Featuring Dean Hancy, PC Bits
by Amy Swanberg
The exact moment I knew chatting with Dean Hancy was going to be fun is when he emailed me back with a suggestion for where to meet up. The first person to ever suggest food, Dean asked if we could meet at the Ihop off University Ave in Coon Rapids. Breakfast for lunch? Pancakes? I’m always down for that.
The Ihop was fairly crowded and Dean was waiting for me when I arrived, contentedly scrolling on his mammoth of a cell phone (the size of it puts the iPhone 6 Plus to shame). He stood up and gave me a firm handshake. “Well, you must be Amy,” he said with a smile. I told Dean that I had come prepared to eat and was looking forward to breakfast for lunch. “I don’t know what it is was, but when I was thinking about it last week, I was in the mood for pancakes.” Less than a minute after we had gotten settled in the booth two ladies walked into the restaurant and called to Dean with a huge smile. Dean grinned back at them and introduced me, explaining to his friend and customer we were there for an interview. “Characters of the chamber, it’s called,” Dean said with a laugh. “You’d never describe me that way now would you?” After a few more pleasantries and breakfast ordered, Dean and I were ready to start.
“I suppose you want to know how I started my business,” Dean said. I nodded, saying no matter how many times I ask the question, the answer is always fascinating. “Well, I was a nurse for a short while and I worked in a nursing home. After getting laid off someone suggested computers, so I took a test called Do you have the aptitude for computers. That was back in 1984 when things were just starting to take off in the computer world. I went back to school and got a job writing computer programming code which I did for many years.” Dean leaned back as he remembered. “I was doing really well and worked for Fair Isaac Company as a programmer. I have actually worked on the FICO score. I remember sitting down with the new president of the company and he said the new ‘flagship’ product needed a trainer. I applied for and got the job. Well, I was just about to be sent to the East Coast to train people on the new flagship product when every single trainer was laid off. He said we weren’t valuable because we didn’t make the company any money.”
As I continued to listen to Dean’s story about how PC Bits came to be, I thought back to the other chamber member interviews and realized a pattern was beginning to emerge. Almost everyone started out doing something different than what they were doing in the present, and almost everyone had experienced being laid off. While the circumstances surrounding their layoffs were different, it had produced the same result. They all became innovators.
Dean told me that after being laid off from Fair Isaac he went back to school to get a degree in computer hardware, but there weren’t really any jobs available. “While I was looking for work I would often work on my friends’ computers to get experience. One day a friend said, ‘You fixed my computer so I’m going to pay you for it.’ That’s when a lightbulb went off. I thought, ‘Why not have my own business?’ So that’s what I did.”
Upon starting his business Dean received some advice to join the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce. “At that time we did the Friday breakfast every Friday by gosh by golly! I loved it because I like being with people. At the time I didn’t know anything about starting a business, but everyone else there did. They helped and gave me tips.” A smile appeared in the corner of Dean’s mouth. “Learn what not to do as fast as you can and then stop doing it. I spent two years learning what not do, but I had the luxury because my wife had a job and we weren’t in debt. I had the time.”
I asked Dean to tell me about the people who come into PC Bits. “About half my work is with individuals and their home computers. The other half would be very small businesses. I’m talking tiny hole in the wall shops where there is one maybe two computers. That’s why the chamber breakfast is the one for me.” I asked Dean if he could tell me why he likes working with individuals and he replied, “They need help. That’s just the trainer in me. If they’ll listen to me I can teach them something and that’s everything. I like talking to people and getting to know them. That’s satisfying for me.” I told Dean that many tech people are introverted and usually don’t like conversing with people. His love for customers makes him unique in his field. Dean agreed with me. “My competitors won’t work with the small person. It doesn’t make them much money, but I have an advantage. I don’t need a lot of money and my competitors hate me for that,” he said with a clear twinkle in his eye. “Because I’m my own boss I don’t have to charge the 80-year-old lady. But that rich guy who gives me a hard time? 200 bucks!” Dean laughed.
Dean told me the most common reason people come in to get computer service is because they have a virus on their computer. “It’s crazy out there,” he said emphatically. “I’d scare you to death with everything I know about what’s going on out there.” The next reason people go to see Dean is because their computer is running slowly. While most people assume computers get slower with age, Dean assured me that simply isn’t true. “You have to have knowledge,” he said. “You have to take care of it. I always like to tell people that electricity runs at the speed of light. Your computer should always run as fast as it did in the beginning.” The last reason people go to PC Bits is because of hardware issues. He can replace broken screens and help if a hard drive has failed.
Dean’s love of training others inspired him to offer a free class to all his customers to educate them on internet safety. Considering the number one reason people go in to see Dean is because of a virus on their computer, his class seems like a no brainer. “First thing we talk about is the eight ways you can make money writing computer virus’. It’s the easiest way to make money on the planet,” he said leaning in. “The scale of it is incredible. There will always be people who fall for their lies, and they learn and improve. Nobody’s stopping them. After I’m done scaring everyone to death we talk about how your computer gets hijacked and go over the free programs we use to combat it.”
PC Bits also offers other services such as building gaming computers, and when it comes to gaming computers, people want the very best and aren’t afraid to pay for it. Dean explained to me that customers will come in and pay 3,000 dollars without even blinking an eye. “I’ve passed those things on to my son. He’s part owner now and that’s one of those stories that make a father teary eyed,” Dean said with a far off look in his eye. He smiled slightly. “Two strong-willed smart people who have two different ways of looking at the world. He’s really blossomed.” Dean turned his attention back to me and began explaining how to test a computer to see how it measures up to other computers. The process is called “benchmarking,” and basically you run tests on the different parts to see how fast they are. But it’s not just about how fast the computer runs. How much the part is worth is also factored in (you’re trying to get the most bang for your buck) to give a score. “My son built a computer for a gal and it hit top scores in 2 out of the 6 benchmarks. That’s really impressive considering we’re going up against 10,000 dollar computers.”
Dean and I continued to chat about the different things his son was up to, and how he hopes he will take over the business someday. I noted to Dean that “retirement” in the strictest sense didn’t really seem like something he would enjoy because of how much he loves doing what he does. “Well, you’re right about that,” he said with a chuckle. “I thought I had a five-year plan, but my wife informed me that I don’t have a five-year plan. It could be a seven-year plan, but I’d like to slow down. I could do Meals on Wheels, bring those seniors their lunch and then spend some time fixing their computer and having a grand ole’ time,” he said smiling.
After we’d gotten the check and filled our take-out boxes, the lady who knew Dean came by our table once again. After she had a couple of questions answered by Dean she turned to me and said, “Dean is amazing. I love my computer guy. Make sure you write that down!” I chuckled, promising I would. As I watched the two exchange pleasantries one thing became abundantly clear; if you’re in need of computer repair and want good company, PC Bits is the only repair shop for you.
If you’d like to learn more about PC Bits (you really should), please visit their website at pcbitsweb.com or contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for this great story. Dean is wonderful. When I joined the chamber less then a year ago, he made an effort to know me and offered advice right out the gate! Thanks Dean.