Where technology is waiting to serve

Spa: The ABE Computer Spa in Woodlawn enables small business owners to use technology they might not be able to afford themselves.

April 14, 1999|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

A sign inside the ABE Computer Spa that reads "Come Get Your Work Out" isn't a mantra to motivate people to exercise, but is a call to small business owners who need access to computers and software they may not be able to afford on their own.

The Computer Spa, on Security Boulevard in Woodlawn, is designed like an exercise gym, said Anthony M. Butler, the company's founder and owner.

Small business owners buy memberships that give them 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week access to five computers that have more than 250 software programs. Technical assistance and computer and software training also are included in memberships, he said.

The company plans to open a second spa in Baltimore in spring 2000. The company is also scouting expansion sites in Jacksonville, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., he said.

The Woodlawn spa opened in August and has sold 85 memberships, Butler said.

The spa "allows entrepreneurs to work out on equipment they may not have at home or can't afford to have at home," said Butler, 33.

The spa is feeding off two trends, he said.

One trend is the cottage industry that's springing up to provide for the every need of small businesses.

Ginny Beauchamp, vice president of the National Association for the Self-Employed, a Washington-based trade group, said corporate America is making huge investments in finding ways to provide resources to the small business market. The Computer Spa is in the thick of that effort, she said.

The second trend is small business owners' growing reliance on computers, Beauchamp said.

According to a recent survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Busi- ness, another Washington-based trade group, 47 percent of small businesses are very dependent on computers to conduct such tasks as billing, accounting and record-keeping.

However, many small businesses may not have the capital to make a hefty investment in technology, Beauchamp said.

Twenty-nine percent of surveyed businesses said they spend less than $5,000 on computer equipment, software and maintenance; 12 percent said they spend less than $10,000; and 9 percent said they spend less than $25,000.

Thirty-eight percent of small businesses surveyed report they use all off-the-shelf software, compared with 10 percent that use all custom software.

The spa is an "intriguing idea," Beauchamp said. "The fastest-growing segment of small business in America today is those with zero to four employees.

"And for these smallest of small businesses, access to capital to invest in technology is limited."

Butler said that is the primary reason he opened the spa as a subsidiary to ABEnterprises, a Baltimore-based computer consulting and training firm he founded in 1991.

"Regardless of what an entrepreneur wants to do, technology must be a part of it," he said.

Spa memberships are available at varying levels ranging from $95 to $275 on an annual basis to a fee-per-service available to walk-ins.

The spa's software library includes Microsoft Office, Corel Office Suite, QuarkXpress, PageMaker, Print Shop Deluxe, Microsoft Publisher, Quicken and Macromind Director. Other available services include scanning, CD recording, color printing and training.

"I have a computer in my home office, but the spa has just about everything I don't have," said Debra Keller, owner of Keller Professional Services, a secretarial and administrative support business she started in 1995 in her West Baltimore home. Keller said she uses the spa about once a month, recently completing a PowerPoint presentation for a potential client there.

"The real beauty of it is having a place to go where I can get technical support and assistance," she said.

Brian Bordley, a therapeutic consultant who plans to open the Touch By Seven day spa in July, said he first used the computer spa to create a brochure for his day spa, and now he's learning QuickBook, and various cost analysis functions, balance sheets and spreadsheets.

"I was computer illiterate before I met Anthony [Butler]," said Bordley, who goes to the spa almost daily. "If I didn't learn this, I would probably have to contract out."

Pub Date: 4/14/99

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