They're Baaaaaaack!

Playing With The Big Boys

Art Afshar, Micro Express

Then & Now
No. of employees
1991: 100
2001: 80
1991: $40 million
2000: $40 million
What hasn't changed
Micro Express stayed afloat despite drastic industry changes by offering high-quality computers, service and warranties.

While We Were Away
Number of PCs shipped in the United States in 1991
9.4 million
Number of PCs shipped in the United States in 2000
50.5 million
Source: IDC

Over the past decade, micro-processors have gotten faster, hard drives bigger and laptops more compact. And what's state-of-the-art today might be obsolete in six months. Art Afshar has been at ground zero of the industry since we featured his Irvine, California, firm, Micro Express, in 1991.

Keeping up with the changes while competing against major brands like Dell and Gateway isn't easy, but Afshar has kept his edge by staying true to his philosophy of developing high-quality computers, offering a great warranty and delivering strong service.

And Afshar, 38, has done it without bowing to trends. During the mid-'90s, when the big thing was bargain-basement computers, Afshar continued building his custom-designed products ($1,500 for desktops and $2,000 for notebooks, on average). "We're in a very volatile and competitive industry," he says. "It's been that way since Day One-and it's getting worse. The best way we can differentiate ourselves is with service." For example, Afshar provides 24-hour tech support.

Afshar's customers were mainly businesses back in 1991. Now at least 80 percent of his new clients are consumers looking for home computers. At least half of that business is the result of Afshar's Web site, which not only influences sales, but also reinforces the company's emphasis on service. "We can make a change in the morning," he says, "and it's accessible to customers immediately-whereas before it took more than a week."

Micro Express has doubled the number of computers sold due to a more efficient manufacturing system, and its PCs have garnered high ratings from PC magazines-so Afshar's dedication is paying off. He says, "I'm sure we would have been gone by now if we had switched our philosophy."

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This article was originally published in the March 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: They're Baaaaaaack!.

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