We recently sat with Christine Witte from Experimac Fenton, MO. She opened her store in April 2016 as a first time business owner. Christine spent many years in the financial industry where during the first half of her career. With franchises across the country, Experimac is a trusted tech source for Apple® product repairs and upgrades, pre-owned sales and trade-ins for iPhone® devices, iPad® tablets, iMac® computers, MacBook® laptops and more. Additionally, we also sell accessories for these devices and offer same-day service for repairs and upgrades. We’re often able to fix your device while you wait. Experimac offers a 90-day warranty on all repairs because we want all of our customers to experience the Experimac difference.
Christine and her life partner, Chip Rhodes, are working the store together. When she first bought the store, he was really helpful because he had a lot of retail experience in management and sales. Combined with her operational background as well as her financial experience, they’ve made a success out of this business venture. She’s running some of the administrative side and taking care of the marketing while Chip focuses on the sales side. Christine has found that there is no beginning or end to the work day as a business owner. She explained that as a single mom, she often finds that she gets up early or stays up late to check emails, eBay listings for products or respond to quote requests. Life as an entrepreneur can be busy but Christine’s learned a lot along the way and places her customers at the top of the priority list. This has been getting Experimac of Fenton, MO some great reviews so it’s definitely the way to go.
EXPERIMAC: What was your background prior to joining Experimac?
Christine: I worked as a Risk Management Manager for Western Union. I managed the accounts receivable functions for their suite of products. I had a very long career of 21 years with them. I left that role to stay home with my daughter for about 6 or 7 years. I went back out into the business world and worked in operations for a couple of years in banking. Because of the financial crisis, Banking had become became highly regulated. The banks did some scrambling to try to keep up with what the government was throwing at them. The environment was cut throat and very stressful. I started thinking that I really just wanted to work for myself where I could have more impact and feel less constrained.
EXPERIMAC: What is your connection to the community? How long have you lived here? Why did you choose to go into business in Fenton?
Christine: I’ve lived in St. Louis my entire life. Chip has lived here for about 20 years. He’s actually from a small town south of St. Louis where he was born and raised and he settled here after college. It seemed like a great place to open a location since I’m from the general St. Louis area.
EXPERIMAC: Have you been able to get involved in the Fenton community? Networking groups, etc.?
Christine: Although it’s not a small town, St. Louis is considered a small town and everybody pretty much knows somebody you know. We do try to be involved. We participated in an event called Fenton Days, we were in the parade and we also had a booth and it was geared more towards businesses. It was a carnival-type event with a lot of booths and things for the kids to do, there was food and fun. It was a good event for us to get out and rub elbows with other businesses in the area. We also belong to the Chamber so we’ve been fairly active in the Chamber. We’ve attended a few events and also sponsored a couple of events and participated in grand opening for other businesses. We actually have a pretty good connection to the community; we’re fairly well-known by other Chamber members so we do get a fair amount of business from the Chamber. We’ve broadened ourselves a little bit and have gone outside of Fenton and attended a multi-city Chamber event. We do participate with different user groups as well. Chip was recently involved with the Mac® user group in our area where he presented our concept and that brought some business into the store and also established us as an Apple® Computer authority in the area.
EXPERIMAC: What would you say has been the most interesting or exciting part of opening your own Experimac store? And the most challenging aspect of it?
Christine: Probably staffing has been the most challenging. When you’re working on other people’s equipment, most people consider their phones or computer equipment, as important as a child or spouse. You might as well be have their first-born in your back room. You just need to be very careful with people’s equipment. The most interesting part is the people; we see such a broad range of people. In my other career, most of my interaction with customers was over the phone, because I was in a back office corporate environment where I didn’t see people face-to-face, so it’s been very interesting and also very rewarding. You see so many different types of people and so many different walks of life. I see people that are 12 years old standing at my counter with their parent because they broke their screen and 10 minutes later, a senior citizen might walk in because they want to get into the Apple® Computer market and they need a lot of hand-holding. I was a little surprised about that part of the business,that I would enjoy getting to know people so much. We also have our share of crazy people walking in the door but that’s just few and far between and you’ll get that with any business. We do the best we can to make them all very happy.
EXPERIMAC: There really isn’t a typical Experimac customer, is there?
Christine: Definitely not. It might be more related to where our store is. To the south of us, it’s very rural but about 5 miles in the other direction, it’s a more affluent area. Our spectrum of customers is pretty broad.
EXPERIMAC: Are you guys doing the repairs yourselves or do you have technicians doing the work?
Christine: I have a couple of technicians that do the repairs. I tell myself every week that I’m going to go sit out there with them to learn so I don’t end up on the hot seat. Typically, the technicians are in an entry-level job so we have younger kids and I just haven’t had the opportunity to sit with them to learn. It’s on my list and I have aptitude for that sort of thing so it’s just a matter of making the time.
EXPERIMAC: What kind of feedback have you gotten from customers so far?
Christine: We’ve gotten pretty good feedback. Right now, we have all 5s in our reviews except for one 4 which was really related to something beyond our control and we have a 1 from a customer who was already irate when they came in to the store that we never had the chance to do business. There is a lot of reward in it because we get the opportunity to fix things for people who thought they were going to have to invest in a new device or they come in after visiting the Apple® store where they wanted to charge them $200 to fix something and we are able to do it for a minimal amount of money.
EXPERIMAC: Have you noticed any patterns in terms of the type of work you’re doing? Repairs, less upgrade or more upgrades or is it a mix bag?
Christine: It’s mixed. I get a daily string of repairs and then there will be a spurt of upgrades that comes in. All of a sudden, everyone that comes in has the older Macs® and they want the upgrades or they have a PC that’s loaded up with viruses and other issues. We explain what is involved in repairs versus transitioning to a Mac that is readily available on the showroom floor, and usually they can see value in Apple® and showing them those differences makes sense.
EXPERIMAC: So, when you’re not working, do you have any hobbies or favorite pastimes?
Christine: I used to be a big gardener. The yard at my old house looked like it belonged in Better Homes & Gardens, but it’s not easy finding the time for that sort of yardwork anymore. I also enjoy decorating but I’m struggling to finish those projects too. Sometimes you do get a day off and it’s so nice when you do. Chip and I had this discussion this morning. If you overschedule yourself and you don’t have any downtime, it feels like you’re on a treadmill and it’s important to sometimes take just a day and maybe take a nap or hop on a real treadmill. Doing something that’s just for yourself, not for other people but just for you. If you don’t, you start to go insane and feel like you’ve neglected yourself. Balance is important.
EXPERIMAC: What would you say are the top 3 skills to be a successful entrepreneur?
Christine: Multitasking, organizational skills, and most importantly, in this business, people skills and relationship building. For some people, talking to the general public is not a fun thing but if you make an effort to make connections with the people in your store by starting out with simple questions like their plans for the weekend or where their kids go to school, I find it makes a big difference. In this business, it’s very important to make connections. That’s probably going to be your next sale, somewhere down the road; it’s a good way to build relationships with people in the store. I’m pretty big on not letting my customers just sit in front of the TV waiting for their repair to be completed. People need to feel comfortable when they’re in the store so they feel they want to come back.
Owning your own business requires a lot of time and dedication; it’s clear Christine Witte and Chip Rhodes are working hard and their success is paying off. If you live or work in the Fenton, MO area, stop by Experimac Fenton, MO and see how they can help you with repairs, upgrades, or trade-ins of your favorite Apple® products. We’re confident you’ll feel right at home at Experimac Fenton, MO and will receive excellent customer service.