Florida Keys Business
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Technical triage
Computer Doctor repairs, replaces and rescues computers

We've all been there, in that moment of abject panic brought on by a computer meltdown.

Our eyes widen, our pulse quickens and we silently vow to immediately back up all the files and photos on our computer -- as soon as this current crisis is resolved. It could be the never-ending hourglass as the machine thinks, freezes and then shuts down; or a recurring "blue screen of death" brought on by a virus caught from a website a husband swears he's never visited (wink, wink).

Less terrifying is the seemingly overwhelming task of transferring data from an aging computer to a brand new machine; a blank canvas waiting to be filled with with music, photos, favorites and documents. There are also wireless networks to establish or expand and memory to increase.

The Computer Doctor does it all, either from its office on North Roosevelt Boulevard, or at the customer's location, be it a home or business or a home office.

"It's nice to have someone in town who's trustworthy working on my computer," said Capt. Pepe Gonzalez, a charter fishing guide. "There's a lot of clients' credit card information and other stuff on my computer, and I trust these guys completely to fix my computer. They also helped me set up and update my Facebook page and website."

The company was created by local businessman and School Board member Robin Smith-Martin and his wife, Beth.

"It actually started in the fall of 2008, when Rob would do favors for friends, and fix their computers out in our shed," Beth said on Wednesday from their second-floor office in the small shopping center at 1702 N. Roosevelt Blvd. "We moved into this building in 2010 and put up the sign in the fall of 2011."

The large red-and-black sign with the familiar red cross symbol that connotes first-aid help sends the right message for the company.

"We can do anything from businesses that need networking help, to private clients who keep getting the blue or black 'screen of death,' either on their PC or Mac," Beth Smith-Martin said. "It's really varied, but I'd say 70 percent of our business is virus removal. We also do a lot of data transfers when people get a new computer and need to put everything from their old one to their new. A lot of people are switching from PCs to Mac."

The company's two technicians, Alex Osterhout and Jay Harris, will work in-house or on-site on repairs or upgrades. Harris is a Microsoft-certified systems engineer.

Osterhout on Wednesday was working on expanding a local hotel's wireless network so it would cover more area.

"We also do web hosting and we have a web designer," said Beth, who acts as the company's unofficial liaison, often translating a client's layman description of their problems to the more technical-minded repairmen.

"It's cheaper for people to drop off their computer, with prices starting at $85 an hour," she said, and the company just launched Saturday hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for weekend meltdowns.

"We offer same-day express service, and our usual turnaround is generally 48 to 72 hours," Smith-Martin said, adding that the company prides itself on finding solutions for every problem, and also offer screen repairs or replacement for iPads.

One woman thought she had lost the entire manuscript of her novel when her computer crashed and she hadn't backed up her files.

"That's what we find most often -- a person usually couldn't care less about the machine, but are worried about losing their files. So I walked her through the process, and asked who she may have sent the file to, in case they would have a copy," Smith-Martin said, adding that Computer Doctor has installed a Customer Relationship Management program that keeps track of each machine they service, so if a client returns, the technicians can pull up that computer and see what they did to fix it the last time.

"And if a computer isn't worth the cost to repair it, we'll absolutely tell a client that," Smith-Martin said. "Some technicians will just keep fixing problems and charging the customers, but if it's not worth it, we'll tell them, and we'll also help them pick out a replacement computer, and I'll go over and set it all up for them."

Beth Smith-Martin offers client tutorials about email, the Internet, saving files, you name it. They also sell external hard drives, and will reinstall operating systems, replace internal fans and offer their professional opinion about whether the cost of the repairs are worth it, given the age or condition of the machine.

"My oldest tutorial client is 90 years old," she said, "You're never too old to learn these things."

The little business that started in a backyard shed has rapidly expanded, but the construction project on North Roosevelt Boulevard has not helped them to continue to grow.

"We're fortunate that we're down here where the traffic is still two-way down here," Beth Smith-Martin said. "But when they first started and had Truman Avenue closed, we really felt the impact. But a lot of people don't realize it's still two-way traffic down here, and they're avoiding the boulevard altogether."

She's dreading the construction shift to the other side of the road, but is hoping locals will continue supporting locals throughout the project.

Computer Doctor is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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