TOWNSEND -- Bob Young, owner of PC LAN, the computer shop on Main Street, just celebrated his 10th anniversary in business. But rather than taking a week-long vacation or throwing himself a party, Young adhered to his business philosophy of putting the customer first, giving them a $20 coupon to cut out of the newspaper in celebration of his milestone.
"I wanted to give people a present," said Young. "Service is the biggest part of the business. (The best part is) the satisfaction of the customers being very happy with the results of what they get at very competitive pricing."
When Young opened his computer store and repair shop in November 2002, it wasn't his idea. Young, who was 60 at the time, said his son Rob came to him with the idea. Young had previously worked at a computer store with his brother in Milford, N.H. Rob worked out of Cambridge in the IT department of Mathsoft and commuted by train every day from his home in Ashburnham.
Rob's exhausting commute took its toll and soon the father-son duo decided to open up shop; Young was in charge of sales, and Rob was the technician. Not long after the business opened, however, Rob moved to New York to be closer to his son and his father became sole owner of the shop. Since then, the store has a second set of hands from Aaron Silvestri, who now helps manage repairs.
With Silvetri's help, Young's business has been booming. Withing two years of opening, they needed to move from their original space,
The store specializes in computer hardware repairs and software upgrades. They also sell everything from computers to video games to laptop bags.
"If it plugs into a computer, we have it," said Young.
But the most requested service is virus removal and system restoration, for which they have unique tricks of the trade.
"We've just been doing it for so long that we get to know the secrets that do it best," Silvestri said. "Someone can walk in with a computer and I can say right away I know what's wrong with it."
Often, the problem is with the computer before it even makes it out of the box, the men said. Computer companies and corresponding chain stores don't manufacture the devices to run at optimal speed.
"A standard computer you buy off the shelf is only running (at a speed) about half of what it should run, so you're getting ripped off right off the bat," Young said.
The reason is simple, according to Silvestri.
"(The big stores) want you to buy a new computer in a couple of months, so they don't want to make them the fastest thing in the world," he said.
In addition, the big chain stores won't upgrade an older version of a computer.
"They won't deal with anything that's not brand new," said Young.
PC LAN, on the other hand, takes computers of all ages and models to service. If the computer can't be fixed, Young said, he won't charge.
"The main thing is to keep (the customers) happy," he said. "I stand behind what I sell and I take care of them."
"We'd rather make a customer than a sale ... just seeing someone come back and say 'I can't believe how fast this is, even from when I first bought it,'" Silvestri said.
The number one piece of advice Young has for his customers: Back up your files. The advice has become all the more relevant with social networking, which is often riddled with easily contracted computer viruses. It can be as quick and simple as an accidental click on a pop-up window; before people know what's hit them, the computer has crashed and taken everything with it.
"You can't get data back once it's gone," Silvestri said.
Young said his store draws customers from a wide perimeter up to New Hampshire, with a good deal of repeat business. One such customer, Rick Keras, has been using PC LAN services since it was in its previous location. He said he keeps coming back for the "smiles and the service."
"I just called Comcast and they said they could send somebody out for $200. They just can't compete with the local guys," he said.
Young said that developing a good reputation is the key to running a successful business in a close-knit town.
"They know you, you know them. In small towns, if you're not honest, the word gets out very fast," he said.
This isn't a problem for Young, who said the true trick of the trade is watching out for customers' best interests and supporting them. If Young can help a customer over the phone to save him the trip to the store, that's what he'll do.
"(People) need to feel like they can call you with a problem and you're not making money on them all the time," said Young "You're just there to help them."
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