By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Friendly Computers, the family-run PC sales and service franchise business, has begun re-branding the 58 Computer Renaissance stores it acquired last December.
Once completed, there will be some 70 Friendly Computer storefronts nationwide, up from the 13 locations it operated prior to the buyout.
The company, founded in a Brigham Young University dorm room in 1992 by operations VP Steve Ward, also maintains about 60 home-based computer repair franchises around the country, giving Friendly a presence in 39 states and online.
As part of its growth strategy, and fueled by the addition of the Computer Renaissance stores, Friendly Computers will eventually shift to a brick-and-mortar business model that emphasizes product sales as well as service. For the immediate future, however, the company will offer franchisees both options, allowing home-based franchise units to leverage the stores' greater inventory and resources.
Ultimately, president Bryan Ward (Steve's brother) believes the business can expand its nationwide network to 500 locations by 2013.
The trick, he said, is remaining true to the company's core brand values of friendly, personalized customer service; good value; and strong community relations, which help differentiate it from larger big-box specialty chains.
"We're changing the face of the computer industry from geek to chic," Bryan said. "Consumers and businesses are fed up with long hold times, pricey service calls, deficient equipment and downright ineffective resolutions to computer problems.
"As our footprint expands across the United States, businesses and households in every corner of the country will have a better answer to their computer needs."
To that end, the company offers what it describes as a comprehensive suite of service offerings from certified technicians, including hardware installation and repairs, wired and wireless networking, data backup and recovery, virus and spyware removal and prevention, computer optimization, and custom-built desktops and notebooks. Rates are $88 per hour on average, which it claims is nearly half the price of its big-box competitors, and customer calls are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week by people rather than voice prompts, the company said.
"Our competitive advantage is our customer service, and we take great pride in making sure that will never change," said brother Steve, who has embraced the company's "customer first" motto from day one.
After founding the business in 1992, Steve moved the operation to a Las Vegas garage and brought in brothers Bryan, Michael and Timothy, along with their dad Verlan. The family later opened its first flagship store in Las Vegas, which is still in operation, and brought in franchise development veteran Don Ziegler as marketing and franchise sales director.
Today, following the demise of CompUSA, Friendly Computers says it is the largest on-site and retail computer repair chain in the country. Sales have increased at an annual rate of nearly 40 percent for the past three years, with 20 percent of its revenue derived from servicing computers that were purchased from big-box chains or direct from the manufacturer and are still under warranty.
Service callbacks are down 32 percent year-to-date to a rate of 2.9 percent, and earlier this year Friendly established its own extended-warranty program through an agreement with Warrantech.
As part of its ethos of serving the community, Friendly offers a number of unique programs including:
free online child monitoring software to help safeguard kids against Internet predators and adult content. The program, dubbed Purple Dude Internet Watch after the company's logo, is available at www.purpledude.com and allows parents to identify Web sites their children have visited and programs they accessed;
providing free laptops with voice activation software to disabled U.S. military veterans through the non-profit Soldiers' Angels support group; and
offering steep discounts to veterans interested in opening their own Friendly Computers franchise.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.