A computer co-op. What is that?
The question draws a smile from Luke Lundemo, owner of the Computer Co-op in Jackson, who seems to be always smiling. “I get that all the time,” he said. “People say, `I don`t know what it is, but I`ll join.`”
According to Lundemo his business is unique to not only Mississippi but the country, “We did some research looking for something to clone but found nothing like this.”
The Computer Co-op is a worker and consumer cooperative offering hardware, software and computer services. Its stated aim is to provide “a vehicle for the promotion of sharing, economic justice and environmental sustainability.”
The Computer Co-op offers services in the field, as well as at the store. It provides hardware both for sale and for rent, repair, consulting, computer and network set-up, various services such as copying discs and graphics work, software installation and has recently started offering customized software programming. In addition, beginner-level computer classes are given every Monday evening. Lundemo said plans are to begin offering intermediate-level classes in the near future.
The co-op offers four membership levels, beginning at $35 per year and ranging to $500 annually. Members are offered discounts on products and services, a quarterly newsletter, a vote on classes and services offered and free class tuition (to educational- and investor-level members only).
Lundemo`s path to the co-op is an interesting one. While working with a citizens` group in Missouri fighting the proliferation of nuclear power plants, he found nobody knew how to compile a mailing list. So, he drove to St. Louis, bought a computer and taught himself the basics. Later, he moved to San Diego where he began hiring himself out as a computer temp.
While in California, he had a profound experience that ultimately led to the co-op. Lundemo was hired by a company which had an employee who held all the firm`s knowledge of its computer system and refused to share it with others in order to ensure his job security. Lundemo was hired to shadow the employee and try to learn his passwords.
“It was there that I realized how terrible it is not to share knowledge, to not share ideas and technology,” he said.
Lundemo went on to formal computer studies at the University of California before moving to Mississippi with his wife – a Tylertown native. Lundemo started his business out of his house 10 years ago, never dreaming the business would take wing. And success was attained – and is maintained now – by simple word-of-mouth. “We`re in the yellow pages,” Lundemo said when asked about his marketing efforts.
Finally, the house couldn`t hold the business and just last March Lundemo opened his first facility outside his home in the former Mississippi Blood Services building at Old Canton Road and Lakeland Drive.
Lundemo said the move has paid off. Of the approximately 300 customers (50% of them businesses) the co-op boasts now, almost half (110) joined since the move. Lundemo said that he is having to look to augment his three-person staff and to get creative with space utilization.
Lundemo said his plans for the future are to offer more classes and services, particularly in the area of the Internet.
When asked what advice he would give to anyone thinking of establishing a co-op, Lundemo`s answer summed up his entire philosophy behind starting the Computer Co-op.
“It`s not about computers. It`s about servicing people,” he said.
– By Wally Northway
MBJ Staff Writer