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Posted on Dec 02, 2010

How These Computer Geeks Have Franchises on Every Continent Except Antarctica

The Franchise Help Team sat down with Computer Troubleshooters franchise CEO Chip Reaves to talk about founding a company that has grown to encompass hundreds of computer service franchisees across the globe.  Chip explains why the computer and internet franchise has been so successful, why the company targets small business clients, and discusses the franchise's proven criteria for recruiting, vetting, and supporting new CT franchisees in the United States and international markets...

Your firm offers on-site computer assistance that is deemed efficient yet affordable. How is it that you can compete against such giants as Apple and IBM, who offer both warranty coverage and customer care?

The vast majority of the issues our customers need help with cannot be solved by the Apple “genius bar,” or any other manufacturer’s support, because it’s a different sort of issue. Manufacturer support is great when you have a warranty-covered hardware issue, or just some advice on what to buy next. But things like virus removal, network installation & maintenance, and VoIP phone system consulting are either not provided at all by manufacturers, or are provided at such a high price that it’s really not feasible for small business. Plus, few if any small businesses are going to pack up their server and bring it to a store for a few days to be serviced. They want someone to come to them, charge a reasonable price, and have it fixed quickly and knowledgeably. That’s what Computer Troubleshooters is all about.

How could someone be successful at running this franchise without a technical background, even given your three-day training session and ongoing workshops? Do you have any franchisees that don't bring a strong technological background and, if so, how do those franchisees adapt?

Yes, actually some of our most successful franchisees come from non-technical backgrounds.  Technicians can be hired, and in fact we provide a lot of assistance with that.  We don’t expect the business owner to be doing all the work, since that would be more like owning a job than owning a business.   So people with strong management or marketing backgrounds do well in this business.  Having said that, we do have mostly technically-oriented franchisees, so we spend a considerable amount of time on the marketing and management training they need to be really successful.

Do you believe that part of your reputation comes from your personable nature, and do you demand the same level of accessibility from all of your franchisees?

I don’t know that we demand it from our franchisees, but it’s certainly part of our culture.  Our founders (including myself) believe that having a successful franchise system is more about building a system we would want to buy into ourselves rather than just relying on traditional sales pitches and tactics.

What is the most common mistake you see amongst failing franchises?

Treating their business more like a hobby than a business.  This especially comes up when they don’t charge for all their time working with clients.  It’s important to realize that our small business clients depend on us for all their technology needs, so we must charge fairly for our time in order to be profitable and be around to support our clients in the long term.

What type of support do you offer to your franchisees? Can you give an example in which you intervened during a moment of trouble?

We provide a lot of support, both through training courses (online and in workshops), monthly webinars on various topics like marketing, hiring employees, E-Myth strategies, etc, and in one-on-one coaching.  Most recently I was personally involved with a franchisee who had chosen not to get involved in our recurring revenue programs, and had now realized he was missing out on considerable opportunities for profit and for serving his clients.  I worked with him on a new business plan to start incorporating those strategies into his business over the next 3 months.

In the Computer Troubleshooters system, does running a franchise in North America differ vastly from running one internationally?

At a big-picture view the service we provide is the same – we’re trying to be the “IT Department for Small Business”.  On the ground, though, it can be different – in parts of Africa, India, and South America that role may mean helping businesses purchase equipment safely, since they don’t have the supply environment (with large technology stores and online websites to order from) that we have here.   However, the fundamentals are the same – take good care of your clients, be knowledgeable about your solutions, charge fairly, market effectively, do all these things and you should be successful.

On what grounds would Computer Troubleshooters reject a prospective franchisee?

Usually a bad business plan.  Someone who wants to start a business with a barebones budget is unlikely to succeed, so we would turn them down.  It doesn’t take a huge amount of money to start a CT business, but it does take around $40,000 in the US.  Someone who wants to get started with $10k is going to have a hard time.  Similarly, we get people who have unreasonable business expectations, like some who want to use our brand to promote their own products, or others who expect to earn a million dollars in year one.  We’re very careful to bring on board only the “Best of the best”, to keep our quality reputation.

Name three important characteristics of a successful Computer Troubleshooters franchise (e.g., location, customer care, etc.).

  1. A commitment to customer service,
  2. An understanding of the value of technology in modern business environments, and
  3. A willingness to follow our proven systems.

Why does Computer Troubleshooters target small businesses as the main customer base?

It’s an under-served market.  Large businesses have their own IT staffs, plus a plethora of IT consultants to help out with projects.  Home users have “the neighbor kid” and the Geek stores and telephone support.  Small businesses are in between – too big to rely on amateurs or do-it-yourself methods, and too small to justify their own IT staff.  That’s where we come in.

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