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Taking a real hands-on approach

When John Corbett sells a computer, it's an interactive deal

Mike and Colleen Carpenter of Medford were looking to buy a computer. But instead of going to a superstore, they tried a new approach.

Mike, 22, and Colleen, 21, turned to John Corbett, a Medford man who's an independent technology consultant for Hand Technologies. The Texas-based company has a business model that begins and ends with a handshake, and its consultants sell computers as if they're peddling Tupperware -- one-on-one, face-to-face.

It's a growing idea: The number of the company's consultants has expanded to more than 1,600 nationwide in its two years of existence. And it's a more comfortable option for the Carpenters, who have never used a computer before and need help setting up and getting to know how it works.

Corbett, who told them about an entry-level system, helps customers who may not know what they want make informed decisions on what to buy. Customers can get demonstrations on sending and receiving faxes and e-mail, the Internet, playing music or movie CDs, and managing home finances.

He also delivers the computer system for free, sets it up, and explains how to use it.

It's a lot better with a personal touch, Corbett said.

Corbett, who works as a printer when he's not consulting, has been a computer buff for two decades; friends and family would talk to him first before buying a computer. He started working for Hand Technologies out of his house a few months ago.

There's no hourly fee; he earns a commission. He offers brands such as IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and the company's own VivaPro line. Shipping is free. A customer can also buy products such as surge protectors, scanners, paper, ink and software -- even Barbie CD-Roms -- at superstore prices.

After his customers buy a computer, they can call a 24-hour toll-free hotline with questions, take online computer courses, and get guidance on future purchases.

Hand Technologies purports to offer an alternative to buying a computer by phone, or at a superstore, which may have a large selection but a lack of a knowledgeable sales force or after-sale service. The company touts its low return rates of less than one percent, citing typical retail return rates of greater than 10 percent.

Corbett's marketing plan is to hone in on people who have never used a computer before or who want to upgrade their equipment. I think it's really going to make it, Corbett said.

To contact Hand Technologies' independent technology consultant John Corbett, phone (541) 858-9862; or e-mail or .

John Corbett works out of his Medford home for Hand Technologies, a company selling computers on the Internet. - Photo by Jim Craven