Ryan and Andrea Eldridge's Nerds on Call
By Claudia Mosby
Who Ya Gonna Call?September 2015
By Claudia Mosby
"Why can't someone come to your house and fix your computer?” may not be a question asked today, but in 2002, when Andrea Eldridge’s mother got a computer virus, home computer repair was a novel idea. Eldridge and her husband Ryan, owners of Nerds on Call, had been providing online services for businesses in Southern California and were getting ready to relocate to Redding when her mother’s need inspired their next business venture.
“When we started, so much of the computer repair industry was oriented to professional and technical customers,” says Eldridge, Nerds on Call CEO. “The average person fell through the gaps.” Although aware of the Geek Squad (founded by Robert Stephens in Minneapolis in 1994), Nerds on Call was the first to offer home computer repair services to residential customers in Redding. (Stephens partnered with Best Buy in 2002 and the retailer began offering services nationally in 2004.)
“We put a flyer in the Record Searchlight with my personal cell phone number, just to test interest,” she says. “Within a day, my phone was ringing from 6 am to 11 pm My first telephone bill was a $1,000; we learned quickly to get a business number.”
Pleased with the “unexpected embrace from the community,” Eldridge and her husband carved out a niche for themselves, and they did so by bootstrapping: no loans, a $50,000 investment of their own money in the first six months, and organic, sustained growth.
“We would go into homes, fix what we could, and bring back to the shop (a guest bedroom in the house) whatever we could not fix on site without specialized equipment,” says Eldridge.
In a growth industry, the company has evolved with the technology. “When we started, the majority of our business was in the home and our appointment times averaged two hours,” recalls Eldridge, who has witnessed usage trends migrate to laptops and mobiles.
“Today, it is not a big deal for a customer to bring their device into the store,” she says adding, “People do not necessarily want an appointment window time and have to wait for someone to come out to their home. Much of our business is also online now.” Operating an increasingly virtually based business has afforded the company mobility. From 2008 to 2011 it grew quickly, opening 10 physical locations from Tacoma to Bakersfield.
Eschewing larger markets due to the required start-up capital, Eldridge and partners have found their greatest success in locations along the I-5 corridor. “If we cannot drive to a location within eight hours,” she says, “our ability to manage effectively disappears.”
Recently, the company began offering online services in Texas, Ohio and Florida, testing feasibility in markets without a storefront and, if it cannot be done only online, how to address the challenge from another state.
Two years ago, the addition of a Sacramento call center assisted the expansion of the technical division. Relocating to Sacramento, however, was a decision Eldridge calls “heartbreaking,” challenging both professionally and personally.
“When we started offering onsite support, we needed technically savvy staff,” she says. “There is only so much you can train someone without technical training for the kinds of operations they have to perform.” Unfortunately, the Redding market could not supply the number of staff needed with the requisite skills.
“Our daughter was 6 months old when Ryan started spending the week in Sacramento,” says Eldridge, a situation anticipated as temporary until the center was established.
“It became our new normal, but it was a difficult existence as a family,” she says. “He was missing all the seminal moments of our daughter’s life.” When demand for online service support grew exponentially and his role became permanent, the family took a second home in Sacramento.
The corporate office remains in Redding, and two Fridays a month, Eldridge returns to work with staff and tape her KQMS technology talk radio program. She continues to publish her weekly column, Nerd Chick Adventures, in the Record Searchlight and the family spends school vacations, holidays and breaks in the North State.
Eleven years later, Nerds on Call is still going strong. The $3 million company employs 50 people and services 40,000 customers annually.
In terms of big box competitors, Eldridge says, “We were concerned about it, but it did not have a massive impact. We had been in the market for a couple of years and had built a strong customer base. Redding is our strongest and our most loyal market.”
www.callnerds.com • 800-919-6373