Rich in gold and coal mining history the West Coast is also home to IT@Work which has been servicing the local community since 2002. Founder Brent Oldham took time out to chat with The Channel about his company.
How did it begin?
After 10 years as a systems manager I started a business from home as a freelance consultant - five years later I was working 50-60 hours a week. Employing someone to work alongside me from home wasn’t going to work, so we opened a combined retail store and service centre in Westport. Initially it was myself and two part time staff.
What changes has the business undergone?
Two years ago we opened a second store and service centre in Greymouth and now employ six technicians and two sales staff. Now each technician specialises in certain areas, having specialists in each field has proved to be more efficient for keeping up with and deploying solutions and support.
We’ve also switched focus from building our own branded systems to using CTO units from HP. Becoming an HP Premier Business Partner and developing a closer relationship has really helped us differentiate ourselves from competitors.
Who are your clients?
Our clients are incredibly diverse; from first-time home users to multinationals. Most sales are derived from home users but small to medium businesses provide the bulk of our technical support work.
We’re all things to all people and no two days are ever the same. Our guys can be removing spyware from a home PC in the morning, building a PC at lunchtime and deploying a server installation in the afternoon.
Is it tough being outside a metropolitan area?
It takes some effort to get to training and sales briefings - we really have to pick which to attend. Freight increases have forced us to change and we now place bulk orders at the start of each month and have moved to two day deliveries to minimise costs. We have to keep our hourly charge out rates far below our city counterparts. Many of our bigger clients could cope with an increase in rates but our smaller business and home user clients would struggle and be tempted to use back yard operators.
The biggest challenge is living among your clients. We can’t sell product based on higher margins or push a particular make or model because we’ll make rebate targets or win a trip to Fiji. Our customers know where we live and aren’t above calling at 10pm to complain about a computer crashing. Repeat business is essential and the best advertising is word of mouth from satisfied customers.
What’s your core business?
Our business is basically split down the middle with product sales and service revenue. Although product margins are down quantities sold have continued to increase. Contracts with FujiXerox, HP, Brother and Gen-I have given some measure of surety to our revenue income and provided us with increased access to training and exposure to corporate clients.
Which distributors do you use?
Mainly Ingram Micro. I made a conscious decision to place 90% of my business through one distributor, I figured it would be to my advantage to spend more in one place than spreading it around and that’s certainly worked well. We also use Dove Electronics, BDT, Legend and Renaissance.
Hell everything’s hot at the moment. Notebooks have really taken off as have digital cameras and LCD monitors. However we’ve never consistently sold as many desktops as in the past year and wireless product is really becoming widespread.
Kids are into MP3 players and MSN while SKYPE seems to be the buzzword of the older generation.
What’s dropped off?
Margins. It’s probably more a case of what hasn’t taken off. Ultra portables and PDAs have generated very little interest and the all-singing and dancing cell phones don’t seem to have had the uptake expected. I think it’s down to people not wanting their life’s work jammed in their hip-pocket and lost in the next wash.
What’s the best thing about your location?
The West Coast is a fabulous place to live –the climate isn’t as bad as you’d believe from weather forecasts and the lifestyle is incredibly relaxed. The three minute drive to work is great, as is being within five minutes of 90% of your clients.
It’s the people that make the difference. West Coasters are famous for their hospitality, take a genuine interest in what you do and will go the extra mile without looking for anything in return. I’ve worked and travelled all over the place but can’t imagine living anywhere else.