Brian Athearn and Gary Barlett, partners in 11-year old MV Tech, knew most companies were hunkering down for a recession last winter when they decided to add staff, more brands, and inventory, and become a full-service retail computer store. The pair moved from a cramped second floor office into a new larger space just across the road, next to SBS, The Grain Store on State Road in Tisbury.
“We have an organic approach to our business,” Mr. Athearn said recently while organizing new displays of electronic products and peripherals in MV Tech’s new location. “We just knew it was time. We’ve had the busiest winter since we began.”
The two men, Island friends since the fifth grade, are not contrarians in the sense, say, of Warren Buffett or Ned Johnson of Fidelity Investments. They just read their own tea leaves and make their own decisions. “It seemed right to go to the next step. We’d been over there long enough Yeah, it’s an organic move — everything that’s happened has been completely natural. We’ve either been smart or lucky,” Mr. Athearn said.
Or perhaps it is because, they say, they rely on service and timeliness to build their business. Certified Mac service technicians Matt Rodenbaugh and Mr. Barlett, access, diagnose, and fix customer networks and computers locally and remotely.
“We can conduct tutorials on the fly in real-time for clients with tasking issues,” Mr. Athearn said. “The world works remotely, particularly here on the Island, where residents and visitors need to be connected to the off-Island world.”
The company supports client networks from L.A. to Wales as well as networking all the Black Dog locations and providing the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) with a hookup to its Nantucket office, he said.
They office atmosphere is whimsical. For example, a fully functional computer, submerged in a fish tank filled with mineral oil, blinks away near the front door of the new digs. “Kids love it. Now if we can figure out how to put a few battery-powered goldfish in there…” Mr. Barlett joked.
The fish tank computer is funny; it works, and it makes you believe that if MV Tech can do that, probably they can debug your notebook. So far, the approach has allowed the company to build a database of 1,500 client names.
“Our goal is to be the go-to resource for computer networking and computer support. The way the world works today, we are not limited by the geography of being on an Island,” Mr. Barlett said, noting that the company’s entrance into retailing provides consistent 9-5 presence in the store.
“We have windows, display space, even a grill out back,” Mr. Barlett said. “We sell affordable laptops, stuff we use as individuals and as technicians. Products we like and trust.” he said.
Over 11 years, the men have discovered a seasonal rhythm to their business.
“It’s cyclical. In summer, routers and peripherals for iPhones and iPads are in demand. Summer residents looking to expand wireless throughout the house, for example. In September, local businesses, who’ve been busy all summer, come in for service and upgrades. Desktop and laptop sales pick up in winter for some reason,” Mr. Barlett said.
The Island has its own electronic quirks, according to the techies. “Connectivity is a more difficult problem here because we experience a much higher incidence of power surges on the Island than in any other place I’ve been, so battery backup is more important,” Mr. Rodenbaugh said.
And the Island creates other kinds of urgent demand than mainland retailing, the “For want of a nail …” syndrome. “Cables and adapters, for instance, are critical — if you need one. So we carry a wide, deep inventory,” Mr, Barlett said, adding that seemingly pedestrian products like insurance for iPhones and iPads have appeal here.
The technology business is one of few here that is not fettered by Island geography and provides growth opportunity, the partners believe.
“Down the road? We think we’ll be expanding retail and, depending where the technology is going, that could include integrated entertainment technology. If it beeps, buzzes, lights up or clicks, we handle it,” Mr. Athearn said.