Business dies with rant from 'Super Dell'

Published March 4, 2006 1:29 am
'Agents of Satan': He blames his hardships on the media while his workers seek jobs with PCLaptops
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SANDY - By the time "Super Dell" Schanze showed up at the Sandy theater complex, word was out that he was closing his Totally Awesome Computers stores after 10 years in the business. And though the collapse was prefaced by dismal sales, mounting legal problems, and an IRS inquiry, Schanze had his own culprit.

"This is thanks to all of you," Schanze told reporters gathered outside the Jordan Commons Megaplex. "All the media in Utah are liars and murderers . . . . I would not want to be in your shoes having caused this. You are agents of Satan and you need to repent."

Such outbursts are hardly out of character for Schanze. After all, his crazy antics and devil-may-care attitude helped turn his small computer chain into a household name. But Friday night, even Schanze's friends and former co-workers were apologizing for his tirade.

They came to the Megaplex in hopes of salvaging their jobs, albeit with another computer company. PCLaptops, upon learning that Schanze would close shop, reserved one of the theaters to screen and hire up to 30 of the 75 workers who had lost their jobs. About 20 minutes into the meeting, Schanze showed up and started ripping reporters, prompting the theater manager to boot him and the news media outside.

"I'm sorry about this," said Bruce Hacking, who until Friday was Schanze's vice president of operations. "The decision to close was made by Dell. We were just told about it."

Derek Nielsen, who quit Totally Awesome two years ago, was not allowed in the employees' meeting. He said he parted ways with Schanze after the two disagreed about how to expand the business.

"The main man in charge wouldn't go any further than Utah. That killed the company," Nielsen said. "I helped this guy build a company from one store to nine. It's tragic. He had a good thing going."

Lately, however, Schanze experienced his share of hardship.

He is awaiting trial May 10 on charges he sped through a Draper neighborhood and pulled a 10mm handgun after being confronted by several angry residents. Schanze, who says he was defending himself and his 8-year-old daughter against "a gang of vigilantes," is charged with brandishing a weapon, reckless driving and lying to police.

Even before the gun charge, Schanze courted controversy.

In June 2003, the ultralight-aircraft enthusiast walked away from a crash near Magna. Four months later, some American Indians were offended by a TV ad about a fictional, notoriously stupid tribe called the "Shiffers," indicating anyone who did not buy a Totally Awesome computer had "Shiffer brains." In November 2003, William May, Schanze's former vice president, sued, claiming religious and ethnic discrimination. The suit by May, who is Latino and not of Schanze's Mormon faith, was later settled for $2 million. And he now is being sued for defamation by May and another former employee for comments made in a Salt Lake City Weekly article.

In that August story, Schanze spoke openly about an IRS audit of Totally Awesome's books. No charges have been filed, however, and the IRS declined Friday to discuss the matter.

Schanze ignored questions Friday night on all of those topics. He said he would make sure that all employees and customers were taken care of, then strode to the parking garage, shouting "Amen."

"He's completely changed from the man I knew two years ago," Nielsen said, saying his former boss was mentally unstable and suffered from a God complex. "Something's happened to him."

People in the tech industry reacted to the demise of Schanze's business with a mixture of glee and regret.

"This is certainly a sad day for Totally Awesome Computers and its employees," said Richard Nelson, president of the Utah Information Technology Association. "They have been in an extremely competitive market with big players like Dell and HP and Gateway."

But Catherine Anderson, owner of Anderson Computer Sales and Services in South Jordan, said Schanze's outlandish behavior drove customers to the big computer chains, and she's "thrilled" to see him gone.

"He was just bad news for local computer stores. He made us all look bad with those ads."

Longtime friend and PCLaptops owner Dan "The Laptop Man" Young, who has developed his own brand of zany ads, said he would take over still-active free service warranties offered to Totally Awesome's former customers. And he hopes to hire up to 30 of Schanze's former employees.

"A lot of these guys, if they miss a day or two of pay, then they are also missing their mortgage," Young said. "We want to help all of them that we can."

Over the years, Young also has extended similar coverage to customers of closed Gateway and Micron PC outlets in Utah. From a company that lost $25,000 in its first year, Young's now $10 million in revenue company owns six Utah PCLaptops and one recently opened store in Henderson, Nev.

Young acknowledged the decision to take on warranties, add desktop sales and expand space - including scouting for a new store location in Layton - will be a major and unexpected investment.

"But I don't see this as a gamble," he insisted. "There are hundreds of thousands of people Dell has sold desktops to out there. We want to adopt these customers, just as we have with some other companies."

Schanze's friend and former colleague Bruce Hacking also pledged to help customers and employees through the transition. Asked about Schanze's mental state, Hacking shook his head.

"I love Dell. He's just Dell."




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