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January 27, 2010 > Computer customers keep repair shops buzzing

Computer customers keep repair shops buzzing

By Josh O'Leary, Iowa City Press-Citizen

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP), Jan 23 - The economy has short-circuited the market for a number of businesses the past two years, but one technology-driven service still is humming.

Local experts say more computer owners are opting to extend the life of their old electronics rather than buying new equipment, putting repair work in high demand.

Where a computer might have been scrapped a few years ago when troubles hit, owners are now seeking out more cost-effective fixes at a greater rate, managers of area shops say.

``I think one big thing we run into is more people are just more conscious of where they put their money,'' said Nick Ender, who runs RJ Ender Computers in North Liberty. ``Before, if they could get something new for $300 more, it was, 'OK, I'll just get something new.' Now, $300 means a lot more.''

Greg Levsen, owner of Neo Computers, sells new computers and revives wheezing machines in his shop. He says in the past 18 months, repair work at his store has climbed from 60 percent or 70 percent of his total business to 80 percent.

Levsen works in his store's back shop, where a half-dozen laptops and a couple of desktop towers awaited repairs amid shelves and tables crammed with circuitry.

``I routinely have machines that are maybe five and six years old,'' Levsen said of the typical business he sees.

Levsen said a third of his repair work is cleaning hard drives of viruses, with the most common ailments being delivered by malicious programs masking themselves as anti-virus software so that when the user activates the program, they download and infect their machine with an actual virus.

He said the No. 1 killer of machines, however, is heat. Dirt and dust often build up inside a computer tower, which limits the airflow and can cook the innards. He recommends a yearly tuneup for computers at a repair show, as well as defragmenting the hard drive regularly and protecting it with current antivirus software.

Levsen said there are a couple of simple factors to determine when to replace an old computer with a new model.

``What I usually recommend is when the repair costs go over the value of the machine. Or I tell my customers it's when their machine doesn't do what they want it to in a timely manner,'' Levsen said.

In recent months, Levsen said he has begun seeing sales of new computers picking up again. Since December, even with the university closed down for winter break, Levsen said he has seen an uptick in new sales that he couldn't attribute only to the holidays.

Ender custom builds new machines and repairs old ones at his family's business at 175 Highway 965 Suite No. 5 in North Liberty. Ender said that, when possible, he always has pushed repairing rather than buying new as the most cost-effective route for his customers.

Ender, whose business is about 70 percent repair work and 30 percent new sales, said more people are interested in prolonging the life of their computers.

``When it comes to me saying, 'You can either buy a new one or repair it for half the price,' a lot more people are biting on that,''' he said.

Ender said because of the economy, he suspects businesses are offering the repair option more frequently, which, while resulting in more labor, often means a greater profit for the store.

Tony Koster, store manager at Computer Source in Coralville, said for his shop, the surge in repair work peaked about a year ago. Since then, business has steadily been leveling out with customers looking once again at new models.

``It depends a lot on the type of customer you deal with,'' Koster said. ``Some people want to do whatever it takes to get it fixed, and others just want to buy new.''

Koster said more customers also have been buying used computers during the recession.

``We haven't been able to keep up with the supply,'' he said.


Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen,

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