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“None of us wanted to touch the register because we wanted the business to flourish.”
-Luke Behm, Co-owner, DART Computer Solutions

David and Goliath

DART Computer Solutions, of Fairmount, takes on the retail giants by its focus on building relationships with its customers.

It was mid 2009, and the United States was at the height of a recession. Luke Behm, 28, of Navarino, was tired of painting houses. He had attended various college programs over the years, and had been running his own painting business, East Coast Painters, to make ends meet.

Seven years into painting, Behm’s friend Ryan Bitter came to him with a business proposition. Bitter had been freelancing computer repair service and needed Behm’s business experience. With a sound business plan and only $15,000, the two men opened what is now DART Computer Solutions in Fairmount, a small computer repair service and an authorized Cricket dealer.

DART, which stands for Dedicated and Reliable Technology, provides many services such as virus removal, computer repair, and data recovery. Within three years, DART expanded to two more locations in Liverpool and Mattydale. When the store first opened, Behm and Bitter didn’t even take a salary.

“It was like working for a non-profit,” said Behm. “None of us wanted to touch the register because we wanted the business to flourish.”

DART performed their first computer virus removal for about $90 within two days. This helped propel DART to the growing business they are today.

Behm always wanted an acronym for his business. He jokes that the name, which actually came from Bitter’s girlfriend at the time, speaks to the precision of how their company runs.

“It’s about hitting the bull’s eye every time.”

Many wouldn’t have expected DART to survive the recession. Large retail chains like Staples and Best Buy have their own computer retail and service departments. Target, another national retail chain, also has its own computer department, and one of its stores happens to be located across the street from them.

These large chains make billions of dollars a year; revenue that allows for extreme price cuts that DART is unable to compete with. So they focus their attention on their customers in hopes that a more personal touch is enough to keep customers coming back.

“There is a big increase in people that would rather spend more money and deal with a Syracuse-based business versus a franchise or bigger corporation like Best Buy or Wal-Mart,” said Behm. “They’d rather deal locally then with the big guys.”

Anthony Parente, a DART technician and sales associate, agrees.

“There are a lot of people out there that are all about small business,” said Parente. “They will spend extra money knowing that they’ll get personal service and that someone is going to know their name. They aren’t just a receipt number.”

Businessweek.com reported that Best Buy 2011 revenue was $50 billion. Behm believes that to compete with that kind of buying power, DART has to maintain a more personal touch with their clientele.

“There’s a face to the business,” said Behm. “Customers know if they have any problems, they can call us and that’s worth spending 10-15 percent more on a product.” Parente recalled one instance where customer service was key. He had a customer who wanted a gaming rig to play one of the new Star Wars computer games. After receiving the new computer, he began to notice glitches in the game.

Upon inspection, Parente realized that the hardware in the customer’s machine that did not meet the game’s requirements. Parente, seeing his mistake, decided to help him out.

“I told the customer that I would build him a system that he could play this game on. Since the new computer did not meet my standards, I upgraded his computer for free,” said Parente.

Parente hopes that as DART grows and expands, they are able to maintain this level of customer service.

“One of the things I love about working here is how personal I can be with customers,” said Parente. “We have been open for going on three years now. I would have to say that that level of customer service is enough to steal business from the big franchises.”