We just recently sat down to have a chat with the hard-working, but fun, husband-wife team behind Experimac of Charlotte, NC, Jeff and Monika Prainito. Their location in the booming area of Charlotte opened up just over a year ago, at the end of July 2015. With franchises across the country, Experimac is a trusted tech source for Apple® product repairs and upgrades, pre-owned sales and trade-ins for iPhone® devices, iPad® tablets, iMac® computers, MacBook® laptops and more. Experimac also sells accessories for these devices and we offer same day service for repairs and upgrades. Often, we're able to fix your device for you while you wait. Experimac offers a 90-day warranty on all repairs so customers never have to worry about their repair work.
Choosing to open Experimac of Charlotte came as a result of one of Jeff's friends working with Transworld Business Advisors and connecting Jeff with Experimac. "For me, it was about wanting to be the first one in Charlotte and getting our choice of location," said Jeff. Monika really liked the idea of people having another option other than the Apple® store.
Owning a small business of their own comes as nothing new to this power couple. Growing up, Jeff's family were small business owners, opening three separate restaurants. And Monika is a business owner herself, completing architectural surveys. They seem to balance one another out well and are therefore able to focus on different angles of their Experimac business. Jeff is clearly a people person who is eager to please his customers with good service and looks forward to the moment they smile as they walk out the door with a working device in hand. Monika is able to see things differently from behind-the-scenes and provides valuable insight as she handles the marketing for Experimac of Charlotte. More than anything, it's evident that Charlotte is home and they really want to do their part to be part of this thriving community. Here is more of what they shared with us about the journey of owning an Experimac location.
EXPERIMAC: What's your background from a work experience angle?
Jeff: When I was really young, I did work on the first computers, the 386-40MHz and the 486-50MHz. Things you probably have never even imagined. I custom built AutoCAD workstations. Later, I had a full career in industrial engineering in the automotive and healthcare industries. Then, this opportunity came to own our own small business.
Monika: I have been working on computers, as a user, for 25 years. I am an interior designer but I'm more into the drafting side of it. That's what I was doing in the hi-tech world, working with telecommunications companies. I was drafting and marketing for them. I eventually started my own company and have been working as an architectural surveyor and I started using PC computers until our oldest son suggested I switch to Mac® computers so I did and I've been using Apple® computers for about 6 years now. So the idea behind Experimac immediately appealed to me. I still do my surveying and I help Jeff with marketing for Experimac of Charlotte.
EXPERIMAC: Have you worked together professionally before opening Experimac of Charlotte?
Monika: Since I knew of Jeff's background with AutoCAD and computers, while we were waiting for Experimac to be ready to go, we worked together for a few months doing the surveying. It was very interesting! I didn't know he would do so well, so quickly. We actually did some of our own surveying jobs, he at one site and I at another.
Jeff: I used Macs® to do it. Yeah, she didn't know I would be as good as I was. On a serious note, Monika is a great boss and a great trainer. She is by far, one of the best in the country at what she does.
EXPERIMAC: How has it been working together? How would you explain the experience?
Monika: I would say that because we have different perspectives on it, we complement one another. He is great with the customers and the technical part and being the front man at the store. I do more of the marketing side, behind-the-scenes. If I'm there, I will say hello and have quick conversations with customers but I prefer being behind-the-scenes. Jeff totally enjoys the interaction with customers.
EXPERIMAC: Sounds like it's been a good fit, then.
Monika: Yes, totally. I see the business more from the behind-the-scenes, entrepreneurial side of it and he's very much about the commercial, out front with the customer side of it. It works really well for us.
EXPERIMAC: Tell us a little bit about your family.
Monika: Of course! We have 3 children. Our oldest son, 29 years old, is an audio producer in South America. He lives in Colombia. He uses a lot of Apple® products and computers and he's even working with Spotify now. Someday, he'd like to leave South America and go to Germany to work on his music there. We also have 16-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, they are sophomores in high school. Of course, they love their iPhones! . . . and sports, both are very involved at school, but they both worked a little at the store over the summer. She can repair an iPhone already. He seems to like the business side of it more.
EXPERIMAC: So they balance one another, just like you and Jeff do. That's great!
EXPERIMAC: What is your connection to Charlotte? Why did you choose to open your store here?
Jeff: My company relocated me to Charlotte from Michigan about 8 years ago. This location is right around the corner from us, our kids go to school close by and it's just very convenient. When I talked to Jim Muir, founder of the Experimac brand, his main advice was whatever you do, make sure your store is as close to your house as you can get it. You'll be there a lot and you want it be an easy commute. I took his advice. We're about a mile from our house.
Monika: It's a really nice, family-oriented area. For me, it was important to be close to our house and the kids' school. Our kids go to one of the best high schools in the area so I really liked it for that reason. There are also a lot of big companies moving their headquarters to Charlotte so there are a lot of businesses in Charlotte and the areas nearby like Ballantyne and South Charlotte. In that sense, we thought we had a great opportunity in this area.
EXPERIMAC: Now that you've been in Charlotte for 8 years and have opened up your own business, how involved are you with the local community?
Monika: We want to get more involved but we have had some meetings with the Chamber of Commerce and now we're working on getting involved with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. They approached me about us joining their group a couple of months ago. This is a big deal here. We're working on this more and more. We are members of a big church and that's another place we are able to network through and market our business as well. Also, through the school and the sports teams, we're able to help get the name out there.
Jeff: Like Monika says, the kids being in high school and in sports has been a great feeder for broken cell phone repairs and computer sales. I fixed most of their friends' phones (some, multiple times) at our kitchen table leading up to the store opening. I attend various business networking groups and we are also listed on the Blakeney Racquet and Swim Club VIP Discount card, for example, offering exclusive discounts to club members.
EXPERIMAC: Grass roots marketing is a big part of it; getting people to know the brand more. We're sure you'll get more and more involved each year.
EXPERIMAC: What would you say has been the most interesting or exciting part of being in business over the past year?
Jeff: For me, personally, it's when a customer comes in with a seemingly difficult repair, for which they have been quoted a very high price or have been told it cannot be fixed, and we happen to have just the right part for them at a price $100's less than another place would have charged them for it. It's just amazing how those things happen. It's a great feeling. I can think of 10 stories like that when exactly what I need comes through the door just when I need it. Those little miracles and people smiling when they walk out of our store, that's what I want and that's what I enjoy.
EXPERIMAC: What kind of feedback have you gotten from customers?
Monika: They love it! For the most part, we have really great reviews. Even yesterday, while I was at the store, someone stopped by just to say how great the store was. People like it a lot. Once they know that we're here and what we do, they really like the idea.
Jeff: Yeah, I get that every day. People come in and say "what a great concept," "we're so glad you're here," "it's just so convenient," etc. We're now down to the 3rd or 4th level of referrals . . . "My friend told me," "My cousin told me," etc. A lady came in just to see me because she was referred by another customer who told her, "you have to go see Jeff, he takes care of all our devices." She brought her Samsung phone in for repair, and I tried to give her the best advice possible in her situation. People appreciate the honesty. We don't try to talk them into repairs they don't need.
This is one of my favorite reviews on Google: "This store is fantastic for Apple repairs, sales, and buybacks. They successfully fixed water damage on a MacBook Pro that Apple said was ruined for a very reasonable cost. They also repaired my iPhone 6+ very quickly. Great ownership and friendly environment."
EXPERIMAC: That's really great! It must make you guys feel really good with such a warm reception from everyone.
Monika: Jeff is amazing at that. He has a great heart and it shows with his customers. People appreciate that. He gets a lot of appreciation for that.
EXPERIMAC: Honesty is refreshing for people these days.
Monika: People find a store like ours easier to approach. We can provide a lot of one-on-one attention.
EXPERIMAC: How many hours does Jeff typically work at the store in a week?
Monika: He's here about 60 hours a week, probably 10 hours a day. The store is open Monday – Saturday so we feel his absence at home at times but it's part of owning a business. We've had conversations about it, being the business owner, he needs to be there and maybe eventually, there will be a manager he can trust and leave there while he takes care of other sides of the business. He enjoys it a lot though!
EXPERIMAC: What would you say are the top skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Monika: Most importantly, you need to love what you're doing. Also, you need to know what you don't know so you can find someone to help you with those things as well.
EXPERIMAC: Wise words.
Jeff and Monika are working really hard to push their business ahead. Balancing business ownership and family time is demanding but they are both excited about this journey with Experimac. Monika hopes they can take a nice vacation on a beautiful island with the whole family one day soon but in the meantime, she and Jeff will keep working towards success with Experimac of Charlotte. Feel free to stop by and present Jeff Prainito with your technology challenge and we're sure you'll get nothing but the truth from this successful entrepreneur.