PC Repair – Going Down The Tubes?

Like any industry, PC Repair has always been filled with the shady, the misinformed and the down right lying individuals that make up problems in order to make a quick buck. I have seen busts like the one seen here in this Windows Media file before. And the fact that national chains are part of this problem is hardly a surprise. Most of these guys are paid crap and expected to be honest, trustworthy and someone the end user should have confidence in. Others from the private sector, are just crooks – and that is just sad.

If you remember when I first started here, I had talked quite a bit about my own experiences with PC repair as an industry. I know what it’s like to try and squeeze out an honest buck amongst those who perhaps, are less than honest. In light of this, I will see about reworking some of my old techniques I used to ‘wow’ my previous clients to the point that they STILL call me despite knowing that I have not been in the repair game for a long time. It’s not about being cheaper, it’s about getting the job done and providing a clear defining reason why you blow the doors off of these national companies that have zero vested interest in the clients they serve. One example technique I used was never selling the hardware myself. Why? Watch the video above as mysteriously bad RAM becomes a shot motherboard in a matter of seconds. Seriously, buying repair services from someone that makes a tidy markup on hardware is a dangerous proposition.

At any rate, I will see about putting some thoughts together. Until then, just remember that being cheaper means little if you can provide real value and less visits to your shop for malware removal. And sometimes, this means telling your customers that it’s time to upgrade to a safer OS – be it Vista, OS X or Ubuntu.

**Update** We now have a dedicated channel just for those currently running or looking to start, a PC repair business. Subscribe today or read it from your browser.

[tags]pc Repair, diagnostic, computers[/tags]

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  • Vern

    ….Seriously, buying repair services from someone that makes a tidy markup on hardware is a dangerous proposition…………..

    A tidy markup on hardware? Must be on a different planet. I was in the computer repair business from 1978 to 2002. In the early 80’s we were thrilled to be able to make 30% gross margin on hardware, it paid the bills and allowed for growth. By 1997 we were down to 10%. By 2002 we were down to 5% and needless to say, went out of business. With the retail chains selling hardware for less than my cost, there was/is no way to establish, much less maintain a customer base. These days most users will buy a new machine rather than pay $40-50 per hour for quality computer service when it can easily take 3-4 hours to deal with the ugly software problems and malware infestations found on most machines.

  • http://www.matthartley.com Matt Hartley

    Vern: Sorry, should have been more clear on that. Yes, when dealing with big box idiots sending out their techs programmed with selling hardware at all costs; collectively, nationally, this happens, despite the markup being a bit more long tail than I had explained in the article. So in the small business sense, you are totally right, it’s pennies. But the buying power of those big box stores does provide them with some level of markup, be it nothing like software obviously.

    Now the smaller shop on the other hand, often has older hard drives they are looking to get rid of. Most often, they brilliantly figured it would be helpful to have a ‘stock on hand’, which is nearly always a mistake unless you have a thriving need for readily accessible hardware – in bulk.

    So what better way than to unload them on some poor unsuspecting client who never needed a new drive in the first place. In my past repair work, I found evidence of this all the time, when the fools that scammed these clients were foolish enough to give back the old hard drive – which I then inspected myself as a courtesy service. Nine times out of ten – they worked just fine. No SMART errors, read/write was showing no issues – these clients had been hosed.

  • Dean Robb

    Couldn’t agree more about the slimeballs masquerading as computer techs out to steal a few bucks on the backs of hapless end-users. For 8 years, I was COO/CTO (read: owner and sole employee) of an on-site PC services company. Fully 20% of my business was cleaning up after the crooks! Between the criminals and the clueless “I read a book!” techs, I got to see it all. Everything from the old “leave the foam on the motherboard so it isn’t grounded and burns out quickly” to “You paid WHAT for that modem????!!!!?”. The really fun jobs, though, were the warranty fullfilment contracts – such bizarre situations! My favorite was an IBM job in which after 2 hours on the phone troubleshooting, the CSR concluded that the end-users’ RAM had failed. He overnight shipped a new stick and offered me a premium to take the job first thing in the morning as the end-user was a retired IBM executive. Can you imagine how difficult it was for me to keep a diplomatic stance and not laugh hysterically/scream in frustration when I discovered that the real problem was the PSU voltage switch being stuck *between* the 110 and 220 positions? Not a single electron was moving in that PSU – that box made doornails look lively. What the heck that stick of RAM was supposed to do to solve the problem eludes me to this day; for that matter, how did the CSR get from “no electrical power” to “dead RAM”? I flicked the switch over to the 110 pole and she booted up beautifully.

    As part of my business model, I actually took a loss on hardware. Sooo many rip-off artists, both behind a counter and in the workspace, pushed new hardware as the panacea for every PC issue that most clients were convinced that I was going to sell them something at a huge markup and were adversarial from the get-go. Wish I had buck for every time I had to explain that “No, ma’am, you do not need a new computer because your hard drive is full – I don’t care what the guy at the store told you!”. I kept no inventory – if a client needed a NIC, I bought one from a local shop and charged them reimbursement. That practice got me lots of repeat business and good word-of-mouth which compensated for the hit I took on gas/time and sales tax.

    But PC Repair is ultimately a zero-sum game. The hardware gets better; more robust and easier to install (contrast a SATA HDD install with, say, an ST-506 drive and controller card!) so that you no longer need to be a tech to install it. It’s also gotten more modular – more “field replaceable unit” – so that it’s not cost effective to fix many elements of a PC, just buy a new one. Look at printers for the best example of that trend! Add to that end-users becoming more savvy and more able to do their own repairs and upgrades, and the fact that if you’re a GOOD tech you shouldn’t see a client but once every year or so, and you’ve got a regular Kobiyashi Maru on your hands. Your business will suffer the Death of a Thousand Cuts; your client base slowly eroding away as inexorably as a sandstone cliff. Look around – 10 years ago you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a computer store. They were as ubiquitous as 7-11s once but are now harder to find than a corner without a drugstore on it.

    My business was slowly fading in the late 90’s. I’d known going in that someday the tipping point would be reached and that the PC repair tech would join farriers in the ranks of niche careers. In my case, the company’s demise was hastened by the arrival in town of one of those national “tech squad” companies with the noticable cars and large advertising budgets. Between them and an economic downturn, the handwriting completely covered the wall and I closed my doors.

    Ironically, my next gig was teaching PC repair at a technical school; where a significant percentage of my students drove one of those noticable cars or worked behind the counter at a Big Box store. Most of them I wouldn’t trust to dust my PC, let alone do any real work on it. They would tell me tales of how they leveraged a noisy fan into a sale of a $300 Personal Computer Security Suite (that could be downloaded for $25 if you looked around a bit) and a new fan (that they weren’t sure how to install). In fact, I cannot recall a single one of them that didn’t validate your point. They all viewed the repair job as a pretext for meeting the customer and launching a sales pitch, not a job in and of itself.

  • Elliott Bettman

    yup. took my lap to the lazy worthless Geek Squad at Worst Buy. LOL. almost sixty bucks and one WEEK without the courtesy of a phone call. Then when I call them the usual “another two hundred and change to clean it up.”

    took it to an independent. HE wasnt perfect either. Dialup and wireless not fixed after I picked it up. But when I got tough he did it at no addiotional charge.

    My question is Mac vs reformat with Linux Ubuntu. not more infections at least!!