We all know the feeling when our phone falls to the ground or suddenly stops working. It’s enough to turn a good day into a bad one. But local computer repairman Dave Winters cherishes the ability to improve the lives of his customers by repairing their devices.
“I like fixing problems. The great thing about computers is that it’s an instant gratification kind of thing, because most of the time people call me in a crisis, and I can generally get things resolved pretty quickly,” he said. “I like helping people, fixing the things that make the world go.”
Winters began his computer repair business — Stellar Computers on Mill Bay Road — in November 2017, at the age of 41. It took him a while to find his calling, but now that he has found it, he has every intention of making it a Kodiak mainstay. He has lived on the island since 2005, when he arrived with the Coast Guard.
“I fell in love with Kodiak the day I got here,” he said. “This is an awesome place to raise kids.” Winters has two.
He grew up in Illinois, two hours outside of Chicago, and joined the Marines two weeks after graduating from high school. He was stationed in California during his four years of active duty.
“In the Marines I started working not with software, but with hardware, actually building machines and taking machines apart. That’s what got me interested in electronics as a whole, but computers in particular.”
After the Marines, Winters returned to Illinois and worked in the U.S. Postal Service for three years. But he wasn’t excited about the work. A conversation with a Coast Guard recruiter led to his third federal government job. He enlisted in the Coast Guard in 2004. When his Coast Guard career ended, he saw an opportunity for a computer business in Kodiak.
“I saw it was needed in the area,” Winters said, noting that he offers services that previously didn’t exist on the island.
He described opening a business as the most stressful thing he has ever done. But it’s worth it.
“It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of hours, but it’s really rewarding,” he said.
Winters said that learning how to repair new devices was one of the most challenging aspects of the job. He is able to repair both Apple and Windows products. Another challenge was logistics. It’s hard to get inventory like batteries to the island.
Winters’ daughter, Via, works in the business full-time. She graduated from Kodiak High School last year. He has considered expanding his business to three employees, but for now, the two are able to get all the work done, with effort. The amount of work he has sometimes leaves Winters at the store late into the night.
“It’s a lot of work to do, and a lot of people to keep happy,” he said. “I think it’s just right for where I am right now.”
He said that the store has experienced steady growth in the number of customers since it opened. Every year has broken the previous year’s record.
As far as advice for those considering opening a new business, Winters said it’s important to know your market and know if your product is right for the market.
“You can be the best in the world at something, but if there’s no need for it, you’re not going to succeed,” he said.
He said business owners should also be “resilient.”
“You have to put in the work to have success,” he said. “I work harder now than I’ve ever worked in my life, and I’ve always been a pretty hard worker.”
But the reward can be great.
“The biggest thing is the satisfaction that I just made someone’s life easier or better,” he said. “Helping people — that’s what I get a kick out of.”