Meet Your Merchant: Dan Carbon of Edu Comp

From left, Kevin Nagle, Taylor Stone (seated), Dorothy Gregory (seated), John Reine , Trish Ing, Khalid Jackson, Ben Hopkins, Jack Mayhew, Ali Peterson, Shannon Carbon, Dan Carbon, Brad Mendenhall, Molly Conole, and Jordan Peterson. Kneeling in front from left to right are Jack Carbon, age 10, and Bess Carbon, age 8, with their dogs Tua (age 11) and Ze’ (age 2). — Stacey Rupolo

Our Meet Your Merchant series goes behind the scenes of the Island businesses that keep our rock running. From our hard-working shopkeepers to our friendly tradesmen and service providers, we celebrate all the people our Island depends on.

Dan Carbon moved to Martha’s Vineyard from Portugal in 2010 to help out with the management of Edu Comp — a family business begun in 1982 by his father and mother-in-law, Pat and Dorothy Gregory. Dan assumed the role of manager shortly after joining the Edu Comp team. His wife, Shannon Gregory Carbon, is a teacher at the Tisbury School. The couple’s two children can often be found in the store lending a hand or trying out new art and craft supplies. Dorothy is still active in the business, working on the sales floor and serving in an advisory role.

How long have you lived on the Island?
I was raised on the Vineyard. After college, I moved to California, where I joined a startup technology company. The company went public, and I took the opportunity to pursue other interests. I spent seven years in Porto, Portugal, as the head of marketing for the leading port wine producer in the world. During that time, I married my wife Shannon, also from the Vineyard, and we had two children, Jack and Bess. As the children grew older, we decided to move back to the Island to be closer to family and to give our children access to the great schools here.

What goods and services do you offer?
Edu Comp was started in 1982 by my mother- and father-in-law, Pat and Dorothy Gregory. As a teacher at the West Tisbury School, Pat was interested in computers, and saw the potential for their use in education. The store initially carried Atari computers and books, adding office supplies a year later. Through their hard work and dedication, Edu Comp grew year after year, adding staff and expanding product lines and services. As the technology needs of the Vineyard grew, Edu Comp’s technical services team became an increasingly important facet of the business. Today Edu Comp is two businesses under one roof: technology services, and the retail storefront offering office and art and craft supplies.

What makes Edu Comp a uniquely Island business?
I think what makes having a business on the Vineyard unique is the personal aspect — everyone knows each other. When customers come onsite, my technicians know everybody’s name. It’s very different if you have someone you can call and ask a question, and the tech is already familiar with you and your equipment and history with it.

How many employees do you have?
We have 15 year-round employees, including seven full-time computer technicians. Jack Mayhew has been with us for 15 years. Brad Mendenhall, our senior technician and the key to the tech team, started right out of college. He’s probably been with us for 25 years. I think of us as a pretty close group. We’re like family. The biggest challenge is getting and keeping qualified technicians. A really top tech can draw a six-figure salary in the city and live more cheaply off-Island. We’re very proud of the tech staff we have, but we need to constantly recruit new people to keep up with demand.

What have you done over the years to address the special needs of Islanders?
Years back people were coming to us and saying that they were thinking of buying a Mac. There was no Apple retailer on the Island. It took years to get certified by Apple. They have very exacting parameters of policy and training in order to represent their products. You have to constantly keep up to speed with Apple. They have new products and changes all the time. My techs have to take tests every three months. They do an unannounced review every year. They walk through the whole store and take photographs. I’m proud that we’re an Apple authorized dealer. We’re the only one on the Island. It’s not profitable at all. If we sell a $200 iPod, we make $10. We don’t do it for the profitability. We do it because our customers want to buy Apple. The good thing is that it’s pushed us to keep current, and to be involved in changes in technology and what’s out there.

What, besides the Apple products, do you find has become more in demand through changing times?
It used to be that if your business had wireless, it was unusual. Now wireless Internet is absolutely critical. To keep up with our customers’ needs, we started getting commercial-grade licenses. It’s grown to be so much a part of our business. Our techs go out three or four times a week in the summer, setting up wireless in people’s homes.

Aside from computers, you’re also one of the few art-supply business on the Island. Is that equally important to you?
Initially the store was set up to offer personal computers. As the computer business grew, Dorothy focused on building up the office supplies and art and craft supplies. I love to hear people say that this is their kids’ favorite store. We try to make sure that we have products that are both useful and fun. Kids come in all the time. My 10-year-old son loves working the counter. My daughter comes in and has to try out every pen in the store to find the right one. She’s quite the artist.

What do you consider your biggest success?
Getting the Martha’s Vineyard Airport contract. They are the biggest client we have. It was a statewide bid. Of the eight companies that put in responses, most were multinationals, and we beat them out. We’re so proud of that. I think it was in part that we know the people involved. Our technicians have helped them out at their homes. I think there was the familiarity factor. But we still had to be able to hold our own against the big players we were competing with. We’ve been moving on to bigger clients, and that has helped us with the seasonal shift.

I know the building has some history. Can you elaborate on that?
We are proud of our stately brick building at 4 Main Street, Vineyard Haven. Built in 1929 to house the Island’s telecommunications switching equipment, the building has housed a number of other things over the years, including a social services community center. One funny thing: When I was doing some renovation upstairs, I discovered that the walls were insulated with seaweed. Edu Comp has been here for 28 years. At one point we thought we were going to have to move. There were originally eight owners, including Pat and Dorothy. The Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank really worked with us so that we could buy the building from the other owners. We really didn’t want to move. We think of this as our home. It was a dream of Pat’s to own the building. It was bittersweet because he passed away before that could happen, but it was really exciting to finally be able to do that.

Do you find that you get a lot of people looking for advice and information about technology? Is that something you offer?
All day, every day, people come into the store and say, “I just have one question.” I really like talking with people and helping them out. That is the right way for an Island business to be. I started teaching for ACE MV and at the Y, because people have a lot of questions about computers and other devices. The reliance on new devices and the interconnection is so high. That stuff is really complex, and it’s not always easy. I have employees who have set up computer labs on their own, so they can test things out.

What do you do for fun?
Well, I’ve got two kids, and that’s a full-time job, but when I can find some time for myself, my getaway is my wood shop in the back of our property. My dad was a carpenter. I really enjoy woodworking.