Recently, we sat to talk with Travis Howe from Experimac of Cumming, GA. The Cumming store opened in June 2015. Travis has worked long hours to get his Experimac store where he wants it. 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 with locations across the country. Experimac also sells accessories and offers same day service for repairs and upgrades. Often, Experimac is able to fix your device while you wait offering a 90-day warranty on all repairs because we want all of our customers to experience the Experimac difference.
Although he had never run his own business before, he came from the corporate world where he had experience working with international companies. Travis spent twenty-five years working in diverse business development operations and another ten years as a managing director on an international level. He elaborated, “I had a lot of business development and sales and marketing experience and a lot of executive management as well.” There’s no doubt those years spent in the corporate world have influenced his success with Experimac of Cumming, GA.
Travis has teamed up with his wife, Becky, in life and in business. He was telling us that they had never worked together prior to owning Experimac of Cumming, GA but as it turns out, she’s played a critical role. She’s been keeping everything organized behind-the-scenes as she is very detail-oriented and really good with research and analysis. Becky handles all of the inventory levels, online banking, QuickBooks, etc. Every entrepreneur knows these things can make or break you. They are originally from Georgia but they spent about 14 years up north in New Jersey and Ohio. Travis and Becky have been back in Forsyth County for the last 12 years. Here’s more of what Travis had to share:
EXPERIMAC: What is your connection to the community? Why did you choose to open a business in Cumming, GA?
TRAVIS: A lot of our connections are through our Church and through a lot of different organizations that are connected through our Church, other ministries. We had a wide network of people that we knew here through our neighborhood as well. We opened a business here because for the last 10 years, Forsyth County has been one of the top 10 counties for growth in the nation. There are some really good areas here that had a strong market influence with some of the zip codes here being amongst the wealthiest in the country. That’s not the case for other zip codes but we have a really diverse group of people here in Forsyth County so it’s been a really great place to open up a business.
EXPERIMAC: Being that you’re from the community, what level of involvement do you have with the local community today? Have you joined any specific networking groups or chambers?
TRAVIS: I joined a group called Northeast Business Connection. They are based predominantly here in Georgia and they’ve got chapters all over north Georgia. I was involved with one where you had different businesses like real estate agents, insurance agents, remodelers, etc. I felt it was a good way to get involved and to start with. Most of our efforts have come through word of mouth and people just coming into our store. We’ve done a lot of business with Churches in the area. We’re also expanding to radio advertisements locally.
EXPERIMAC: What would you say has been the most interesting or exciting part of owning your Experimac location? And the most challenging aspect of it?
TRAVIS: The most interesting thing is getting off to a very good start, some of the numbers are what they told us to expect. But, in general, we got off to a very good start in the business and were able to turn a profit early on and to be able to see our business grow. It’s you and your family here, so you’re probably going to be putting in more hours, particularly at the start. Sometimes, it’s hard to get away so it’s been a really good learning experience to manage all of this and still move forward. As far as the people working with us, we’ve been really fortunate. We hired two technicians; one stayed with us for the first year but he went back to school and one is still with me today. We’ve been able to hire additional people that have really done a great job for us so really that’s not been a challenge at all. I’d say the ongoing challenge right now is having the right mix of products in the store, having the right suppliers to really keep driving your margins in a really good area. Those things continue to be a lot of work for us but they’ve also been exciting and rewarding as well.
EXPERIMAC: Have you been doing the majority of repairs yourself or have you hired technicians to help you out?
TRAVIS: Well, I don’t repair anything. I know a lot more about the Mac products than when I started but my technicians do all the repair work from repairing cracked screens to all the intricate work on laptops and desktops. There’s not anything we don’t do. We work on a lot of older Mac products; Apple doesn’t work on anything over 5 years old so a lot of that work is referred to us by other authorized Apple retailers. I’ve got highly qualified techs here that sell and repair. Right now, we actually have 4 people working for us and they all do a really good job of working with customers on the floor and doing the repair work. That’s been a bright spot for us; we really want to be known for having great quality of service and very fast turnaround time in all of our stores.
EXPERIMAC: You had some former Apple Genius® guys working for you, didn’t you?
TRAVIS: We did for a short period of time but we knew we wouldn’t be able to hold on to him for too long. He imparted quite a bit of expertise while he was here so we learned a lot of the things we could do with Apple in regards to warranties, etc. He imparted a lot of knowledge to the techs that are still here so we appreciate the time that he was here. It was well worth having him here for a couple of months.
EXPERIMAC: What kind of feedback have you gotten from customers?
TRAVIS: If you look at our reviews, our feedback has been really, really good. We’ve maintained 5.0 reviews on Facebook and Yelp and 4.9 on Google. We have a lot of repeat customers. There’s a guy that was in today that just bought a 15-inch MacBook laptop from me and he’s already bought two other computers. He’s always coming back here so we have a lot of customers that like to come back in and have just become part of our family. That’s what we’re trying to build, a culture that we really care about our customers and that’s worked out quite well for us here.
EXPERIMAC: What kind of repairs are you doing most frequently? Are you noticing any kinds of patterns in what customers are needing?
TRAVIS: Some of the stuff we do on an ongoing basis is repairing cracked iPhone screens. That’s what we’re going to see most often because people are dropping their phones quite often and cracking screens. A lot of our computer repair work is really upgrading RAM, upgrading hard drives, replacing top assemblies when the LCD or the glass breaks, and the same kind of upgrades on iMacs too. That’s the kind of work we really like to do. We’re also doing a lot of data migration as well as work on PCs that we didn’t do at the beginning but that’s mainly a lot of virus clean up and some hard drive changes.
EXPERIMAC: Is there a typical Experimac customer?
TRAVIS: That’s the real beauty of it, there’s not! We do a lot of business with seniors that come in with nowhere else to go with their Mac products and they maybe need a little bit more hand holding on how to handle the operating system on a laptop or a desktop iMac, or even operating their iPhone or their iPad. I’ve got very, very patient techs working with them. We’ve got a lot of moms and dads buying for their kids, we’ve got a lot of kids coming in looking for themselves because they’re going off to college and we’ve got a lot of churches because they’re predominantly Mac users for running all of their services. A lot of small businesses come in that are using QuickBooks and running Windows and using Parallels software to swipe in and out of Windows and OS without restarting. Our customers can be everybody and anybody.
EXPERIMAC: How many hours are you working in a typical day?
TRAVIS: 40 (chuckling) . . . it’s pretty much a full 8 to 10-hour day doing a lot of different things. As time passes, my guys here can really take care of opening and closing to a degree so we can take off a little bit more time than we did in the early days. It’s worked out really well. I’ve got good people that I really trust and believe in but they’re pretty full days around here.
EXPERIMAC: In your spare time, what are some of your hobbies and pastimes?
TRAVIS: I used to be a really big tennis player but I don’t get a chance to get out and do that as much anymore. Landscaping is probably one of my biggest hobbies, just doing a lot of things like that around the house. The first year we opened the business, I didn’t really have a lot of time to do that. I’ve been able to get back to do that more recently. We do have a place up on the lake but we haven’t seen it lately. There’s a lot of things we enjoy doing but we’re just trying to get the business to a point where we can take off a little more so we can do some traveling and see our grandchildren out in Arizona.
EXPERIMAC: What would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
TRAVIS: I would say that sales skills would be the number one thing because no matter what your business is, you’re going to be selling to some extent. If you come from a different background, that’s going to be one you’re going to need to learn how to do. Also, I’d say understanding the financial side of the business (cash flow, margins, etc.) so you can run a really successful business. Lastly, I’d say being a good leader for the people who work for you and working well with your customer base.
EXPERIMAC: What are your thoughts about being part of a franchise organization?
TRAVIS: I think the reason you buy a franchise is because they’ve got a good successful model and you should never buy a franchise if you’re not going to follow the model. You might as well go ahead and start something on your own because that’s where you’re going to wind up. I think the UFG corporate group has been doing this for a long time, they have some very good people there and of course, with a new brand, like Experimac, there are certainly some growing pains. Having been in some of those situations before helped me to really work with them because I understand what they’re going through. I’ve given suggestions but I think they’re doing a great job overall and they’re getting where us we need to be as we’ve grown as a franchise. They’ve gotten more people on board there that can support the brands that go up so I think it’s been a great experience whether I keep the store for 2 years or 10. It’s been a lot of fun!
Travis Howe’s long days are paying off. He seems to be getting the Cumming, GA store to a point where it will seem like it almost runs itself and he’s enjoyed the process, which makes it even better. Understanding the diversity of his customer base and their various needs is surely part of the success he is experiencing. We encourage you to keep Travis, his team of techs, and Experimac of Cumming, GA in mind for your next computer or device repair, upgrade, trade-in or purchase. We know you’ll be writing a 5-star review of your own if you work with them.