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Coast-owned computer dealers find success with service

So your fledgling business needs a computer. You need it for accounting, inventory, a few other things. Or maybe you have a computer in your small business, and it’s past time to upgrade. Do you know what you need? Where to go? Who will service it for you?

A long list of computer companies on the Coast offer many brands, sizes, and services, some of which you don’t need – you think. Wouldn’t it be easier to just go to one of those big chain stores and buy one?”

Harold Neiper, owner of Coast Computers, Inc. in Biloxi, wants you to consider something else first. The big computer mega-stores, “are running commission salespeople that are trying to move product off the floor. They’re not really aware of or give a damn about your business. All they’re interested in is making the sale, because part of the sale is their commission.”

Neiper said that most of his business customers don’t know what kind of computer they want, they simply know what they want it to do. “I look at their business, see what they’re doing, determine what they’re going to need to accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish.”

That kind of advice is available at many of the locally-owned computer stores on the Coast. Brian McMullen at Entre Computer Center said it’s much the same situation at that store, although they do get some savvy businesspeople. “We cater to a wide market. We cater to IS (information systems) professionals who obviously know what they want, nine times out of 10. Some of them also want our direction, which is something we offer, consulting services for how to implement solutions; you know, connecting up different networks, or what kind of computer would be best for this need. So we go full-scale: we work with people that know everything, know exactly what they want, can basically give us the part numbers; and we also work with the people who say, ‘This is what I want to do, how do I do it?’ I’d say it’s about 50-50.”

McMullen also said that many computer buyers don’t look at the long-term impact of their choice. “People put the initial cost of the computer up front: ‘It’s going to cost me a $1,000 here or $1,100 there. Well, I’m going to buy it for $1,000. They don’t take into consideration that either place you buy it, you’re going to have problems, it’s a given fact. One place, you might have to send it back in to have it repaired, it’s going to be down for two weeks, therefore you lost that $100 deal that you banked on. Or, you have another place, someone may come out there on sight maybe the same day, maybe the next day, and fix it, depending on the quality of the equipment, they may have to back order the parts. The actual up-front cost of the equipment is very, very small in relation to the total cost of ownership.”

Service is a key factor in the decision. Neiper said that it’s his service that has led to many sales. “The first pawn shop that I did any work for was Biloxi Pawn. I now do Biloxi Pawn, Edgewater Pawn, Bayview, Tropical, Dad’s, Long Beach, and Mr. Jack’s. After having worked for a short period of time with Biloxi Pawn – they’re all using the same software – I’m familiar with the software, I’m familiar with how their businesses work, and I’m able to help them make intelligent decisions as to which way they need to go with their hardware. The same way with video stores. I’m familiar with their businesses, too, and that helps. And there are a few other businesses like that.”

There is a place for the big chain-type stores. “We do have Circuit City, Office Depot, Office Max, which I would consider a large retailer; it’s just the same thing basically as a CompUSA or something like that, because it’s more diversified, it’s got furniture and everything else, including computers. Some people buy from there. They sell a retail line; they don’t really sell what is the gist of the business line,” McMullen said. “It’s intended to meet some of the small business’ needs.” McMullen said that for some businesses, those stores appears to offer a good deal: “It’s cheaper, it’s bundled, it comes with a one-year warranty, everything’s included, and it’s considerably cheaper than one of the models that we carry, which would have the three-year warranty and everything.”

McMullen said that as a result, the big stores have impacted the sales at local computer stores. “I would say yes, to a degree. If you notice, in the last six months, Hollywood Computers closed, Racer Computers closed, within the last year CSP Computers closed and they were pretty prominent here on the Coast. They had a pretty good business going. You’ll note that we are the oldest computer reseller on the Coast.”

Both computer stores said that the Y2K bug has affected their sales positively. “A lot of the sales this year have been due to Y2K,” McMullen reported. “It forced some people who have been putting off upgrading into having to upgrade. Number one, they have to upgrade their software, and software dictates hardware, despite what a lot of people may think. Therefore, they had to upgrade their hardware.”

Neiper agreed. “There’s probably more hardware sales because of Y2K. Upgrades, not necessarily whole systems. We do a lot of upgrades.”

So you found that local computer store with a friendly salesperson. Together, you decide how much computer you need, and what it’s going to cost. They’ll even come in and set it up for you. They stand behind their work-there’s a nice long warranty and you can call them anytime for help. Now all you have to do is catch up on all that word processing, accounting, surfing, e-mailing…

Contact MBJ contributing writer Kim M. Campbell at kim@ametro.net or mbj@msbusiness.com.


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