PCR talks to Garry Stonehouse at Gbiz about picking your target audience and the value of community relations
How did you start the company?
I first decided to go self-employed back in 1995. I’d been working for a previous company for around nine years and while I wasn’t doing IT directly, it had always played a role. I’d got to a point where I was sick of essentially lining other people’s pockets and so I decided to take the plunge, start out on my own and accumulate a nest egg for myself. I’m still waiting for that nest egg though!
So how has the company changed over the years?
I started out on my own, doing calls – as many others do. I was going around fixing people’s computers in their homes but I quickly realised that there was a limited amount of work I could do, as there were only so many hours in the day. So I decided to take on a dedicated workshop.
A workshop was good move because it meant I could work on more than one PC at once, which you can’t do when you’re on the road, and I carried on doing that on my own for about a year, but we quickly outgrew that. It was too small for my needs, so I decided to take another plunge and open a proper retail shop.
We’d had a little display at the front of the workshop for ink, memory sticks, CDs and things like that, but we decided it would probably be better if we could get a larger workshop, with a proper retail shop attached and some office space in the middle of town.
“When I first started out, I was very competitive on pricing. If I’m honest, I was way too cheap.”
Garry Stonehouse, Gbiz IT
So that’s where we are now; we’re in a little square of shops, we can be seen from the road, which gives us a lot of exposure, and that’s worked well.
Was there a big difference in the kind of customers you got when you moved premises?
Naturally when we moved from the workshop into the shop, our customer base changed an awful lot. As well as getting the pre-arranged customers, we’d also get people just walking in off the street, so we picked up a lot of passing trade.
But we also evolved our customers by choice, too. When I first started out, I was very competitive on my pricing. If I’m honest I was way too cheap, which meant I was getting a certain type of customer who’s a lot of trouble and wants everything done for nothing. We quickly realised we were spending an awful lot of time for not much return.
So when we went into the shop, we decided to go a little more upmarket. Many of the shops in the surrounding area tend to compete on price and go for the cheapest stock they can get their hands on – because that’s what they believe the customers want – but by competing on price they attract the customers who only want low prices.
I realised they were missing the market of people who want something with a bit more quality, which worked very well as the higher end customers weren’t catered for in the area.
That lesson was reinforced when we first started selling tablets. I initially ignored my own strategy and bought in the lowest price we could – and of course my customers came in looking for iPads. They’d look at my range of cheap devices, stay as long as was polite and then they’d quietly leave. I was letting customers who were willing to pay top prices walk out of my shop! I quickly fixed that and now we offer a whole range of devices.
So yes, we’ve evolved our customers in a conscious way. We’ve also developed more business customers. We, like most people, are moving our sales model to a subscription-based one, where we can sell contracts to people rather than single transactions. We’re getting regular income from our maintenance customers and we sell Google Apps, which gives us regular income rather than waiting for customers to come in the door.
So what’s the biggest challenge facing you today?
Getting decent pricing support from manufacturers is always a challenge. While we don’t go out to compete against e-tailers, because it’s not possible, we’d like to be able to offer prices that compete with what the large chains can offer.
They’ll always have loss leaders and the like but I’d like to be able to compete at a basic level. It’s always a challenge to find enough stock at a decent price to be able to consistently offer a good deal to your customers.
How does the work you do in the local community help you?
It helps us get more exposure through channels we wouldn’t usually be able to get to. With older generations in particular, we wouldn’t be able to reach them through our usual methods and being active just helps to remind them that there’s a computer shop down in the square – even if they only came here to buy theatre tickets.
“If you want to be respected by the community, you’ve got to be seen as someone who’s not just there for their own gain but who gives back to the community as well.”
Garry Stonehouse, Gbiz IT
That aside, it’s more a case of taking your responsibility within the community. If you want to be respected by the community, you’ve got to be seen as someone who’s not just there for their own gain but who gives back to the community as well. It’s being responsible, which gets respect as well as the additional exposure in return.
What’s the best thing about what you do?
The best thing about being self employed rather than employed is the flexibility. You can take a day off whenever you like, but there is a flip side to it – if something comes up then you might be up all night.
There’s also the ability to play with the latest tech that comes out all the time. With anything new that comes out, I’m there at the exhibitions and shows, finding out about it and playing around – that’s why we do it really. That’s why anyone works in this industry – we do it because we love it.
Year established: 1995
Number of outlets:1
Number of staff:5
Contact name and address:Gbiz IT Computers 9 The Wynd Marske-by-the-Sea TS11 7LD
Telephone: 01642 477200