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Published: Tuesday, 5/2/2006

Demand for geeks on increase in area

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Aaron Lakia, at Best Buy on Airport Highway, has plenty of work lined up. Aaron Lakia, at Best Buy on Airport Highway, has plenty of work lined up.
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Growing up around computers, Tammie Featchurs was always somewhat of a geek. "I was always an electronics-tinkering person when I was in school," she said.

What she might not have guessed was that being labeled a geek would land her a job as a member of Best Buy Inc.'s Geek Squad repair service.

Five days a week, four or five times a day, clad in her requisite geeky attire of white shirt, clip-on tie, black pants, white socks, and black shoes, she heads out in a black and white Volkswagen Beetle to fix computers in Toledo area homes.

Her crew is among many such computer repair technicians in town.

Computer in-store and at-home repair service is growing, according to local experts, fueled by an ever-growing computer spyware and viruses and a penchant by owners to keep their computers for longer periods than before.

"We seem to have high peaks and low points, but more systems always seem to be coming in," said Adam Young, a repair technician at Mann Techologies, of Millbury.

Best Buy's Geek Squad car. Best Buy's Geek Squad car.
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Paul Zalecki, owner of Com-puter Renaissance in Toledo, said that when he opened his business two years ago, 5 percent of sales was from computer repair and service.

Now it's 20 percent, "and by this time next year I believe it will be 30 to 35 percent," he said.

"Just in the last six months, our repair business has increased tremendously."

Best Buy's 24-hour Geek Squad, with its distinctive outfits and 12,000 trained experts, is the most visible national retailer involved in computer repairs.

But other national chains, such as Circuit City Stores Inc., CompUSA Inc., and Dell Inc., have expanded their tech house-call services.

House calls at most services start at $75 to $100, depending on the task. In-store rates are usually about $40 for an initial diagnosis.

Ms. Featchurs, who works at the chain's Airport Highway store, said her customers frequently seek expertise to set up home networks and virus protection.

But growing are the number of calls to eradicate spyware, viruses, and other pests, she said. She once removed 250 viruses from a home machine.

"The client had important information on the computer and he could not stand to lose it," she said of the service call, which took two days to complete.

Joe Chew, president of Computer Discount Inc., in Toledo, said computer repair is growing because computers generally have cheaper parts that don't last as long, and many people are keeping older computers longer.

Also, he said, problems are caused by a rash of spyware, viruses, and other compatibility issues.

Fixing computers is now nearly 40 percent of his firm's business revenues.

Mr. Young, of Mann Technologies, said the biggest problem - and the cause of many service calls - isn't viruses but spyware.

"These programs load up at start-up and they are logging keystrokes, monitoring your activities in the background," he said.

"It slows down performance to the point where some people think they have to get a new system."

Spyware is created for advertising and results in more pop-ups, so typing the wrong Web site can mean lots of spyware being secretly downloaded, he said.

"The problem is, it doesn't seem to be changing and there's more spyware being introduced every week," Mr. Young said.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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