by Kris Ann Hegle
SBJ Contributing Writer
Software Central bills itself as "Springfield's software source." But the company sells a lot more than just software. Owners Jeff Clinkingbeard and Robert Singer also do consulting work for area businesses and build and repair computers.
Before opening Software Central in 1996, Clinkingbeard and Singer worked as managers at Software, Etc., a national computer software retailer. Although Springfield isn't lacking in computer stores, the two were able to use their existing knowledge of the local market to attract customers.
About 25 percent of Software Central's revenues come from retail sales and repair work. The real bread and butter of the business, however, comes from consulting work.
Small businesses in Springfield, such as Worldwide Aircraft Services Inc., and marinas, hotels and charter bus companies in the Branson area have used Software Central for consulting.
In addition, Singer, who had a security clearance when he was in the Navy, said he has installed and upgraded computer systems that contain confidential information for several area police departments.
Some businesses use Software Central to help them evaluate and select which new software program will best meet their needs. Others contact the company to get their computers upgraded or repaired. Much of the upgrade and repair work in recent months has been related to the year 2000 computer problem, Singer said.
Although Software Central doesn't sell any Macintosh computers, Clinkingbeard, an authorized Macintosh technician, repairs and upgrades Macs.
Singer, in turn, handles most of the PC repair work, and he has completed several manufacturers' certification programs and is authorized to service their products.
Unlike many retail computer stores, which have a large selection of entertainment software, Software Central stocks mostly productivity and educational applications for PCs and Macintoshes, and it is an authorized dealer for software programs distributed by Microsoft, Corel and Lotus. Customers who can't find the software application they want can place a special order at no extra charge.
What really makes the store stand out from national retail chains, Clinking-beard said, is knowledgeable, personal service. In fact, customers who buy a computer built by Software Central can request free set up and delivery if they live within 30 miles of the store. As a result, the store attracts a number of first-time computer buyers, many of whom are senior citizens, Clinkingbeard said.
Software Central's six employees help first-time buyers determine how they intend to use their computer systems, and several software programs are recommended.
Customers who don't own computers also get information about the type of computer they should buy, as well as pricing information for having their computer built by Software Central.
"When we go out to a business, or when a customer comes into our store wanting to buy a computer, we don't build it to their minimum specifications," Clinkingbeard said. "We recommend a machine they can grow into so they're not hit with a ton of upgrades right way."
The custom-built computers from Software Central carry the label Premium Computer Systems. According to Clinkingbeard, the label reflects their commitment to only use high-quality, name-brand parts.
Clinkingbeard and Singer read trade magazines and look at industry reports to determine which brand-name parts are considered to have the highest reliability. Because Software Central also repairs computers, they know which brand names are more apt to malfunction.
Although Clinkingbeard and Singer advertise, most of Software Central's customers hear about the store through word of mouth.
Software Central's location, in the James River Towne Center in south Springfield, also has helped it gain a lot of walk-in business.
"The biggest challenge we face is just getting people in here," Clinkingbeard said. "Once someone comes in here, they see we know what we're doing. I would say we keep about 90 percent of the business that comes through the door."[[In-content Ad]]
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