Allen Wentland, ’86 Computer & Digital Systems Technician, has built a business by finding solutions
When Allen Wentland, ’86 Computer & Digital Systems Technician, was hired as the first employee of the newly formed Washburn Computer Group he never imagined that the title behind his name would one day be “owner.” More than 25 years later Wentland may now be the boss, but his biggest joy still comes from doing what he was first hired to do – solving problems for customers. Now he just accomplishes that goal on a much larger scale.
The road to business ownership
Wentland’s path to business ownership is anything but traditional. Growing up in a small Minnesota farming community, Wentland began working maintenance at a foundry after high school. And while the job wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, he did discover a talent and passion for fixing electronics.
So at the age of 31, Wentland took it to heart when his uncle Leo Wentland, ‘49 Electrical Construction & Maintenance, said to him, “Allen, go to Dunwoody.”
Two years later, Wentland got his degree and his first job in the industry. He was hired by Dataserv to work in their new Point of Sale (POS) division, repairing the POS computers and equipment that make sales in the service industry possible. The POS industry includes everything from the cash registers to the software systems.
The company went out of business, but Wentland’s experience in the POS industry got him a job as a technician for a brand new company – Washburn Computer Group. In the beginning, the company was simply buying and selling POS equipment.
“During my first week I remember thinking that this was going to be one of the easiest jobs I ever had,” Wentland laughingly recalls.
It wasn’t long before Wentland’s knack for solving problems kicked in. “In the beginning, we were just buying and selling, no maintenance,” Wentland said. “So I started putzing with some of the broken equipment to see if I could repair and resell it.”
The idea was a good one and today the repair side now accounts for about 80 percent of Washburn’s business.
A unique side of the computer industry
When you tour the company you get a feel for the scope of services Washburn provides. Instead of just throwing out equipment that doesn’t work, companies send the broken equipment to Washburn. Once it arrives everything is cataloged, stripped apart and then cleaned. Parts are even painted to look brand new. Technicians go to work diagnosing and then repairing the problem before everything is reassembled and shipped back to the customer. As for the parts that cannot be repaired – those are destroyed and then recycled.
As the business grew, so did Wentland’s responsibilities. The job titles changed as well, from Technician to Head Technician to Vice President. And then one day, the past owner approached Wentland with the news that he was ready to sell the company.
Wentland wasn’t ready for the role of owner, but he also wasn’t ready to let go of a company he had helped build from the ground up. So on December 28, 2005, Wentland added the title of Owner to his name.
From employee to owner
At the time, Washburn had between 20 and 30 employees and was handling the repair of about 2,000 pieces of equipment a month.
Today, the business has nearly tripled and now employs close to 80 employees and repairs and ships about 6,000 pieces of equipment a month out of its two locations – the main facility in Monticello, Minnesota, and a second shipping center in Las Vegas.
The path to success was not an easy one. Wentland knew the technical side of the company, but he had to learn the business side. He surrounded himself with good people and learned from several mentors. To this day, Wentland is still grateful for the help and plans to pay it forward when he retires by mentoring other small business owners.
The success of Washburn can also be seen in its growing list of customers. “We don’t lose customers,” Wentland said. Today the company serves a wide range of well-known companies in the service industry – from casinos to home improvement stores.
Wentland is still amazed by the two-person business he helped grow into the thriving company it is today. His advice to young entrepreneurs? “Don’t give up. Surround yourself with problem-solvers who take pride in serving your customers.”
When he is not at work, Wentland can be found up north tackling his next challenge – the renovation and rebuilding of an old cabin. A getaway he shares with his wife Janice and their extended family, including 19 grandchildren.
Read more stories about alumni entrepreneurs in the Fall 2016 edition of the Alumni & Friends Magazine.