As the owner of Altec Solutions Group Inc., Michael Van Matre knows a little something about businesses evolving to meet changing consumer demands.
When he started Altec Computers in 1988 with a $3,000 signature loan in a 10-foot by 10-foot storage unit, he was selling mainframe computers.
In time, as computers shrank and became more nimble than their Goliath counterparts, he had an epiphany.
“We started parting out these mainframes and realized they were worth more as parts than a whole,” Van Matre says.
Through the years, Van Matre’s business built its client roster, adding overseas clients and three retail stores where customers can get help outfitting their computers. The company also added PC Medics, a division that sends computer techs out to repair computers on site, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The company’s core, however, hasn’t changed.
“The buying and selling of components and shipping them around the world continues,” he says. “We have six loading docks, bring in equipment, rebuild it and ship it to buyers.”
Altec Solutions Group posted 2010 revenues of $2.2 million, up 21 percent from 2008.
Van Matre says the company’s growth has been consistent throughout its history, and his focus remains on controlled, measured growth.
“I’m just trying to take conservative steps,” he says. “It was a tough year last year for everybody, so I’m just trying to stick to the plan that I set out for and not outgrow it too fast.”
He points to a cautionary tale: Ultimate Electronics, a Colorado-based retailer with 46 stores in 12 states, had been looking for a general manager for a Springfield location, according to an August 2010 story published in the Springfield Business Journal. On Jan. 26, Ultimate Electronics filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to a story published in the Denver Post.
“That’s a little scary,” Van Matre says. “That guy started out like me and now he’s in bankruptcy. I have to figure out what went wrong.”
On the retail side, Altec faces big-box retailers in the competition for consumers’ coins, and he says his company’s growth is attributable to the high level of customer service his clients have come to expect.
“I know it works because I have customers who have been with me for more than 20 years,” he says. “We have to try harder on everything. The margins are tighter. We just have to … take the time to build a relationship with our customers.”
The focus on building relationships sometimes makes it hard to find the right employees, which also has slowed the company’s growth, Van Matre says.
“I could be in a lot of locations right now that I feel are excellent locations; however, I have not seen the staff that I feel is capable of running it the way I want it to run,” he says, noting that future expansions might include Branson, Joplin or the Lake of the Ozarks area.
Altec Solutions Group, like many other businesses, has felt the sting of the recession.
“The door wasn’t swinging open,” he says of the retail division. But because the company encompasses two divisions, the impact of the economy wasn’t as painful as it might have been.
“The local business was softer than we had hoped,” he says. “The international side of the business was booming. We were shipping a lot of equipment to India and South America. That helped us pull through when the economy was a little softer.” he said.
There also was potential for growth on the repair side, Van Matre says, because although customers weren’t buying new computers, they needed to be able to use the ones they had.
“We were doing triage on their old machines to get them up and running because they were trying to make résumés,” he says.
Van Matre is exploring franchising opportunities for Altec’s PC Medics division, and he’s confident that the company is well-positioned for growth.
“We have zero debt,” he says. “We’re very liquid. The balance sheets are tight, they look good, so we’re not going anywhere. We’re in this for the long haul.”Click here for the complete 2011 Dynamic Dozen overview.