Meet Your Merchant: Computer repair business beating the recession

When Keith Barham graduated from Carson High School in 1981, he had plans to work on a Texas ranch - one of those life experiences he dreamed about as a young man.

But when he arrived, his boss learned he could type 60 words a minute and had the Carson City native working on a computer instead of toiling outside.

"It was totally not in my plans," he said. "I had a knack for computers."

Today, Barham, 47, is the co-owner of DeBug Computer Inc., with his wife Debbie Barham. And after 10 years of business in the region, Barham said things still are growing.

"We've been very fortunate with the recession," he said. "We've grown every year since 2000. Each year our profits have been greater even during this recession."

The business focuses on computer repairs, either at their stores in Carson City, Reno or Minden, or by sending a technician to a business or home. They also custom build computer systems.

Before starting the business, Barham was working for the state as an IT specialist helping to prepare for "Y2K." But after two years there, Barham decided it was finally time to start his own business with his wife.

He said he figured the venture would work out because many friends were "paying a lot of money for sub-par" computer repairs. He said if he offered good customer service and his knowledge about computers at a reasonable rate, he would have a workable business model.

So he started DeBug Computer Inc., inside the bedroom of his Carson City home. He eventually decided to hire an answering service, which tripled business.

As more and more computers started coming in for repairs, Barham said he decided to move the venture into a friend's executive suite with a receptionist. Business continued to grow and so did his work load, which took away from the time he could spend at home with his son.

In 2003, Barham said he had the opportunity to move DeBug Computer into the old V&T Railroad depot on North Carson Street, where the business currently resides.

"We had no air conditioning, it was basically me working computers and a receptionist," he said. "I'd be down here until 1 or 2 in the morning fixing computers that had been dropped off and then during the day I'd be out in the field at businesses or houses working on computers. And again, business multiplied by three."

He said his success came from two things: "Character and integrity first, and then knowledge on computers."

Today, his business has grown to 15 employees with locations in Reno and Minden, which opened in 2005 and 2008 respectively.

The company also has six Volkswagen Bugs, all yellow, that are used by employees to travel around town. (Barham said his first car in high school was a VW bug and he bought a yellow one while working for the state.)

"It's a draw for people, helps us stand out in the competition," he said.

In the meantime, he said more people are sending their computers to repair shops instead of buying new systems, something Barham said is helping business.

Barham said he's grown his business with no formal computer education except for some training courses. He said he attributes his success to the quality of his employees and having a good business sense.

"It's turned out to be a good business model," he said.


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