Klaus Fuechsel – From Berlin to Dok Klaus Computer Care
I was born in West Berlin in 1960. Life wasn’t really bad, but it often felt like living on an island surrounded by communist East Germany. I was shy and not a great student, but there was one subject I excelled in – math. Once I got through Gymnasium and made it to the university, I started off with Physics but soon switched to a Masters program in Mathematics and Computer Science. Programming became my passion, and I took on the task of creating a complicated software system for a small electric motor company. I’m proud of the fact that it is still working after 40 years! In 1985, shortly after graduating and marrying my American wife, Virginia Palmer, I was hired by Nixdorf, a computer company that later merged with Siemens. I was sent all over Europe, and even South Africa and Hong Kong, to install computers and software. One motto my father imprinted on my character from the beginning was “All things you do, do them with might; things done by half are never right.” It makes me try to work harder and not to give up quickly. My persistence and commitment to quality, added to the challenging nature of tech support, however, turned me into a night owl, because the work often had to be finished by morning. I still remember a huge data migration project in Hong Kong which took over 36 hours to complete!
In 1999, Siemens invited me and my family (by then including three lovely daughters), to work with their new telecom division in New Jersey. I loved living in America! When the Siemens project closed, we decided to move to Warrenton, where my wife’s parents lived, and start over. But then 9-11 struck. My recent work was focused on cell phone technology, and I felt confident I could find a good position in the Northern Virginia area. But everywhere I applied, I heard, “You have a great resume, but do you have a security clearance?” Well, as a German citizen who grew up in the “free” part of Berlin enclosed by East-Germany, I just wasn’t clearable. (Even though I eventually became a US citizen, that is probably still true.)
So I ended up being unemployed and focused on updating my programming skills by studying web design. I tried to find a job with local web design companies, but was still new to this field and didn’t have references from people in the area. Fortunately, I met some nice professionals who helped me learn the art of “networking”. As a shy person still getting used to American ways and working on communicating better in English, this was a hard, but good lesson. I began helping friends and neighbors with their computer issues, and they called me their computer doc.
So in July 2002, I took the plunge and started my own company, Web Kenner Inc. (Kenner means “to know” in German and Scottish.) After a few years, my secretary and I outgrew our basement space and moved to an office in Ashby street in the center of Warrenton. Soon we had a couple of Techies, too. I am very thankful for the great article in Fauquier Times that helped launch my company, including the now iconic photo of me posing as a computer doctor. Soon after that, we changed our shop’s name to Dok Klaus Computer Care. My “charming” German accent and humor proved an asset. Sometimes people said I sound like Schwarzenegger (who is Austrian), especially when, on the way out, I’d grin and quote Arnold’s “Ah’ll be bahck!” My comic strip assistants, the “Klausi-Mausies,” were designed to help people pronounce Klaus. My name doesn’t sound like Santa or clause, but rhymes with mouse and house.
As the business grew, and emergency cases often meant spending long nights at the shop, my wife proposed moving to a place where I could live and work, following the model of small town German medical doctors. It took us a while to find a place with the appropriate zoning, but in 2015 we bought a house with an office annex on a large lot that was just right for us on the lower end of Waterloo Street.
Looking back over 20 years with DKCC, what keeps me going is my true pleasure in helping people with their technology problems. When I started, I charged only the bare minimum to cover expenses. That was enough then, but with the increasing costs of an office, servers, supplies, more employees, insurance, etc. I had to raise prices. Perhaps I should have paid myself more. But my education focused on mathematics, programming and technology skills, not on how to run a business. But I’ve managed to get Dok Klaus Computer Care to a sufficiently profitable point that now allows me to step back and leave the day-to-day operations to my wife and employees. My advice to anyone who wants to start their own business is: be very good at what you do, but also study the basics of bookkeeping, business management, and economics. And make sure you have a first-rate accountant!
Virginia Palmer-Fuechsel – Life as “Mrs. Klaus”
Whether you work for the company directly or provide support in the background, a family business generally involves everyone in the family. As co-owner of Dok Klaus Computer Care, my initial role was to figure out the bookkeeping and support Klaus in the office on an as-needs basis. To clients, I was just “Mrs. Klaus.” Over the years, I have learned a lot from our techs about using, maintaining, and fixing computers. And I’ve enjoyed working behind the scenes with Klaus on editing and proofreading articles and copy for advertisements, our website, company docs, and social media posts.
After we moved the business to our new property on Waterloo Street, I “womanned” the office on Saturdays. Now that I’ve retired from teaching music and English and taken over managing the day-to-day needs of the front office, I’ve come to greatly appreciate many of our loyal clients, and the diverse talents of our tech team. But that doesn’t mean my musician’s mind has gone into sleep mode. Just ask about my latest little songs and videos inspired by techy talk, Windows, and more! I take breaks when I can for playing with our puppy, tending the gardens, making music, and creative needlework. And because I love celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays with the staff and family, I’m going all out for this special year and am having lots of fun “spinning the wheel” at checkout time with our clients.
Learning from the Family Business
As some of our oldest clients may remember, I have been in and out of my parent’s office since I was a teenager. What started with occasionally answering phone calls and joining my dad on trips to Best Buy turned into a part-time job as secretary. I would walk over after school and help out where I could. When things were slow, I did my homework or read the latest Harry Potter book. As I got older, I gained more hands-on experience, paired with the theory I learned in my school’s business class. Learning how to manage finances, inventory, customer support, sales, and paperwork built good life skills! I also learned the basics of computer repair, which made me a go-to tech tech support person among friends.
After completing my bachelor’s degree at UVA in 2012, I moved to Germany. The goal was to polish my German language skills and explore Europe. However, this didn’t mean the end of my involvement with DKCC; I continued to support my family whenever I could. I put together newsletters, reviewed accounts with my Mom, and brainstormed with my parents about marketing campaigns. Skype and later Zoom became my primary means of communication with friends and family around the world. At one point, my sisters and I were spread across three continents! Meanwhile in Germany, I worked at various companies before discovering my passion – translating and writing. Since 2020, I’ve been working full time as a German-English translator for an international bike manufacturer. At the beginning of the pandemic, I became one of their first remote employees, which gave me flexibility to work from anywhere. It has been really interesting to see how the company has adapted to using Apps such as Teams, Slack, and even Whatsapp or Telegram to communicate with employees around the world in real time! Of course, heavy use of this kind of software requires high quality hardware, so now almost everyone has a company laptop in addition to their personal PC.
In November 2020, I stepped in to help at DKCC in person again. For a while, I split my time between Germany and the US, working remotely for my position at the bike company and assisting operations in the DKCC office. Or the other way around. In 2021, I was honored when my parents invited me to join the management as an officer. I intend to invest more of my time and energy toward helping DKCC continue to be the Best of Fauquier. And someday, I hope to start my own business, just like my Dad did back in 2002.