there are a number of people around here, including a shop, which don't have the skills to repair the PC correctly - that's why they just went bust. I see quite a few machines that other people have "repaired". The majority of my customers hate ringing India for support and can't talk the techie language. Most of them come back after a year when they have yet another virus or the machine is running slow! I hope there will always be a place for service because I love doing it.

JCitizen
JCitizen

that sounds about right; I really think the problem was a lack of driver support from ATI, to tell you the truth. But I feel I must harrass HP a little so they will think twice about entering into contracts with a vendor that just doesn't care. I got it working,but it obviously needs a rewrite. Thanks for the rep Col.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Was a Desktop system that the owner had added a Optical Drive to. The unit didn't come with an optical drive but it did come with Recovery Disc's. Anyway the PS died about 2 months latter and after HP Fitted 5 PS with no improvement they gave it to me to find what the problem was. Apparently they changed the PS 5 times the M'Board 8 Times and everything else except the Optical Drive at least once. I opened the case unplugged the PS and plugged in a 350 W Antec to test with to see what happened. It worked a treat so I returned to the special HP Unit and it didn't work even without the Optical Drive connected. In the end they sent me 40 PS's and it was just a matter of finding one that worked. Talk about a massive waste of time and then they didn't want to pay me because I hadn't fixed it to the owners satisfaction. :D Now if I could have fitted a real PS it would have been a different story. :D Col

JCitizen
JCitizen

That is sounding very familiar here too! I've been working a month on my HP Media Center cable machine trying to get all the incompatabilities ironed out before the warrantee expires. I just end up doing it myself; the support services at HP are very little help.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

To buy Wholesale it's even cheaper than Staff Discounts most times. Personally I used to fix the problems that HP couldn't fix and when they went with someone else I breathed a massive sigh of relief. Their stuff was complete rubbish and I wasted so much time trying to get things to work with their substandard parts that it wasn't funny. Of course if I had not of put up the prices on the work I was doing for them to just about break even I would most likely still have them as a client. Now they just ring up asking how do I do such & such so they are only asking for Free Advice now. :D Col

NIPSTech
NIPSTech

I work p/t doing "repairs" for one of the "big box" electronics retailers. Was hired on as a part time tech two years ago. At our latest monthly "training", we were told by our service manager that we were not primarily technicians, but salesmen and were required to bring in x number of dollars revenue for every hour we were working. I'm always getting myself in trouble for helping customers too much and spending too much time with them. I won't try to sell them something they don't need, but offer them the best solution for their problem. In reality, the only reason I stay with the job is for the employee discounts, which are substantial on accessories such as cables and batteries.

DIFS
DIFS

The majority of PC technical expertise is hidden in these shops. I myself have about 22 years of industry experience. The majority of people around the world gripe about ONE thing; that is integrity and honesty. People also want a personal one on one relationship with the one who handles their "Personal Computer". Even here in Singapore, honesty, integrity and a being a friend has kept me recession proof. I also have the ability to retain long term customers of at least 10 years. I have some who are still with me from the day I started. As long as there are incompetent and unwilling service from the big compaies and crooks out there who try to obtain a "fast buck" from customers, I will still be here. "Give and you shall Receive".

wizardofJ
wizardofJ

I also run a computer sales and repair shop, between the sales and the repairs I can work out OK in any economy. But I have had to put in a notice that the customer needs to pick up their computers within a 30 days after repairs are done - otherwise some of them sit here for months! I have seen lots of people come here after buying parts at Best Buy, see the same things in my tiny shop for a lot less $$ - and even more come here after the Geek Squad "fixed" their computer ... I've learned lots of new words! :)

maurice
maurice

As a small shop owner for over 28 years I assure you there is a place. No you won't get rich but you will receive satisfaction in know you are providing a necessary service and you will be able to keep bread and butter on the table. In the last 10 years I have had at least 9 other shops open and close in my immediate area. They were all going to put me out being cheaper, yet I have had to raise my prices and I'm still here. Some basics in staying in business are essential. NUMBER 1: Be honest (that's right HONEST) do what you say you will do and when you say you will have it ready. NUMBER 1.5: Do not pirate software and do not accept computer to fix with pirated software install on them. If you do you are the one who will be heald accountable if you are caught. (You most likely will get caught. Two local shops did and one guy spent time in Federal Prison for it.) NUMBER 2: Don't kepp a client system longer than absolutely necessary. (My rule is 48 hours or less whenever possible.) NUMBER 3: If there is a problem that comes up CALL the client and let them know and let them know there will be and extra charge. NUMBER 4: If you have to charge more than you quoted CALL the client IMMEDIATELY. (don't do as the big guys do and surprise them at time of pick up) They may never come back. NUMBER 5: Make them feel important to you be friendly and kind to them. They'll send you more clients then thank them for doing so next time you se them. NUMBER 6: Don't give credit to individuals. Accept cash, check or Credit Cards ONLY. You's a small business not a bank. You have bills to pay. 95% of your clients will not be upset with having to pay if you so good work and are honest. It's the 5% that will put you out of business. NUMBER SEVEN: Dont't be afraid to ask for a deposit (25% to 50%if you are building a new system or rebuilding an old one. If they refuse you probably din't lose anything, anyway. That is your assurace that they are sincere about you doing the work and your gaurantee they will be back to pick it up. (I learned the hard way.) Those are the rules I have run my bussenss by for 28 years and I know they work. Those are not the rules everyone else uses but they have worked for me very well.

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