RESCUECOM CEO Talks About Future of Computers in the Home
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Geeks to the rescue
: Tech specialists are ready to make house call to treat your system's ills
Remember when doctors used to make house calls? These days, it's more likely to be a doctor for your computer, printer or wireless router who's visiting your home.
There's a growing industry of repair people to heal PCs and other tech devices in the home or office. And increasingly, they're available at just about any time of day - sometimes within the hour.
The trends fueling the demand for such services include the spread of wireless networks in the home, the prevalence of spyware and adware that needs to be cleaned off and the growth of home-based businesses whose equipment needs to be kept up.
"As the market grows, the computer person is going to be just as important as a plumber or electrician," said David A. Milman, president and chief executive of Rescuecom, a nationwide computer repair franchiser based in Syracuse, N.Y. "The home is going to become even more computerized, and there's going to be integration throughout the home. We're going to need to integrate all these systems."
The repair services charge customers in different ways. Some have a flat hourly rate, while others charge a price that depends on the nature of the service.
It's hard to pinpoint the size of the industry because it is not closely tracked by market research firms. But experts say it's dominated by small independent businesses, and some estimates peg the industry at $8 billion to $10 billion in annual revenue.
According to research firm IDC, the number of PC-owning home office households in the United States will grow from 28.8 million to 34.9 million by 2009. Revenue from "infrastructure support services," including hardware maintenance, is expected to grow to $90.1 billion in 2006 from $81.1 billion in 2003 worldwide, according to Gartner, a Stamford, Conn.-based research firm.
Best Buy's Geek Squad helped make computer repair into a big, national business when it rolled out service in all its stores in 2002. Geek Squad, which has 10,500 technicians nationwide, provides its services in the home or office and also offers a drop-off service in Best Buy stores.
Geek Squad charges in-home rates that depend on the problem. For example, it costs $229 for data recovery or operating system installation and $159 for in-home wireless network setup.
In August, CompUSA announced an expansion of its in-home service called Techknowledgist - increasing it to 20,000 computer technicians coast to coast, including places without a nearby storefront. CompUSA's in-home rate for setting up a wireless network is $129.99.
Circuit City is testing its in-home repair service in select stores on the East Coast. Rescuecom has been expanding quickly since 1997 and now has 94 franchisees around the country, including Milwaukee.
In addition to national players, there are legions of smaller mom-and-pop computer repair businesses.
Experts say the need for these services has grown as computers, consumer electronics and networks have grown more complicated.
"In many homes, cables and wires from home theaters, computers, broadband connections and second phone lines hang off joists, drift across floors and poke through walls," said Steven Ostrowski, director of corporate communications for the Computing Technology Industry Association, an Illinois trade group.
"Consumers typically don't understand, nor necessarily should they, how all these systems should interact," he said.
The two most popular requests these days for computer technicians are virus and spyware removal and wireless networking installation. Both can be time-consuming and tricky.
Paul Couch, who runs a painting business out of his Mountain View, Calif., home, had a PC that was frequently on the fritz. Every time it would malfunction, it would disturb the other three computers connected to it, risking loss of all of his data.
So he called Geek Squad to come fix his computer. They had Couch up and running within an hour. "Imagine if we all had vehicles and nobody to fix them," Couch said. "I think the roadside assistance has arrived."
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