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case study

Background: After graduating with a business degree from Dalhousie University, Christopher Harborne was hired by a tech company, which provided support to General Motors. Due to GM's financial woes, and the grim economic climate of the auto industry at the time, Mr. Harborne was laid off.

As a student, Mr. Harborne had worked on a project with Full Spectrum Computers, a local Halifax company, and had made good connections with the owners. A casual post-GM meeting with the owners prompted him to set up his own computer business in the small university town of Sackville, N.B. The store opened its doors in 2007.

The Challenge: Soon after opening the business, Mr. Harborne realized how difficult it was to compete with big-box stores for computers and accessories.

Instead, he focused on what he could do: provide personalized technical support to individuals and small business owners in town.

During his encounters with local entrepreneurs, Mr. Harborne was often asked to provide technical solutions for the unique problems they faced. Much as these small business owners wanted to use technology in their operations, their lack of technical know-how and inability to afford full-time tech staff proved to be a big barrier for them.

Mr. Harborne seized the opportunity, realizing he could fill this market demand by becoming a "Tech Support" partner to these businesses. His services would allow small business owners to get affordable, turnkey solutions to their computing needs without having to hire full-time staff to manage the technological aspect of the operation. It was a chance to leverage his technical contacts to deliver on these needs in an efficient manner.

In 2010, the business re-branded itself Downtown Digital to better communicate the new vision for the business which included not only computers but as a one-stop shop for meeting small business computing needs.

Result: The rebranded store opened its doors in April 2010 and has been able to fill in the demand for a "Tech Support" operation for small business. The business model has led to new opportunities such as providing preventive maintenance, web-hosting, cloud computing and server solutions to small business clientele.

As growth continues, one of his challenge has been finding qualified employees. He has addressed this by developing standard operating procedures (SOP) for tackling usual issues and problems and through training employees.

The strategy of addressing the unique computing needs of small businesses is paying off. Mr. Harborne has since expanded the scope of operations beyond Sackville into adjoining small towns that do not have the critical mass to support an independent computer store or tech support centre.