A balancing act

A balancing act

Being an all-in-one reseller, retailer and IT service provider is a tough gig. Just ask Austin Computers, who has been doing it for 14 years. Company founder, John Huang, was working for IT wholesaler, Edge Computers. In 1996, he left to forge his own business in the IT industry, setting up Austin Computers with his wife and operating it out of his own home in Western Australia.

Today, the reseller works out of five metropolitan locations around the state and is ready to open a new shopfront in the suburb of Midland mid-June. It has around 30 staff on the books and while Austin doesn’t disclose its 2009 sales revenue, the company is “doing very well”, it claims.

Multi-faceted The company has its fingers in almost every pie. Reselling and retail chains are just one aspect of the business. Austin also does on-site and off-site IT services and repairs. They include PC repairs, network services, data recovery and Internet installations.

Former TodayTech employee, Alan Tan, had been with now defunct IT distributor for many years before deciding to take the plunge and joining Austin as a director in 2006. He now works alongside Huang.

“At the time, I was leaving a company I had been with for 17 years and moving into something completely different – being a reseller,” Tan said. “It was a big move; I had to move from Sydney to Perth as well.”

Since its inception, Austin has hit several milestones, including becoming one of the top 20 sellers of Intel products in Australia. In 2000, Microsoft bestowed the reseller with Gold Member status based on Austin’s System Builder Program. This award, according to Austin, was based on reliability and product sales volume.

Tan attributed its success to “five ‘Ps’ and one ‘S’”: People, price, product, place, promotion and service. This involves maintaining a great team of people workers, keeping prices low, supplying a wide range of products, knowing the right locations to target, implementing the right promotional campaigns and providing good customer service, he said. Sure enough, Austin has a swathe of products for sale and is unfazed by dishing out products from opposing vendors such as AMD and Intel. Tan said he just wanted to give customers choice.

But when it comes to major retailers – Austin’s biggest threat – serving a wide range of products alone will not suffice.

“Growing the business in terms of size means we can compete with those multinational mass merchandise companies such as JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman because they are becoming more and more like our competitors,” Tan said. “We want to be strong enough to compete with them and flexible enough to provide customers with different customised solutions especially for gaming and high-performance computer users.

“Those big shops can’t customise solutions for customers; they can only sell the finished product.”

Tan was optimistic Austin will continue to do well against the big retail outlets within the next five years because the IT channel was a perennially strong line of business.

“Even when you look at the US, no matter how big some of those shops are, channel always maintains about 20-30 per cent of business,” he said. “This is because somebody will always need to be able to customise their computers and provide service and support.”

Keeping balanced Austin prides itself in being a one-stop-shop for customers looking for a total solution for their IT requirements. But covering such a broad area can be a double-edged sword. The biggest challenge is to maintain a high level of support and services for customers, according to Tan. “So they don’t have to deal with different people to get something done,” he said. “You need to maintain the best price, good products and good services. It’s not easy. You have to be competitive to offer good products and good support at the same time.”

In Tan’s mind, the only way to succeed with this balancing act is to monitor the business and products consistently.

“You have to look to see if there are any problems, note the changes on the market, hear feedback from customers; that is why I’m always so busy!” he laughed.

Austin has been a focused on expanding its Western Australia metropolitan presence of late. Despite having no interest in spreading to other states, Tan didn’t rule out the possibility.

“You never know in the future,” he said. “We want to try and make ourselves very strong in Perth first and see how it goes.”

  • Austin Computers started in the home of its founder, John Huang.
  • In 2000, Austin was awarded Gold Membership status by Microsoft.
  • It operates out of five locations in Western Australia.

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