Becoming an entrepreneur is difficult, no secret there. Mike Collins and Associates (MCA) opened in 1987, before startup culture was a thing, and has grown into a local business with national reach.
Owner Mike Collins sat down with Chattanooga Trend, giving tips on what it takes to make a startup a successful 32-year-old business and local legacy. Hint: it comes down to relationship building.
Trend: How did you start your career?
I was recruiting for a company that did IT. I was always interested in technology and I ended up convincing that company to hire me as a local sales rep, primarily selling peripherals, printers and CRTs.
Trend: Could you talk about MCAs main services?
Collins: My wife and I started the business in 1987, just the two of us out of our basement. We built MCA because we wanted something that we could use to provide a living for ourselves, but mostly to help the people around us.
MCA now employs 95 people. Presently we offer a very wide variety of IT solutions. Even though we excel in many areas, we started the business selling computer hardware and still specialize in that area. In addition to hardware sales, we also offer leasing, network services, managed services, nationwide depot services, a local 24 hour help desk and onsite technical support.
Most technology companies are slow to change and adapt to the business environment. We started by just selling equipment, but have been blessed to be able to grow the business in several other areas, such as managed services. It's not an easy task and we're very proud to say that we’re still growing. I take pride in the fact that we stay ahead of industry trends and have been able to adjust and move with the economy to support those trends.
Trend: When you say computer hardware do you mean the physical pieces that go onto computers and tablets?
Collins: Yes, it's both physical pieces and software.
We don’t just sell a customer a computer, we provide several other value add services to them. For example, we have companies that buy 50 or 500 PCs which we configure and ship for them. We put all of their software on them, set it up on their system and then we ship it to the end user fully configured and ready to plug and play.
Within our nationwide service center, we are able to support companies of all sizes and IT needs. Everything we do is scalable and customizable.
Trend: When did MCA start offering call center services?
Collins: The help desk started with a few engineers in 2015. Due to the growth we’ve experienced we purchased our new building, which is next door to our headquarters, in December 2018. The new building was under construction for almost a year but it is open and staffed with our TSRs 24 hours a day now.
Our help desk is made up of Tier 1 technical support representatives with access to Tier 2 engineers in one of our two network operations centers, Tier 3 onsite support engineers and infrastructure support engineers. We have a quick and seamless escalation process through these engineers and with one call from the customer, we can handle all types of networking issues.
Our focus has always been on our customers and working with them to make their business more profitable and more efficient.
Trend: What kind of problems does MCA’s help desk solve?
Collins: They handle a wide range of issues. Everything from 'I need my password reset,' 'I can't get my email or on the internet,' or 'I can't get to a certain file to complete data transfers.'
We also get calls where they've been hit by a virus or they've been a victim of some type of scam and we work with them from a security standpoint to fix the problem.
Trend: What are some ways MCA has kept the small business feel through your growth?
Collins: We want to give people a great work atmosphere and take pride in the family environment we’ve built. Before I opened my own business, I worked in some atmospheres that were miserable. We've built a very nice campus for employees to come to work in and I’m very proud of the fact that we're able to retain employees.
One incentive we offer is a 10 year cruise. If you've been with the company for 10 years, we send the employee and spouse on a weeklong cruise and we’ve sent 36 or 37 employees on a cruise to date.
We also have employees who have been with us for 30 years. We’re blessed with the team; they're very loyal. They stay with us; our customers know them. We're all about the relationship, the relationships in house and relationships with our clients.
I’m very proud of this team and of the men and women who make up MCA. They’re very committed to our customers and that definitely contributes to our success as a company.
Trend: Have there been any challenges with building the new center?
Collins: Just getting into it. Fortunately, there's a lot going on in Chattanooga from a building and growth stand point but that did delay our progress a bit. We have grown so quickly and outgrew the smaller solution center we have in the main building so getting into the new building was a high priority for me.
Trend: How are you hoping that the service center is going to impact the local community?
Collins: Everything that we do at MCA, we do to impact our customers in a positive way while also impacting our employees.
All of our employees are local to Chattanooga and Nashville, allowing us to grow but maintain our small business feel at the same time. When a customer visits our building, they can meet and talk to the technical and administrative staff that work with them on a daily basis. Most of our competitors outsource this work and I am proud to say we will never do that.
It has been a joy for me to see the company go from a dream that Karen and I had to over 95 employees in 32 years. To me, we are not just providing jobs but supporting families and that’s truly what matters. I have watched the majority of our staff grow up, get married and start families and for me that has a major impact for our community.
In addition to that, we help our customers grow their business because we encourage them to let us handle the IT so they can focus on their particular business. We give our customers the ability to use their employees for what they originally hired them for, not focusing on the technology that runs their business. This makes their business more efficient, effective and profitable. We want our customers to know that working with MCA is a true partnership, we will work for their business and support them in any way we can.