In 21st-century America, most people find it difficult to imagine surviving for more than a brief time without having flawlessly functioning technology close at hand. The personal computer has become absolutely central to daily life both at home and at work.
Choosing the right computer or restoring a malfunctioning machine to robust health can be a challenge. In Fort Dodge, however, such situations need not be the source of panic. The team at Little Joe's Computers, 1000 Central Ave., stands ready to help customers navigate the world of computers with confidence.
"We do new computers ... repairs, parts and accessories," owner Joe Gilbert said. "We sell almost every part and accessory for a computer that's available. We're one of the few places that does. ... The stuff we've got is anything from gamers to business to networking equipment."
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Amber Spurling, left, stops in with a broken laptop computer to have it repaired by Joe Gilbert, owner of Little Joe’s Computers which recently relocated to 1000 Central Ave. in downtown Fort Dodge.
For the last four years, Little Joe's has been ranked No. 1 for computer service by participants in The Messenger's Readers' Choice survey.
Gilbert said he takes pride in the extensive inventory his store stocks and is committed to offering not only quality merchandise, but also to providing service that is top-notch.
Building custom desktop and laptop computers is a major focus at Little Joe's. Gilbert estimated that the store sells between 150 and 200 of these machines each year. He said the advantage of buying a custom computer from his store - as opposed to purchasing a mass-produced option elsewhere - is the quality of the components inside.
"We use quality products to build our machines. ... We pick just the quality parts," Gilbert said. "We do not sell any brand but our own. ... We warranty our own machines. Everything we build as a new machine, we warranty ourselves."
Gilbert stressed that many of the parts also have manufacturer's warranties.
He said the parts chosen for the custom computers and those the store uses in repairs or sells to do-it-yourselfers are purchased from authorized distributors or the actual manufacturers, guaranteeing both authenticity and no-hassle replacement if a problem arises.
The availability of a wide array of parts and accessories has made the store popular with both novices and those for whom computers are a serious passion.
"We have components that go in the machines for the do-it-yourselfer," Gilbert said. "A lot of guys come in and buy the parts and build their own machines."
The store's clientele is a mix of businesses and private individuals. Gilbert said the customers also represent a broad cross-section of the community in terms of age.
"Severely young and severely old," he said. "There is no demographic."
Gilbert said the number of senior citizen customers is growing and that helping them gain what they are seeking from computers is an especially enjoyable part of the business.
"Communication and connection: That's the two things that they want," he said, reflecting on why older folks with little knowledge of computers are deciding to give them a try. Helping them achieve those goals is part of the mission at Little Joe's Computers.
Gilbert stressed that his store is committed to helping customers of all ages learn how to get what they need and want from their computers. He said attentive customer service and follow-up on the telephone, in the store or on-site if need be is a priority at his store.
"We want your phone calls," Gilbert said he tells patrons. "We have a unique relationship with our customers. ... We try to help people understand how to prevent what's going on, how to keep things running."
Asked the key to succeeding in this type of business, Gilbert had a straightforward answer.
"Honesty, that's it," he said. "Don't take advantage of people."
Gilbert said remaining faithful to that principle has made word of mouth an important factor in the growth of his customer base.
"We tell everybody, 'Ask around' and stop in and say 'hi,'" he said. "Almost all of our business is repeat and referral. ... We get new customers by referral all the time."
A move downtown
Little Joe's Computers opened initially in 2003. For many years it was located at 1309 First Ave. S. This year, however, Gilbert relocated the business to 1000 Central Ave. in the heart of Fort Dodge's historic commercial district.
Gilbert owns the building on the northeast corner of Central Avenue and North 10th Street that is the enterprise's new home. There are big plans for the building. It has room for two or three additional businesses. According to Gilbert, a flower and gift shop is already slated to open in February in the space just north of the computer store.
"My plan is to work on the outside of the building - bring that up," Gilbert said. "I would like to restore it back to its original look."
Little Joe's Computers is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Fridays it opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. The store is closed on Saturdays, but Saturday appointments are possible.
Contact Terrence Dwyer at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org