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Soldotna's computer competitor.

Mike Treat has taken a byte out of Anchorage's computer retail market. He owns Computer Concepts: Connecting Point, the Soldotna franchise of a national computer store chain. A cabinetmaker until just three years ago, the 36-year-old Treat expects to sell a million dollars worth of computers and services this year.

"I'm having fun," says Treat, who recently stopped wearing tennis shoes, jeans and T-shirts to work. Suits and ties are standard now at Computer Concepts. "I like it. It feels right. It feels good," he adds.

The new look marks a turning point for Treat's Apple Computer dealership. In April, he joined Connecting Point of America, a computer franchise organization serving more than 400 computer dealerships across the country.

"We wanted to be able to compete statewide with the big, high-volume, Anchorage-based dealers in pricing and service, and the only way to do that was to link up with a huge national company," he says. Now we can offer our customers not only competitive prices, but increased technical support and faster delivery."

The national connection has already helped Treat snatch plums from Anchorage's Apple market. In October, he closed a $100,000 deal with the Anchorage Dally News for 32 Macintosh computers.

Through the Connecting Point, Treat also was able to expand his product line to include IBM-compatible NEC hardware. According to Treat, a large percentage of the computer market is using IBM systems. The new store features a greater variety of hardware and less software.

We were competing with catalogs," Treat says of his software sales. The large displays of computer games are gone from Computer Concepts, which now offers only basic business software.

Sales to businesses and schools represent 90 percent of the Soldotna store's present activity. heat explains that although home computer sales and business sales were about even five years ago, home computer sales are dropping off nationwide.

"It used to be that you bought a computer just like a television - you picked it out, took it home and plugged it in for entertainment. Not anymore. A dealer has to prove that life will be easier with computers, especially to a business," he says.

In 1984 Treat bought a computer for his cabinet business and became a believer. The first three months I had that computer I never went to bed before two in the morning,' he recalls.

Bookkeeping chores began to take only a fraction of the 10 hours a month he used to spend. With the computer, Neat could write a bid for a cabinet in 10 minutes - a task that previously consumed at least an hour.

The finished document looked highly professional compared to the hand-written bids submitted by his competitors. "It really helped us get a lot of jobs," he adds.

Treat estimates that the custom cabinet business that he and his wife, Joyce, started in their garage in 1981 had 85 percent of the cabinet business on the Peninsula by the time he decided to purchase the Apple Computer franchise in 1987. Peninsula homeowners trying to sell often list Treat cabinets as a feature in their real estate ads.

An appreciation for precision may be the connecting point between a cabinetmaker and a computer dealer. Treat, who studied math in college, was infatuated with the computer's ability to bring order to his business. A computer is almost like a utopia world where everything can be virtually perfect," Treat says. He eventually sold the cabinet business to two employees.

An admitted workaholic, Treat began putting in 70 hours a week learning the computer business. He became the installing dealer for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, which has purchased more than a thousand computers from Apple.

John Dahlgren, executive director of operations for the district, says the 9,000-student district is nearing its goal of one computer for every five students. He adds, He (Treat) has been very good to work with.'

In addition to his five full-time employees, Treat has part-time representatives in Dillingham and Homer. He's also using monthly mailings targeted toward sales to 250 elementary and secondary schools in other parts of the state. Treat notes that it's just as easy to buy a computer from him as from an Anchorage dealer.

Treat connected with another big customer after the Exxon Valdez oil spill last year. He sold a couple of computers to Exxon's oil-spill cleanup command center in May of 1989 and went to Kodiak to set them up. We sold one or two computers and didn't think a whole lot about it," Treat says.

As the cleanup effort was shifting into high gear a month later, a disgruntled Kodiak programmer sabotaged the entire computer system at the command center. Veco, Exxon's general contractor for the cleanup, sent a jet to pick up Treat and one of his technicians to get the system back on line. When the command center moved a few weeks later, Veco asked Treat to come back and help.

The atmosphere was chaotic and Treat loved it. 'Everybody kept pulling at my sleeve, saying, `Can you do this? Can you do this?" he remembers. When Veco asked him to sign on for the summer, Treat, intrigued by the experience and the pay offer, moved his family to Kodiak temporarily. His employees, none of whom was more than 25 years old, kept things running smoothly at the computer store.

Treat tracked the progress of shoreline treatment and set up a work authorization system on the Macintosh for Veco and Exxon. By the time it was over, Treat had sold more than 30 computers to Veco and gained valuable experience as a consultant. Sales at Computer Concepts for 1989 reached $1.5 million.

Treat sees future opportunities in doing business with oil companies and support firms in Anchorage and on the North Slope. "It's a small town dealer who's got a lot of power now,' says Treat. "That's a good feeling."
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Title Annotation:Mike Treat
Author:Thomas, Margaret
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Words:985
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