BAXTER -- Vibrant primary colors, a plethora of flat-screen computers and a seriously expanded retail area are part of the new Computer One Plus.
The retail area and small business sales and service are part of Computer One Plus. Its next door spin-off business Syvantis Technologies focuses on higher-end networking and managed services. The move to the North Pointe Centre along Highway 371 in Baxter allowed the two sides of the business to move from what was akin to a mental separation to a physical one. And it has allowed Syvantis Technologies to come out from under Computer One Plus' wing into its own right. Business flows between the two with referrals to either side.
Majority owners Janelle and Ken Riley are looking forward to completing the finishing touches on the move and concentrating on just the day-to-day business. They may even take a Sunday off at some point. They have not had that option since July.
Quite a bit of time was spent in decisions on new product lines. The Computer One Plus retail side includes games, gifts and educational toys. There are computer accessories, printers, laptops, wireless phones, along with the latest computers with wide 17-inch flat screens that can be mounted on the wall.
Computer One Plus and Syvantis Technologies majority owners Janelle and Ken Riley say the technology businesses have been doing well even in the down economy and they are adding more employees this year as well as settling into new offices and an expanded retail store in the North Pointe Centre in Baxter. (Dispatch Photos by Renee Richardson)
Next door Syvantis has strong business connections in the government and the education sectors and hosts business Web sites. Remote management options allows Syvantis to administer sites from a distance and they also employ traveling technicians who work with distant clients.
Ken Riley, who also acts as a recruiter for the company, said one of his focuses is to hire people with certifications and experience. They hired one network engineer, a Cisco securities specialist, they believe is the only one located north of Minneapolis. And by the end of summer, Syvantis Technologies expects to be offering secure ecommerce sites.
"It kind of feels good to get going," Ken Riley said and admitted he is already wondering about space for growth in the new building. Employees have grown from about 14 when they purchased the business in 2000 to 22 full-time. About five more employees are expected to be hired this year. Programmers may be working from home-based offices because of the space needs.
Janelle Riley said growing technology options in the lakes area such as high-speed DSL lines are allowing them to be more effective than they were just two years ago. Security concerns and the need for firewalls to protect businesses and their clients is also expected to be a growth area.
When designing the retail center Janelle Riley said she a goal was to create a fun atmosphere with bright colors and offer items they never had space for before. Those technology gifts are bringing walk-ins through the door and are one way to connect with a customer's future computer needs. If a customer is one to buy a new computer every three years, the added services of wireless products, satellite options and toys may provide a reason for customers to come to the store in between major purchases.
The business did $1 million in retail sales per year in the previous location about a block off Washington Street. Janelle Riley said being located next to Best Buy has also been good in terms of getting overflow customers and in terms of Computer One Plus' ability to provide computer service.
A growth area is expected in terms of providing more Apple-related items such as games and software. Computer One Plus takes special orders for items and is getting customers who drive from Fergus Falls, Bemidji and Grand Rapids to get the Apple products.
Janelle Riley said the business has to be competitive in pricing to compete with Best Buy and online providers and she said some customers think a smaller store will have a higher surcharge. But she said Computer One Plus' sheer volume of other business helps it in terms of staying competitive with orders.
Because 2 percent of inventory value is lost each week, Computer One Plus does not keep a giant supply in a back warehouse, but orders are taken and have an average turnaround of a couple of days.
In 2002, the business did $4 million in gross sales. Some larger sales such as laser printers for a school district never physically come through their doors but go directly from supplier to customer. As prices for computers continue to drop from $2,000 not so long ago to $500 now, technology business are faced with selling more items to keep up.
But the Rileys said their business has been able to do well even in an economy that has been down for technology as a whole. They have noticed the change as businesses may keep older computer systems for longer periods or put off capital purchases. But sales, revenues and service business are all increasing, they said.
Both Computer One Plus and Syvantis Technologies along with the next door Sylvan Learning Center will be featured in a Business After Hours event with the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce between 4:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday. The event is free to chamber business members and their employees. Iven's on the Bay is catering the event.
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