PCR talks to the founder of Cloud Computer Services, Kevin Miller, about maintaining a balanced retail, business and services presence.
Can you tell us how the company began?
Having worked in the IT industry since the age of 19, I felt there was an opportunity in the local area for a new computing business, along with the need for honest, competitive pricing.
It was then in 2010 that Cloud Computers was launched to bring together all the skills and experience I gained from running different retail and repairs businesses in the past.
Is it a challenge to cater to both of these markets?
It can be very difficult to manage both, however I opted to employ a retail manager to take the pressure off, who can ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Since employing someone to take care of the retail side, it has freed me up to purely focus on the business side of things.
As both a retailer and services provider, you’re quite the comprehensive outlet. How important is that?
I feel it’s very important. I firmly believe you need to have multiple elements to a business.
We do everything from online backups and managed services, to business and home users, in addition to your common smartphone, laptop, and console repairs. We probably do everything, and for me that’s incredibly important.
I think those businesses that are struggling right now are those that are limiting themselves by not offering a wide range of products and services.
Do you feel that offering everything makes the business an attractive option in the eyes of the customer?
I believe that the larger the company looks, the more confidence the customer will have in you and your services. I think you have to look the part and in order to do that, you have to spend the money – and to do that, you’re likely going to need an extensive portfolio.
When I launched the business it cost a small fortune because of the branding, sign fitting and advertising, which I did because I was confident it would be a success. Had I not invested, I doubt we would be turning such a great profit.
You maintain a vast portfolio of products. Has this stock been influenced by demand?
Yes, definitely. We pay close attention to the likes of Which? and Best Buy.
However, we also stock products we would like to own ourselves. Often, the products we would like to own personally sell swiftly.
Is it something you review regularly?
Absolutely; in retail it is very difficult to keep everything up to date and we have to take the risk of having left over stock. However, we like to try out products first. If they are as good as you’d initially hoped then they will sell.
IT retail has become an increasingly difficult market because of how competitive it is. In particular, we are facing the highest competition from supermarkets. However, having our repairs workshop in store helps draw customers in and this enables us to continue to compete.
Do you believe that High Street multiples could learn something from independents?
I think that they could but ultimately that’s what makes us different. An independent store like ours will highly educate their staff on the products and employ staff with strong skill sets. If the High Street stores were to take this approach then we would compete for the same customers and it would be the case of convenience that sets us apart.
The company has a comprehensive web presence including testimonials. How valuable are they to generating new business?
Testimonials are very important. Many customers will research a business before using them and testimonials reassure potential customers that we are genuine and trustworthy.
We here at Cloud Computers gain many customers through testimonials, online recommendations and referrals.
Does the business benefit from engagement with social media?
Personally I don’t feel it works so well for our industry because it doesn’t focus solely on our target market.
However, saying that, if we had time to really focus and promote the business on these sites then I’m sure we would get results.
That’s quite interesting as many in the industry rate social media as providing their business with a personality.
I can see how important engaging with social media could be for small businesses, but for one like ours with more than two members of staff I feel it’s less effective.
Sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook are cost-effective advertising venues but as a larger organisation, I feel you could put a lot of resources into a social media presence whilst they could be better spent elsewhere.
What are the biggest issues you face in today’s market?
Advertising is one of the major issues we face. In retail it is difficult because the cost of advertising is extortionate.
We have featured on the radio, in newspapers and produced leaflets but until the cost of advertising significantly reduces then this will always be a struggle for any independent business.
Do you have any advice for new businesses starting out?
My advice would be to do a lot of detailed research on the product, the market and the competition and seek advice or guidance from someone who is experienced and could provide you with support. It also helps to have a good business plan in place and set realistic and achievable targets.
Finally, be honest, once you’ve lost a customer, you are unlikely to get them back. Reputation is everything.