I received a set of interview questions for an upcoming magazine article, so I thought I’d share them here:
Questions About the Industry
How did you get started with your business? What made you decide to be a part of your industry?
I started working on computers as a hobby in 1980. I had a Radio Shack Color Computer. I attended R.E.T.S Electronics school on weekends while I was still in High School where I was studying electronic engineering. I worked my way through High School repairing Radios and Televisions. I also became a licensed Amateur Radio operator, and repaired HAM radios. I used my electronics knowledge to extensively modify my little Co-Co to do things Radio Shack never imagined! I had 64K of memory when it only supported 16K. I had dual external floppy drives, when it only supported a cassette deck. I tapped into the video out to create a composite video connection to a real monochrome monitor when Radio Shack connected to a TV. I was running a parallel printer through the serial port, and a real modem through the parallel port. I was able to tie all this together and run the second most popular BBS in the state or Maryland.
In 1990 I was able to turn my hobby into a career at American Express, supporting all the desktops in their Establishment Services division. Then when they decided to migrate from mainframe to a server based architecture, they sent me to school to learn Novell. Later they decided to install Windows based servers and sent me to school again to earn my M.C.S.E.
I spent the last 20 years supporting thousands of Enterprise Servers for some of the biggest names in the world. But I really love the desktop and end user support. As my career advanced, I found myself working solely in the background with no recognition. I also found myself being out-tasked to various contracting agencies as corporations decided to out-task their IT support. The last time I got laid off, I made the decision to incorporate my old radio and television repair company into Computer Repair. Even that has morphed a little over the past year to focus on residential support, my true passion.
Which aspect of your industry interests you most?
I covered my passion for helping people in the last question. Computers are still my hobby, and I am extremely fortunate to be able to make them my career. I am interested in many aspects from both a hardware and software standpoint. I have become an expert at Virus Removal, in addition to my extensive Windows training and knowledge. I have a unique ability to tune Windows and really speed up most any computer. This helps me save people money as their old computers will continue to serve their needs without spending a fortune on new equipment.
What are you doing to keep up with the constant changes in your industry?
READ. I read computer magazines. I read advertising catalogs. I search the web for topics of interest. And in my downtime, I still “play” with my computers. I test new software, I read reviews, and I’m not afraid to break things. It is through constant break and repair that I learn how things work, what works, and what doesn’t.
What future do you envision for the industry you belong in?
People will always have computers, and they depend on them more and more. The hardware may change, but the basics remain pretty much the same. I see the industry moving more toward tablets and cellphones, but hopefully not completely within the next 10 years. As long as there is still an interest in keeping the old dinosaur desktops and laptops running, I will be here to help.
If there are changes you can do with your industry, what would it be and why?
I hope to help people realize that desktops and laptops still perform better for web surfing, and creating content. I also believe that for most of this, you do not need a lot of power. In the future, this will certainly change, and I will need to adapt. I know that in today’s economy people do not have the money to spend on the latest and greatest gadgets, and those that do still go back to their trusty computers for the tasks in which they excel. I hope to help keep the Personal Computer alive and well for years to come.
Any notable experiences/success stories that reinforced your interest in the industry?
As a child I was always interested in electronics. I had electronic project kits, where I could build literally hundreds of projects with the included diagrams. I found that I could combine the kits, and create my own projects. This sparked my interest in electronic engineering, and eventually computers. I’ve been doing this stuff for more than FORTY years, and I still love it.
Questions About Business
What sets your business apart from others?
First of all, I have more experience, training, and certifications than most anyone. As I said, I’ve been doing this literally my whole life. I am not looking to get rich doing this. Sure, I could charge a fortune for my services, but how is that really helping people? Deep down, I’m much more of a people person than most people in this industry. I am a Christian, and I believe that I have been granted this gift not for myself, but to help my community.
I also don’t believe you must subscribe to monthly service. Sure everyone, including myself, will tell you there are tasks that must be run regularly to keep your computer working properly. If you think about it, it’s a computer. It can schedule and run tasks on it’s own. That’s what computers do! I schedule these tasks, so you don’t need to pay me, or anyone else, every month for service. I’m confident that when you see how well everything works when I’m done, you will call me if/when you ever do have another problem. I’m sure that you will gladly refer me to your friends and neighbors. It is my hope, that I will continue to expand on this new business enough to keep this company running for years to come.
What is the purpose of your business?
In the broadest term, computer repair. But I do so much more, for so much less, because I believe it’s the right thing to do.
What can clients expect from you in the coming months? The following year?
I continue to learn new tricks every day. I have an interest in VOIP, and can use my experience there to help people save money. I continue to add new services, and will continue to adopt new technologies. As customers find new problems with both old, and new, technologies, I will continue to find solutions.
What aspects of your business do you want to improve? Why?
I am still, and likely always will be, building my business. I need to continue to attract new customers. I need to continue to stay abreast of changes in the industry. I need to continue to expand my knowledge and experience. If I fail in any one of these, my business will fail.
Who or what inspires your business?
I guess myself more than anything, or anyone, else. It is my hobby and my passion.
What is the most important aspect of your business?
The most important aspect of my business is helping people. Everyone has a computer, and everyone has problems. No one wants to spend money where they don’t need to. The majority of my customers are unemployed, retired, or living on a fixed income. I understand that. I sympathize with them. I’ve been there myself, more than once! I’m just glad I can help.
Describe your company in one word.
There are so many “one words” to describe Irwin Electronics. Trustworthy, helpful, ingenuity, and competitive all come to mind. Take your pick.
Questions About Products/Services
What is your latest product/service? Kindly explain and elaborate.
Our newest product is our Dell D630 refurbished laptops. Members of my family needed new laptops for work and school, but they did not have a lot of money to spend. They asked me for help, and this is what I found. When I received the first one, I discovered the refurbishing companies idea of refurbish was simply a new battery, power supply, and clean install of Windows 7. That’s a great start, but many things didn’t work. I could not scroll with the touchpad because the drivers were not installed. I could not see the volume level on the screen because the Dell Quickset application was not installed. The BIOS was out of date. There was no productivity software installed, not to mention anti-virus, flash player, and pdf viewer, etc. Also the laptops were a little light on RAM. Memory is cheap, and it is the most cost effective upgrade you can make. When I was done with it, my family absolutely LOVED it. They requested another for another family member, and yet another after that. A friend of mine said, “you could sell these things.” So here they are!
How did you choose the products/services you offer?
Need vs. Skills vs. Interest. Is there a need for tablet repair? Sure, but I don’t have the skills. I have an interest, and the knowledge, but I struggle with the tiny connectors. My hands are not as steady as they used to be. Carpet cleaning is in high demand too. I have the basic skills, but not the interest.
What product/service you are currently developing/plan to offer soon?
We’ve had really good luck with our VOIP solution for our phone system. The need is there, and I’m certainly interested, and excited, about it. The hardware can be purchased for $50, but the setup is cumbersome at best. Once everything is configured, your phone service can be completely free with a few exceptions. What to charge for the service and what are people willing to pay remains to be determined.
I also have a solution to the biggest complaint with Windows 8, the lack of the Start button on the desktop, and the need to go through the Metro interface to get to the classic desktop. I expect this service to really take off as more people migrate.
What makes your products special?
The service is what makes our products special. In fact, we sell our products at cost!
How does your product/service impact your clients?
We never sell anything our customers don’t need, and why would we if we sell at cost? We get terrific prices on the products we do sell, and this helps our customers save money. Our service is to identify and correct the problems our customers are experiencing with their computers.
How does your product/service make a difference in the world?
We exceed the needs of our customers. We include additional services at no charge to help protect them from the dangers lurking on the Internet. I’m not sure if this makes a difference in the world, but it sure makes a difference to my customers!
What value do you deliver to your clients through your products/services?
First, we shop the competition, and keep our prices competitive. Let’s look at Virus Removal for more detail. Most companies offer a tiered approach to virus removal. The starting service is usually $100 and offers no guarantee. They will attempt to clean the virus, but if Windows is damaged you’re out of luck. You can get your computer back as is, or pay an additional $250 for a re-image. Or you can opt for the $250 charge first which is guaranteed because they will reformat the hard drive and reload Windows from scratch. I understand Staples will do this for $50, but all they do is load Windows, or restore to factory defaults. They do not backup/restore your data.
I work a little differently. The initial charge is the same $100. If that works, great. If Windows is damaged, I will make every attempt to repair it. If I am unable to do so, I will contact the customer and let them know before proceeding to the second level. That is $240, but I do not add the $100 for the first attempt. With the increased charge, I make a backup of the entire hard drive as is, and will restore all the customer’s documents, pictures, and music upon completion.
Also, regardless of the total cost involved, I will ensure that all Windows Updates have been applied. I will verify their anti-virus software is functioning, and that they have a quality product. If they do not, I include anti-virus software at no additional charge. I also include a Windows Tune-up which stops the unnecessary services, hides the computer on the network, and disables the administrative shares. This further increases the security, and stability, of Windows while also speeding up the computer. I include all necessary software to fully utilize the computer, such as Adobe Flash Player, a PDF viewer, and an Office Suite or Microsoft Office.
I also make a compressed image of the drive when all the work is done, and store that to a hidden partition so the computer can easily be recovered to it’s fully tuned state at any time in the future. As you can see, I keep my prices competitive with the independent repair shops, but add a lot of additional services at no extra charge.