How a small computer repair company stole market share from Best Buy and embarked on a national expansion.
As applications for the 2010 Inc. 500 | 5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (For more information and to apply, go to http://www.inc.com/inc5000apply/2010/.) One that caught our eye was Redding, California-based Nerds On Call.
For many small companies, the local arrival of a large corporation sounds the proverbial death knell, threatening to siphon customers and potential dollars. For husband and wife Ryan and Andrea Eldridge's start-up, Nerds On Call, the exact opposite happened.
After removing a virus from his mother-in-law's computer one day, Ryan heeded her suggestion to transform his technical hobby into a full-fledged business. Three weeks and a few well-placed newspaper ads later, Eldridge was forced to hire employees to help handle the wealth of appointments he'd scored to solve the computer problems of others in the area.
"I literally was booking myself out on appointments from 7 a.m. to 11 at night," Eldridge says. Today, Nerds On Call has 12 locations across the country, offering customers services such as virus and spyware removal, speed optimization, and hardware repair for flat fees instead of the typical hourly rates. The company also fixes home electronics such as DVD players and old radios. Eldridge credits most of the company's growth, from $832,000 in 2005 to $2.6 million in 2009, to one particular entity: Best Buy.
"They left this wake of dead computers behind them, and all we had to do was be nice to their customers," Eldridge says of Best Buy's Geek Squad, the repair department of the large electronics franchise that elicits gripes among many circles of PC owners. "Right around the time we started, they launched the Squad," Eldridge says. "The good thing was, they kind of screwed it up."
Eldridge says Nerds On Call receives close to 3,000 calls a week for on-site jobs, which his 50 employees travel to by driving vans that he dubs "nerd mobiles." Since the company doesn't charge for estimates, Eldridge says that most of the time the technician ends up spending an hour with the customer "absolutely free."
"Sometimes we don't get the job, but most of the time we do," he says. "The important thing is that the customers see us as an authority, rather than a salesman trying to sell them something.
J.J. MCCORVEY is a reporter at Inc. magazine, where he covers a wide range of topics, including technology and business research. He has covered metro news for The Detroit News, and his work has been featured in Men's Fitness. @jmccorvey