Owner of Port computer shop says Grand Ave. site offers much greater visibility
Andy Bretl and his computer service business, The Help Key, have moved to a new Grand Avenue location in Port Washington, but not without an unexpected challenge.
Before settling into the storefront at 477 W. Grand Ave., extra effort was required to remove the odors associated with the building’s previous occupant, Sweet Buns Bakery.
“We painted all the walls and replaced the carpeting, because not everyone likes the smell of a bakery … especially all day,” Bretl said, thinking as much about himself as his walk-in clients.
A self-described techie, Bretl worked for more than 20 years with computers, including seven years as vice president of information technology for a Menomonee Falls company.
He started the computer-service business out of his home in 2008.
As his customer base grew — and domestic tranquility was put in jeopardy — he relocated to the second floor of Shirley Schanen Gruen’s art studio on Franklin Street, then to larger space on North Wisconsin Street.
Bretl said the move to the Grand Avenue location was “strictly a business decision.”
Although still settling in this week at the new shop, Bretl said he sees a lot of potential.
“It is weird being in a new place because things aren’t where they used to be,” he said.
“At about 1,100 square feet, the new location is probably slightly smaller than the old place but I would guess there is 50% more traffic.”
That kind of visibility usually translates into customers, especially for a service business.
“A small shop like this relies on referrals for a lot of our business. When I sent out postcards announcing the new location, the database of addresses had grown to almost 2,000 customers, so the word has been getting around,” Bretl said.
“When you look around downtown Port Washington, I would say we’ve worked with about 50% of the businesses.”
The work volume varies greatly, but he said there are days when 10 to 12 computers are dropped off at the shop.
“Most of our business is from Port and Saukville, with some customers coming from the south part of the county and even southern Sheboygan County,” Bretl said.
“We could probably get to the point where we would be working seven days a week, but I am like everyone else and like to have my weekends off.”
The Help Key specializes in servicing computers, although sales make up about 30% of the business.
Bretl sells off-the-shelf Lenovo and Asus laptops and assembles customized desktop computers depending on the needs of the client.
“Some customers will come in and know exactly what they want. Others will say, ‘I need to run this program, and I just want something that is going to work,’” he said.
Although the mantra in the computer industry seems to be “smaller is better,” demonstrated by the proliferation of iPads and tablet-sized smart phones, Bretl said his customers don’t seem to be swept up in that trend.
“Maybe it is because our customers tend to be 40 years or older, or are professionals that want to do design work on their computers, but most of what we see are desktop machines with full-sized keyboards and larger monitors,” he said.
Computers can be dropped off for service, picked up by Bretl or worked on at the customer’s work site.
Although he specializes in helping customers get the most out of their computers, Bretl said he is not one to push the latest updated version of software or operating systems.
“You don’t have to be on the cutting edge of software if your computer gets done what you want it to do,” Bretl said, noting he still uses a computer that runs on Windows 2007.
Although Apple makes up a growing part of the computer market, Bretl said “I don’t really consider myself a Mac expert.”
He said he tells his customers up front that he can’t beat “big box” stores on price, but he offers technical expertise to small businesses that can’t afford their own information technology staff.
The shop also offers a variety of video services, including converting VHS tapes, 8mm movies and Mini DV tapes to digital files that are stored on DVDs.
The Help Key’s phone number is still 284-0520.
Image information: THE HELP KEY and owner Andy Bretl have moved to a new location on Grand Avenue in Port Washington. The shop specializes in computer service and sales.
Photo by Mark Jaeger