When you need new hardware or software for your office or home, sifting through the makes and models to find the best system for you – especially if the budget is a bit tight and you have to make every dollar count – can be a formidable task. Gary Williamson, manager of the Illini Union Computer Center, can help. Tucked away in the southwest corner of the Illini Union – just inside the doors of the computing lab – the Computer Center is a consulting and service unit that helps students and faculty and staff members evaluate their needs and purchase hardware and software at discount prices. A 16-year employee of the university, Williamson started out as an inventory clerk, then became an inventory specialist and later a customer service representative at Central Stores before he began managing the Computer Center in 1999.
Tell me about the Computer Center.
The Computer Center at the Illini Union is part of the Central Stores’ computer center and sells to individuals and departments on campus. We offer the educational discount to faculty and staff members and students. Our service department is located over at Central Stores and can do computer repairs.
We also distribute the Microsoft Office and Adobe products software for Campus Information and Educational Technologies that people can purchase through the CITES Web Store.
How big are the discounts?
Most of the companies we deal with have some sort of educational discounts: Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Apple, companies like that. The university also will give an additional discount off of the educational prices it receives from Dell and Apple.
Dell has two lines of computers – the professional series, for which the educational discount is around 18 percent, and the consumer product line, for which they run promotions frequently. We get the promotional discounts plus an additional discount of up to 12 percent. The final discount is determined by the overall price of the system and the warranty that’s chosen.
Most software companies have extensive discount programs also. We can get the Microsoft Office package for approximately 70-80 percent less than the retail price, for example.
We stock quite a bit of software that’s commonly used and the list is posted on our Web site, (go to www.cstores.uiuc.edu/ and click on ‘computer center’). We also can find pricing or availability of other software that individuals and departments can purchase through us or through the publisher.
A big service we provide is simply information. People come here with questions about what models might meet their needs or who can help them with various computing problems. If we don’t perform the service that they need, we direct them to the appropriate department.
How many transactions does the Illini Union Computer Center have in a month or a year?
On average about 70 to 80 people come through the store every day. We process approximately 20 orders a day for various products. One thing we seem to sell the most of right now is iPods. The last week of the spring semester we sold 15 or more iPods a day. Students often would come in and say they had just sold their books and had $150 or $200 that they wanted to spend before their parents tried to reclaim it.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
That it’s pretty much something new every day. And I enjoy meeting people from all around the world. It’s fun negotiating pricing for computer equipment and finding someone a good deal. If we don’t think they’ll get the best deal through the university, we’ll certainly recommend that they go somewhere else. A chain store might have a sale on a printer or something – sell it as a ‘loss leader’ to get people into the store – that may beat the discounts we can get, but that’s rarely ever the case. Some things, like computer cables, our markup is pretty low. We might sell it for $5, but it’s the same cable that’s sold at a chain store for $35.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I do a lot of baking. I learned from my mother; she was a really good cook. I used to sell desserts – cakes, cheesecakes and things – through word of mouth for special events and cater weddings and other events. But my business got to be too big. It’s hard to cater a wedding for 300 people when you can only cook and do your shopping at night.