KEARNEY — Owner Darrel Albers credits his four decades in business to tenacity and adaptability as Computer Hardware celebrates its 40th anniversary.
“We’re just kind of tenacious, I guess. I like helping people. It’s kind of what we do is basically just help people,” Albers said.
He said the change in technology has kept his job interesting.
“It changes so much all the time. It keeps you interested in it. I guess that’s why we stuck in it,” he added.
Albers opened the computer sales and repair business with Tom Myers, who has since retired, in 1980 in a shop near the Museum of Nebraska Art. They moved the store to its current location at 2315 Second Ave. in 1988.
Albers said he and Myers saw a need for the computer business when they were minority stockholders at a former Kearney stereo business, Midwest Audio Company. Albers, who has a degree in electronics from Central Community College in Hastings, worked on the stereos. But Albers also was required to add each day’s receipts by hand, a practice he said was common for small businesses at that time.
“And so I had taken some classes at the tech school, knew very little about computers and said, ‘Why don’t we just see if we can put it (accounting) on a computer?”’ Albers said.
He built a computer for accounting purposes, but learned that putting it together was easier than operating it. So, he took computer software classes through CCC.
Albers and Myers also partnered with a professor from Kearney State College on their first sale. Albers said the professor developed and sold accounting software to Kearney Federal Credit Union, which had been calculating interest for shareholders on the college’s computer at the time. Computer Hardware sold an Apple computer to hold the software.
In the beginning, the only computers that Computer Hardware sold were Apples, which the store continues to sell and service today.
“It was the first computer you could kind of just turn on and it was ready to go,” Albers said.
In the early years, Albers said his primary customers were either college students studying programming or business people who wanted them for accounting.
“It was quite a revolution for a small business to actually put in a booking system that would tell them every month whether they were making or losing money,” Albers said.
In the first couple of years of business Albers and Myers worked alone. But as they garnered more business they hired employees, some college students who moved on to other communities. If they were good employees, Computer Hardware followed them and opened stores where they went. Computer Hardware opened shops in Hastings in 1988, Grand Island in 1992 and Lincoln in 1998.
Albers’ wife, Joyce, joined the business 30 years ago and their son, Jason, started 25 years ago.
As time went on, computers became faster. Albers said they now are more reliable and easier to operate. Because manufacturers are more efficient at making the computers, people now are able to buy an Apple for less than $1,000.
The Apple computers in the early ’80s were about $5,000 each, Albers said, which was a lot of money at the time.
“If we sold one or two a month we were happy,” he said.
However, much of Computer Hardware’s business was and still is repairing computers.
“That was kind of the key to it because there (were) so few people actually doing that, that you had to do it,” Albers said. “There was no place to go otherwise.”
Computer Hardware has been authorized by Apple to repair its products. It also is certified to repair some other computer brands, which the store now sells.
Additionally, Computer Hardware now sells and repairs iPhones, and offers classes to its customers to help them get familiar with their new products.
Today, people come from as far as western Nebraska and northern Kansas to buy computers. Albers said Kearney is the western-most city in Nebraska that services Apple computers.
“And we’re kind of maybe in a unique area. We don’t have access in outstate Nebraska. There’s not an Apple store you can just take it there,” he said.
Many of Computer Hardware’s customers today are school systems, which now are purchasing Chromebooks or Apple Notebooks for each of their students to use for school work. Because Computer Hardware is a warranty center, the schools also may send computers there to be serviced.
“It doesn’t cost anything, and Apple or the other manufacturer pays for the repair,” Albers said.
This year, many of the schools postponed buying computers or getting them serviced in April and May because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some school administrators still are deciding whether to purchase computers because they don’t yet know how they will teach school in the fall, Albers said.
But when the pandemic first started, Albers said people rushed his store to buy what they needed to work from home and what their children needed to learn from home. Though sales went down after that, Albers said he and his employees stayed busy helping customers set up their new purchases.
All four of Computer Hardware locations never fully closed during the pandemic. The Grand Island and Hastings stores didn’t allow foot traffic because of the high number of COVID-19 cases that were in Hall County. Hastings has since allowed customers back in its store but Grand Island still is locked down.
“We could have closed, but people need help. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we tried to stay open the best we could,” Albers said.