It’s not easy running an independent store. Dominic Sacco spends a day with the staff at Chelmsford’s longest-serving PC retailer, Computer World, to find out what it’s really like behind the counter…
"You have turned the monitor on, haven’t you?”
Paul Bocking is already on the phone as I enter the cosy shop on Chelmsford’s busy Baddow Road.
“Well, you need to plug the power lead into the monitor for it to work,” he adds. “That’s right. Okay? No problem, talk to you soon.”
Paul puts the phone down and greets me. He looks after Computer World’s commercial side as IT solutions director.
Paul explains: “Customers mostly call us if their computer doesn’t work – and usually it’s because it hasn’t been plugged in or switched on correctly. But you have to be understanding.”
The door suddenly opens – it’s the delivery man with a bunch of parcels. A Fractal tower and Hanns-G monitors sit among the stock.
IT technician Stuart Roat takes the boxes upstairs to the shop’s repair centre. There are components scattered everywhere up here, from power supplies to graphics cards and motherboards – it’s a PC geek’s heaven.
“It was nice and tidy up here once, before the chaos you see here,” calls a voice from the corner desk. It’s technical director Gary Pollington, who looks after the day-to-day running of the business.
He tells me Computer World started off repairing white goods before turning to computers in 1995.
“You could earn a decent profit on a PC system back then,” he says. “There were also more rival indies around. Then PC World and the supermarkets came in – the market was flooded and prices came down. Repairs and business support services are our core focus.”
On the wall there’s ‘the done rack’ – shelves filled with repaired PCs waiting to be picked up by their owners. If they turn up, that is.
“Our oldest job was completed 213 days ago,” Stuart explains. “The customer wanted a new hard drive fitted – it’s still waiting there for him.
“We once had a lady drop her PC in to be repaired, which we completed straight away. She returned to pick it up one year later.”
We head back downstairs. Several customers have come and gone already – mainly to bring in or pick up a computer, but there was one who just wanted to print off a single A4 document.
The door swings open and another steps in, dropping off a laptop for repair.
“When will it be ready?” he asks.
“Around 15 minutes,” Stuart replies.
“Okay, I’ll come back in half an hour.” The customer returned two hours later.
I’m beginning to understand the challenges of running a PC store. I ask Paul what some of his main grievances are.
“You will need all day for that,” jokes Gary.
Paul says the biggest grievance is competing with retailers that sell at a loss, followed by customers getting advice in-store then buying elsewhere online.
But it’s not all bad. Paul says: “99 per cent of business customers come back to us, and we’ve got a good reputation locally. We’re the longest serving computer shop in Chelmsford.”
In the afternoon, we head over to Computer World’s recently opened second store in Bond Street, a busier part of Chelmsford’s city centre. It has a larger window display and greater footfall.
After some more customer enquiries, and before the day draws to a close, I ask Paul what he thinks about new tech around the corner such as improved 3D printers, wearable tech and 4K monitors.
“People don’t really want them yet,” he says. “They want a bog standard PC that’s cheap to run.”
Paul’s frank statement is surprisingly refreshing to hear. As I leave the store I realise that despite declining global PC sales, there will always be a demand for them – and for repairs – as long as stores like Computer World are around.
MEET THE TEAM (from left to right): IT technician Michael Bonard, PA Liz Pollington and directors Gary Pollington and Paul Bocking