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Published: Monday, 3/21/2005

With service as its priority, small computer store thrives

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Joe Chew opened his fourth Computer Discount Inc. store last year, this one on West Laskey Road in Toledo. Joe Chew opened his fourth Computer Discount Inc. store last year, this one on West Laskey Road in Toledo.
LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge

One might say owning a business is in Joe Chew s blood or rather, in his circuits.

Coming from a family in Singapore where all the members started their own businesses, Mr. Chew had long felt disposed toward entrepreneurship when, in 1996, he left his job as a computer technician at an Owens-Illinois Inc. subsidiary and opened a personal computer store in a small building on Conant Street in Maumee.

He began with two workers and put in 10-hour days, seven days a week the first two years. But the effort appears to have paid off.

Last year, Mr. Chew opened his fourth Computer Discount Inc. store in the Toledo area. With growing corporate accounts and sales via the company s Web site, he expects the company s sales to easily hit $5 million this year.

The two things that are tough about this business is the price always drops and the technology always changes, he said.

If you don t stock enough or you stock too much you can get into trouble quickly.

And it s a very cutthroat business.

Mr. Chew said he knew early on that he wouldn t survive as a computer retailer by competing on price. Someone with less overhead is always willing to undersell, he said.

Service that s the one thing that can set you apart, he said.

So, he vowed his store would be strong on service, responsive to customers needs, and provide computer help or guidance to anyone seeking it.

We try to outdo our competition in the northwest Ohio region in the amount of technical support we re willing to provide because you can t depend on technology staying still, Mr. Chew said.

David Girkins, chief financial officer for Welded Construction LP in Perrysburg, said his firm has done business with Computer Discount for about five years, mainly on the strength of the service it provides.

If we ask them to build a computer, they build to our specs, he said. We do business with them for the same reason we do business with anyone they do what we ask.

When he began, Mr. Chew had no cash to advertise, so he rented booths at computer retail shows held regularly at Toledo area venues in the 90s. If a show was held, Computer Discount likely was there. It provided exposure and helped sell its inventory, he added.

Once he became known, store sales grew. But Mr. Chew found that people in other parts of town wouldn t travel to Maumee just to shop his store. So, he opened a store in Sylvania, another in Northwood, and last year, a flagship store on West Laskey Road in Toledo.

The goal is to grow as big as you can, he explained. But growing as big as you can and as big as you want are two different things.

Opening new stores is easy, but if you overextend and can t provide the service people expect, you won t be able to maintain them, he explained.

For now, Mr. Chew said he feels comfortable with steady repeat customers, corporate accounts totaling 30 percent of overall sales, and growing Internet-based sales.

Small Business Profile is a weekly feature on local companies. To be considered, send information about your company to Small Business Profiles, Business News, The Blade, P.O. Box 921, Toledo, Ohio 43697-0921.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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