You might call it the curious case of Make It Work.
The South Coast-based company was a pioneer in the business of at-home computer repair and networking installation. But after more than 10 years in business, it shut down abruptly on June 25, leaving employees out of jobs and customers wondering what was going to happen to their prepaid customer service contracts.
Several dozen comments posted on the Pacific Coast Business Times’ website in the days after Senior Editor Stephen Nellis broke the story are a testament to the chaos that ensued after Make It Work closed its doors and apparently left customers who had recently signed up for service contracts high and dry.
Make It Work was always trying to be different. Whereas its arch-rival, Geek Squad, used the ubiquitous Volkswagen New Beetle as its vehicle of choice, Make It Work opted for the flashier Mini Cooper.
Make It Work boasted an energetic and boldly confident CEO, Eric David Greenspan. Make It Work sponsored a high-profile radio show on KNX 1070, the all-news station in Los Angeles that’s a magnet for business types. It had ambitions to go nationwide. It recently cut a deal with Costco.
But reading between the lines, it looks a bit like Make It Work was always, well, trying to make it work. Only a few months ago in April, the company launched a brand-new service, a prepaid model where customers were encouraged to sign up for extended contracts for an up-front fee. According to our reporting, Greenspan said the final blow came when he couldn’t renegotiate an insurance deal on the Mini Coopers that were the company’s signature vehicle and, for a while, a clever marketing tool.
But it’s not at all clear whether customers will ever see a penny of the money they paid up-front. And it really raises a troubling question about whether Make It Work’s move to the service contracts was a strategic move that didn’t work out, or a desperate play for cash. To put it another way: What did Eric know and when did he know it?
Two lessons come out of the Make It Work meltdown.
First, while prepaid phone cards and prepaid gift cards are highly popular, consumers are usually warned to be cautious about deals that require payment up front. You are spending hard-earned cash today on the promise of a service tomorrow, but a promise of service is not itself service. Also, when companies ask for cash up front, it can be a sign of financial weakness. As it turned out, signing up for Make It Work’s prepaid contract was not at all like buying an extended service deal from Dell or GE.
Second is the question of confidence. CEOs and small-business owners alike are paid to be optimists. We’ve got to be resourceful, future-focused and ready to adapt to fast-moving changes in the way business gets done. But we also have to be realistic and careful about how we present our business to customers and the employees who rely on us.
In the case of Make It Work, there was really no sign the company was having problems. Its abrupt shutdown has customers, employees and merely curious onlookers like me scratching their heads.
Like many other industries, the business of at-home and small-business computer repair and networking has undergone a fundamental change.
As Greenspan told us and several other media outlets, the cloud made it less urgent for people to invest in data storage or in computer repairs. Tablets and new, cheaper PCs need less repair and make it more likely people will throw away their old PCs and simply upgrade.
Meanwhile, programs such as Citrix Online’s GoToAssist have made it easier for companies to service and repair computers from remote datacenters, driving down the cost and creating tons of new competitors.
Nellis and the Business Times staff will be tracking what happens to Make It Work’s customers, its vendors and its employees. It seems to me that the final chapter in the rise and demise of Make It Work has not yet been written.
• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]