Jade Burke speaks to Richard Alford, MD of Black Bear Computers, who discusses the firm’s humble beginnings, the impact of its rebrand and the retailer’s plans to branch out into gaming with its own dedicated site…
How did the business start?
It started from the back room of the original owner’s house, just down the road from where we’re based now, back in 1997.
What products and services do you offer?
We sell all ranges of laptops and desktops, including our own PC builds and gaming PCs. We also sell components, accessories and peripherals. We offer a repair and upgrade service on site, as well as installation and some training and support.
You changed the name of your store last year – how has that helped?
We changed our name as there was another company called Black Box Network. We’ve had a rebrand and it has allowed us to make some changes, but we have actually found some negatives as well as positives.
I think it’s allowed customers to see us as the new brand and show that we’re moving forward, however, some people have seen it as some large national company buying out Black Box Computers. But I think it’s definitely made people more aware of the fact we’re here.
What are some of your top selling products?
That’s a good question; I would say probably the best sellers are the cheaper laptops. Although, we’re really starting to see a shift towards gaming, so I would say if the trend carries on, then that’s going to be overtaken by the gaming PCs.
Do you think PC gaming could overtake consoles?
I do actually, yes. I think the problem people are seeing with consoles is the fact that if you buy a PlayStation 3 for example, then they bring out the next game and you’ve got to have a PlayStation 4 – and there’s nothing you can do. Whereas, with PC gaming that never happens, as the basic machine has no end date on it. I think that’s the problem with consoles.
How much work do you do with schools?
We used to do a lot of work with schools and our school budget has since changed, so we’ve pulled back a little bit. But we have gone back into that market where we do a lot of what I call box shifting, where we supply the goods without support for some secondary schools.
Are there any new sectors you’re looking into?
We have been looking at branching out with more gaming peripherals, including headphones and speakers. We have also been looking at home automation and I think that’s definitely starting to grow. We do a lot with IP cameras and we have started to see those go into businesses, but also into homes, where people are looking to have something to protect their home.
You recently spoke at PCR Boot Camp. What was it like for you to be on stage and sharing your thoughts with other retailers?
It was very interesting. Our business has been through quite a few changes, and I did find it very reassuring to see the other panellists and the people in the audience agreeing with the things we were saying. I think sometimes in the IT industry you sit with your little circle and you don’t really see what’s going on in the rest of the country, or think you’re the only one having a hard time when things are tough. So I think that was very interesting, and I was pleased to be able to share some of the things that we have done that were quite positive within the company.
What advice would you give new businesses starting out in the industry?
I think that you shouldn’t try to walk before you can run. I think you definitely have to give very high levels of customer service. That’s more important than anything; a lot of businesses look at price and I think you will not win at the end of the day on price.
What does the future hold for Black Bear Computers?
We are looking at launching a new online website called Black Bear Gaming. We’re going to do a lot more online sales and build that up. We will include our own gaming builds and we’ll probably have MSI laptops, as well as a small choice of different peripherals.
Year established: 1997
Number of outlets: 1
Number of staff: 12
Contact name and address: 2 Norfolk Street, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1 2BW
Telephone: 01524 389300