Would you work if you didn’t have to?
For Jim Brock, the answer is easy.
When he sold his share of a wireless communications company to Nextel Corp. in 1999 for $16.5 million, Brock was 38 and didn’t need a day job ever again. He tried the idle life, kicking back and taking up golf for the first time. But his kids were in school, his friends were all working and his phone wasn’t ringing. It didn’t take long for Brock to get bored, and realize making business happen was just what he loved to do.
He kicked the tires on a few franchises, but didn’t see anything that excited him. He founded a wireless sales company in 2002, but he didn’t have his real epiphany until 2008, after he took his laptop to a national electronics store for repair. His experience there convinced him he could do better. So he hired a technician and opened Simple Computer Repair. Its hook is, well, simplicity — free diagnosis, flat repair fees and no complicated “geek speak.”
Today, Simple Computer Repair has 12 employees, and stores in Green Valley and Summerlin. It also just opened its first franchise, in Phoenix.
Oh, and Brock doesn’t golf anymore.
Question: What inspired Simple Computer Repair?
Answer: I purchased a laptop that was malfunctioning. I took it to (the retailer) because it was under warranty. I set the laptop on the counter at the repair center and described the challenge. The technician proceeded to tell me what was wrong with it. I thought that was interesting, because he never powered my computer on. And when he described the challenge to me, he spoke “geek.” I didn’t understand what he was saying.
As he worked, I stood back to observe what was going on. I noticed they were very busy. As an entrepreneur, I always notice when someone is busy or slow.
I also watched a lady bring in her desktop computer. Another agent listened to her describe her challenge, and again, without turning the computer on, he told her she had a bad motherboard that would cost $350 to replace, plus $175 to install. He told her she’d be better off buying a new one. She said she couldn’t afford a new one, and her pictures were on her old computer. He told her he could put her pictures in a new file, but it would cost $149.
I was just amazed that they diagnosed problems without turning computers on. It appeared they just wanted to make an electronics sale, and there was no empathy for this woman.
Question: What made you feel there’d be demand for a startup?
Answer: I saw how busy they were, and I thought about my home, with a dad, a mom, two kids and four computers. I started thinking about the neighborhood, and how many computers were in every household.
And I realized there weren’t many repair shops. I compared it to the auto industry, thinking about how many cars there were per household, and my thought was that there were more computers than vehicles. Yet, there were all of these businesses and franchises that service autos. So I thought this would be a good industry to get into. I could not think of another nationwide computer-repair company other than (that major electronics store).
So I hired a technician and put a sign on the corner that said, “Computer repair — free diagnosis. No repair, no charge.” My phone started ringing right away.
I came at this as a consumer. Consumers don’t want to pay diagnostic fees, and they get concerned if you charge them hourly. So we do a flat-rate repair, plus parts needed.
We have three core values: No speculation, so we don’t guess what may be wrong with your computer. No opinions, which means we don’t tell people whether to have their computer repaired or buy new. And finally, no geek speak. We talk in layman’s terms.
Question: And you let people watch repairs?
Answer: Our stores are wide open, with no back area where we take the computer. People can sit and watch the technician. The unspoken word is that we have nothing to hide.
Many people are concerned the technician is looking at tax returns or pictures. There’s a lot of personal information on a computer. That’s the rationale behind the store design.
Question: You opened at the beginning of the recession. Has it been a struggle?
Answer: This business rides both ways. Take your own computer. It’s set up the way you use it — your files, your printer software, your pictures. So most people would rather have their computer repaired than purchase a new one, and have to move their information over and reload their programs. I don’t know if people had their computers repaired instead of buying new just because of the recession. I think it was a preference. The economy is better, and people have more money to spend on new computers, and we just had our best month ever in May. We continue to pick up customers.
Question: What are your growth plans?
Answer: We don’t have a number of locations we’re aiming for. I figure that if we do the best we can, it’ll land where it lands. We have a lot of interest. We just had two people in from Denver looking at the concept, and we had someone in from Seattle. It’s very affordable: We charge a $15,000 licensing fee and 5 percent royalty on monthly sales. Overall startup costs are about $45,000.
Question: Is this it for your future career, or do you think you’ll spin this off and start something else?
Answer: You never know. We have big plans for this. Who knows what devices we’re going to be utilizing in five or 10 years. Many people believe the PC is going away. I don’t really see that, but we’ve added repair services for iPhones, iPads, flat-screen TVs and game consoles in case it does. I see myself doing this for the foreseeable future, because there are so many directions we can take this.
Question: Any advice for people who want to start a business?
Answer: You have to believe in it. And you have to have money. I was always a saver. I started my first business with savings. Businesses always require more cash than you forecast. So you need capital, and you’ll need more than you think.
From there, you need a good idea. People always say it should be something you’re passionate about, but I’m not sure about that, because you could be passionate about something that isn’t in demand. With Simple Computer Repair, I saw an unfilled need. So look at busy companies and ask what they do right, and look at companies that don’t have a lot of business and ask what they’re doing wrong.
Finally, a lot of businesses fail because people don’t market. With every business I’ve owned, we don’t stand behind the counter hoping people will walk in the store. We’re out there soliciting business, and that’s key for any company. You have to let people know you exist.
Question: What would you tell people who want to get rich and stop working?
Answer: I think it’s how someone is built. Somebody might enjoy just going to the beach and reading a book. But I was pretty lonely. I had my family, but they’ve got their own lives.
Many days, I’d just show up at the golf course and get assigned with other players, and that was my communication with the world. So boredom can be a real problem.
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4512. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.