Cornwall Computer Stores Keep Tech Savvy Customers Happy

By Vince Pilon
December 7, 2012

John Lester - Cornwall OntarioCornwall Ontario - In a world where technology constantly changes, three Cornwall computer stores keep customers coming back. And not just for sales, repairs or upgrades, but for something more.

J.L Computers was founded by John Lester in 1994. The former photocopier salesman from Ottawa admits he got the entrepreneurial bug after getting frustrated with poor management practices. “Stupidity...really ticks me off” he says with a subtle smile. He now owns his store's downtown Pitt Street building, which also houses a diner and an art gallery.

Computer Sense, founded in 1989, is now owned by Michael Galvin and Jeff Allaire. The former employees bought the business after the original owner retired in 2006. A salesman at heart, Galvin got in the computer business in the mid '80s when the advent of the PC gave him a chance to “get in on the ground floor of technology.”  The two owners recently bought and settled into a building in Cornwall's east-end Le Village district.

Accesoware, in the City's north-end, is Cornwall's oldest computer store. It was started in 1985 by Helmut Kolbinger, an electronics whiz from Germany who came to Cornwall with his family in the '70s. After setting up a North American branch for a German-based importing company, he started the computer store with his son and daughter. “I grew up around computers” says his son Steph Kolbinger, who remembers putting his colour crayons to use on punch cards as a kid.

Lester, Galvin, and Kolbinger have been in the business long enough to see technology evolve drastically. “Remember the 8 inch floppies?” says Lester, “they held 75kb of information.”

Kolbinger recalls that, years ago, a home computer would cost around $3500. “It was always the big purchase for the family” he says. Computers, however, are not the only things that evolved.

“The sophistication of the customer has changed over the years,” says Galvin. "People now use technology to help them do everyday tasks."

“Especially young people” adds Kolbinger, “they're doing things from their phones that you only dreamt of doing from a desktop ten years ago.”

Although Lester believes desktop setups are still the best for productivity, he concedes that “mobility is huge”. He estimates and that laptops account for about 70 to 80 percent of the computers he sells.

All three stores see touch-screen tablet computers as the current hot trend, with Microsoft now joining Apple, Blackberry and Samsung in a very competitive marketplace. It is hard to predict what the next big thing is, but John Lester is excited about a new subtle technology of solid state drives.

“Fast, fast, fast. Incredibly fast” he says. Solid state drives are meant to replace the current spinning hard drive, which can be somewhat unreliable and easily damaged. Lester notes that a computer equipped with a solid state drive will boot up from dead to fully functioning in ten seconds.

"It's a remarkable technology, ”he says.

As exciting as these products are, all three owners agree that simply selling goods is not what has kept them going in an age where consumers are, according to Galvin “used to just buying the cheapest thing they can get their hands on.

”The secret lies in added value,” he says. "We pride ourselves on having a sound technical understanding about every product we sell."

Lester and Kolbinger say that when they sell someone a computer they gladly “make sure it's all set up, ready to go” and that software and drivers are loaded properly and anti-viruses programs are active and updated. They work hard to make the customer feel comforatable "so that if they have a question, they don't feel they're imposing on us.”

"It's about taking care of the customer," says Galvin. And rarely is there is a typical customer for any of these stores, with people ranging from hi-end gamer guys to regular folk wanting to access the Internet. John Lester recently sold a laptop to a 100 year-old man who “wanted a new computer.”

And once they sell product to an individual, there is a good chance that person is a customer for life. Some of Galvin's clientele has been dealing with Computer Sense since its 1989 inception.

“There's still people out there who appreciate that added value” says Kolbinger. “It keeps us going, keeps us rocking every day.”

Another big part of their success is credited to being in Cornwall.

“Being a small town, people talk,” says Lester. “If you do your job right, it's a huge advantage.”

Kolbinger says you “get to know people on a first name basis, people take you at your word and on a handshake, I enjoy that about Cornwall.”

A big community volunteer, Galvin says that giving back to the community provides an incentive for people to “shop locally and to invest their money locally.”

While all three stores have their unique perks and personalities, they share a passion for the computer business, a love for the community, and a vested interest meet their customers needs.

J.L Computers

Computer Sense

Accesoware Computer Products and Technology Center

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Category: Business