Visit the cozy backyard office of Nanoose Bay businessman Peter Kawerau, and he’ll gladly offer you his business card. Just give him a minute to pop into the refrigerator in the back room.
Kawerau is the proprietor of Mid-Island Computer Enterprises (MICE), whose acronym he has readily employed in his business marketing. The aforementioned business cards, for example, come stapled to a clear plastic package containing a pair of chocolate mice — one dark, one milk chocolate — made by Nanaimo Bakery.
“I give those out to all my clients; I’ve handed out about 15,000 chocolate mice since we started,” said Kawerau, who incorporated his computer repair and training business in 2004 following his move from Edmonton.
“When I meet someone for the first time, I present them with this and say, this is my calling card,” he said. “This immediately brings any tension they may have down, and we can get to work.”
And the nature of that work?
“It’s very simple,” Kawerau says. “I fix computers.”
According to the Better Business Bureau of Vancouver Island — and his clients — he has done so very effectively. In each of the last two years, MICE has been honoured with the BBB’s Torch Award in the Technical Services category.
The first such honour came as a complete surprise to Kawerau, who had no idea the awards existed when he received a call asking him if he was planning to come.
“I said, ‘To what?’ So they said, ‘You’re a finalist,’” he said. “So we went anyway and I tried to find out how come. And they told me they put it out to my customers. They said, ‘You have great clients in your part of the world.’”
Kawerau was told MICE was nominated for a Torch Award by one or more of its clients. He still has no idea who did so, or what their testimonials contained, but he said he was told by the BBB representatives that the quality of the nomination takes precedent over the quantity.
He and his wife, Karen Butler, relocated to Nanoose Bay from Edmonton in 2003 in what he termed a “pre-retirement” move.
“It was with the notion of I’d settle down here, kick back and just sort of enjoy life,” Kawerau said. “I tried it for a day, and I didn’t like it. I’m just not that kind of animal.”
He initially continued long-distance consulting for the IT company he had worked for in Edmonton, but also began helping out neighbours with computer problems in and around Nanoose Bay. Eventually, the idea of starting his own business began to take hold.
“I did the usual thing, putting up signs on poles, putting flyers in mailboxes, and before I knew it I had a business,” Kawerau said. “And it was running quite well, actually, at least by my standards.”
Kawerau has been working in the computer and tech sector since well before most people were aware of computing. Now 71, he first began exploring the industry more than 40 years ago, on a machine called a Model 1.
“I was awestruck when I first got into the whole thing in the ’70s,” he said. “I thought, ‘This could go somewhere.’
“And I was right, and I was one of a small handful of people who were doing that sort of thing.”
Kawerau said he recalls trying to learn more about personal computing in an era before there was an internet or even manuals for the hardware and software that creators were making in basements and garages.
“I managed to find the info I needed to do what I needed to do at that time,” he said. “Gradually, newer machines came out that became much more useful.”
At about the time IBM fully embraced the shift of computing from giant mainframes to microcompters designed for use by the general public in the 1980s, Kawerau had discovered VisiCalc, a spreadsheet program that he calls the first “really useful” office application. And the one that set him on the career path that has led him to Nanoose Bay and professional accolades.
A specialist in Windows systems, both hardware and software, Kawerau has developed a network of fellow professionals to which he can refer customers who have issues with Apple computers or specific database issues. Clients may bring their desktops and laptops to his home-based office, or schedule house calls — rather, “mouse” calls, as Kawerau describes them.
His office, dominated by an “U”-shaped desk arrangement with an array of computers, is overrun by decorative mice dropped off as gifts by appreciative clients. They crowd bookshelves, line his window sill and spill over onto the desk.
The chocolate mice are Kawerau’s “high touch” counterpoint to the “high tech” nature of the machines that often leave his clients baffled and embarrassed,” he said. “The put it on an even keel. They see I’m just a person, not some whiz kid.
“And it leaves them with a good taste in their mouths.”