Laura Barnes sat down with Paul Odell to find out what Paul’s Computer Services has to offer the local community, how the business has changed over the years and what’s in store for the retailer in the future.
Can you tell us how Paul’s Computer Services began?
Well, I have always worked in the IT industry. I started off as an alarm engineer, then I worked for a while as a TV service engineer, and I have also worked as a college technician.
After all that, I spent seven years working in computer shops, but then I was made redundant. That was a sign that the time was right for going it alone. So I opened up Paul’s Computer Services in 2001.
How big is the company?
I am actually just a one-man band. The shop is in a small market town, so I serve the town and the surrounding villages.
Can you tell us exactly what it is you offer? I guess my shop offers the same sort of services that all other independent shops offer. We sell PCs and peripherals, but we also do repairs as well as call outs.
You offer quite a variety. What would you say has been the biggest growth area recently?
I don’t want to sound negative, but I’m not sure I could say that any area is actually growing.
The fact is the economy at present is having a bad effect on indie retailers. And it’s not just retailers; the economy is also having a bad effect on the area in general. Footfall is down 20 per cent this year across the whole town.
Having said that, I have seen quite an increase in Trojan and virus removal recently.
What is it that marks you out from the other competition in your area?
My customer base is from the town the shop is based in as well as the surrounding villages. I like to think I have a good reputation, as most of my customers initially come to me from recommendations.
The nearest small retail competition is 15 miles away, and I’ve been told people tend not to use them more than once.
A bonus for the past couple of months has been selling Windows 7 laptops. The big boys only sell Windows 8 but customers need more options.
How has the business changed over the years?
It’s changed in a lot of ways actually. From payment methods and sales to the average customer’s knowledge of the products they are looking to buy.
Ten years ago, customers paid mainly with cash and cheque which didn’t have any extra costs, now most customers prefer to pay by card, which costs me around £60 to £100 a month.
Going back to the early nineties the average customer’s knowledge of IT was a lot less than it is now, which made life easier and more profitable for the business as they would be keen to take the advice you give. Today it’s a case of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ (or should I say a less profitable thing).
Ten years ago I was selling one laptop to every ten desktops, now it’s the other way round.
Does the business benefit from engagement with social media?
Although I have a social media presence, I can’t say I’ve noticed that it benefits my business in any way.
What are the biggest issues your company faces in today’s market?
The economy is a big issue. Turnover is down and no one really k
nows how long the downturn will last or what the long term effects may be. With electricity, water, rent, and rates always increasing, the store’s overheads are also continuing to increase. Internet sales are increasingly taking over from High Street sales so this is also worrying for a bricks and mortar store like mine.
You mentioned that you offer on-site call outs. Do you think there is still value in face-to-face interaction, even in the internet age?
Everything I do is face-to-face. I try to encourage customers to bring repairs into the shop but there are always customers who prefer on-site call outs.
What do you have in store for Paul’s Computer Services over the next couple of years?
Firstly the plan is to survive the economic catastrophe that we are all in at the moment. After that, I plan to move away from PC base unit sales and into tablet sales as that is where the market is going.
Although it’s not related to computers, a couple of years ago I started dealing in coins and now the shop is actually Paul’s Computer Services & Suffolk Coins. It’s a strange mix I know, but it seems to be working well for me.
What’s the best thing about what you do?
You can’t beat working for yourself. To be honest, I would probably earn more money stacking supermarket shelves, but I have always worked to live and never lived to work.
I get a big buzz from giving a repaired computer back to a customer and I also get bottles of wine and chocolates at Christmas, which makes me feel very good about the job that I’m doing.
All that makes up for the long hours and little money I get running an indie computer shop!
Year established: 2001
Number of outlets: 1
Number of staff: 1
Contact address: 5a Market Hill, Clare, Suffolk, C010 8NN
Telephone: 01787 279380