Memory Express sells computers, electronics, gaming systems, home theatre equipment, and provides corporate IT services.
It was 1996. The Ngo brothers, Minh, Yet, Hien, and Ut, were looking for work without success. According to the brothers, “We decided to hire ourselves since no one wanted to hire us. We didn’t have a clear definition at this point, but knew we wanted to treat people right, and become the kind of business we ourselves would want to do business with.”
What the Ngos did know was what consumers wanted.
“In 1996, most computer resellers were big box stores focused on selling desktops and laptops, but not computer memory components. Customers wanted to upgrade their systems. Memory Express was started to provide this service, delivering memory cards door to door – hence the name.”
The combination of filling a gap in the marketplace along with a focus on outstanding customer service saw Memory Express grow rapidly. Soon three other family members joined the company, along with a handful of volunteers to help keep up with the growing demand.
“Over the years, customers asked if we could bring in other components, and the business grew into a full line component reseller, then into a system integrator building custom computers for homes, businesses, and gaming enthusiasts. We now have an in-store full service department to complement the products we sell and to be able to provide a greater level of service for our customers as an authorized service depot for the many brands we carry,” says Minh.
While there is a focus on household computer goods, Memory Express has grown to help corporations with their hardware and IT needs. Yet, adds, “Customers find in each location dedicated and knowledgeable teams who assist with more enterprise level business needs; solutions from servers to workstations, networking, licensing, and volume pricing on large purchases.”
It only took a few short years to go from their first location to their second in Calgary and today, Memory Express has 14 locations across five provinces with more openings planned. It remains a family-run business and has grown from four staff on day one to 400 people across Canada 25 years later.
“I think many first time customers assume we’re a big box chain or an American company,” they say, “but the truth is we’re 100 per cent family owned and operated from Alberta.
“Edmonton is a large centre by Alberta standards, but still small enough that it is possible to feel that regular, local customers are a really big part of our business. The Edmonton business community is as welcoming today as the first day we opened our doors. Calgary is our home base, so we definitely have a sentimental soft spot here. Like Edmonton, the Alberta spirit is alive and strong here. It’s great to see many of our business customers over the years are still growing and thriving in spite of the pandemic and economic slowdown.”
Despite the rapid growth, the brothers have never lost sight of their original goal: customer service and providing the products people want and need.
“Memory Express is a people company,” confirm the brothers. “Our hard-working, dedicated and knowledgeable staff, our loyal customers and our supportive vendors are the cornerstones of our success.”
According to the team, “One incident that helped shape our values was a young couple who purchased a full system from us. In addition to the computer, it included a monitor, printer, and accessories. As we still do today, we helped to carry the products to their car. Several days later, they returned. After reviewing their invoice, they discovered we forgot to charge for the monitor. They returned to pay for it. This was a high value item, and in the early days would have been several days of our profit. We were so touched by their action, honesty and integrity. This gesture had a big impact on us. We appreciated so much in how we were treated; we want to treat others the same way.”
The owners and management team of Memory Express’ refusal to gloss over growing pains also contributes to the company’s success.
They explain, “I wish I could say that we have been successful in fulfilling our brand promise all the time, but we have not. As much as our hardworking and dedicated staff work to uphold this commitment, we still make mistakes and acknowledge these fumbles and stumbles have caused much frustrations for our customers. We apologize to our customers for times we have not been able to deliver the level of customer service they come to expect.
“I can think of two recent examples, one related to our IT infrastructure upgrade, and the other in adjustments to the pandemic. The spike in sales and shortage of supplies and staff due to the pandemic caused long lineups both inside and outside our stores in the middle of winter, slow processing times to complete transactions, errors on our website, and slow responses to inquiries. Even during these difficult times, our Memory Express staff worked very hard to uphold our commitment to customer service.”
The years of great service kept customers coming back, despite the service interruptions.
“We are grateful for all the loyal customers who stuck with us during this time, our great staff in every department working to improve service, and business partners helping us to overcome supply chain disruptions,” says Minh. “The true test of a relationship is not when things go right, but what happens when things go wrong. We are blessed to have supportive customers, and motivated staff who worked hard to get things right, and to fix things when they go wrong. I think the people we work with separate us from the competition.”
Yet notes, “Being a small business ourselves, and a large percentage of our customers are small businesses directly or indirectly, our hopes go to the companies affected by the pandemic, and the people behind them who invested so much of their lives. It forced us to be more creative in how we provide customer service, and certainly shed light on ways where we could simplify interactions for our customers. Global supply chains have seen remarkable disruptions and will remain fragile for some time. Our frontline staff and store managers made incredible efforts to adjust and took on added responsibilities. We have done our best to shield our customers from the biggest bumps and so far, we’ve been successful in large part. However, we recognized quickly that it’s not enough to just react to the present situation; it’s finding the ability to adapt, and find paths that don’t just maintain stability now, but ultimately seed growth in the post-pandemic landscape.”
During the pandemic, demand has increased for laptops, webcams, home office peripherals, high performance gaming components, processors, video cards, and motherboards. Even though these items were at the time in short supply due to the pressing need, Memory Express found ways to help their customers: low flat rate shipping on orders under 20 pounds.
They explain, “Unlike the US, Canada has a low population with vast geography, which translates into high shipping costs, but we want our customers across Canada to be able to shop with us from areas we currently don’t have physical store locations. We wanted to be helpful while lowering barriers to access for our goods.”
Computer technology changes rapidly. In 1996 computers were mainly used at work and school. Today, computers are a major part of our lives. Our doorbells can coordinate with our smartphones, our oven ranges can be WiFi enabled for remote temperature adjustments and it’s become common for children in grade school to have laptops. Memory Express stays on top of the trends to ensure they can continue to meet consumer demand.
“The lasting effects of the pandemic will impact the way people work, learn, and communicate,” the brothers note about the trends. “And the home office will grow, especially as companies see those workspaces as both an extension of the traditional office space and a cost savings centre. Increasing ecommerce sales will continue. Online sales have increased at a faster rate than brick and mortar sales; the pandemic has accelerated this pace.” He further predicts, “Esports is on a remarkable trajectory, and will dominate hardware sales for the foreseeable future. We’ve seen exponential growth in this market, and it will certainly have a large impact on our core business. Virtual reality and augmented reality are gaining popularity. Also, the rise of Bitcoin, although highly volatile, it is here to stay, gaining popularity and mainstream adoption.”
In 2020, Memory Express launched MEsports, a vehicle for which they fundraise for local children’s hospital charities. To date, MEsports has raised more than $10,000 for the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, along with thousands more for the B.C. Children’s Hospital and Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundations. The company is also a long-time supporter of GlobalFest, the University of Calgary’s football program, D’Arcy’s ARC Animal Rescue Centre in Winnipeg, Place of Rescue (an orphanage in Cambodia for children afflicted with AIDS), and more.
It’s been a wild ride for the four brothers. In 25 years they went from job seekers to having an incredibly successful brand that spans several provinces. They’ve grown from a handful of products to an inventory of thousands that helps individuals and corporations with their everyday computing and gaming needs. But they aren’t ready to slow down yet.
“We are continuing to expand online and with our brick and mortar stores,” says Minh. “In addition to two stores planned in Regina and Mississauga this year, we are also investing in our IT and ERP systems to accommodate growth.”
Additionally, there are two keystone projects due to launch in Q2 2021. The first is ACADME, a nationwide education purchase program designed for students, school clubs, associations and faculty.
“Our intent is to support the needs of students, parents and post-secondary schools by providing them with a convenient and reliable way to purchase electronics with education rates instead of retail prices,” says Yet.
The second is Bitcoinmarketplace.com, a multi-portal ecommerce platform for bitcoin and altcoin customers. The marketplace will feature:
- A B2C ecommerce storefront with over one million IT products from top brands, available for purchase with Bitcoin and other popular altcoins.
- A turnkey ecommerce-as-a-service solution to help IT and crypto entrepreneurs and small businesses to compete and succeed. Unlike other solutions on the market, Bitcoinmarketplace.com will offer distinct advantages with both storefront and products, buying power, fulfillment logistics, low initial investment, low startup costs and low to zero inventory risks.
- A B2B ecommerce marketplace where other businesses and merchants can list and sell products to crypto customers and expand their customer base while expanding offerings beyond IT products on the marketplace.
The brothers express heartfelt thanks, saying, “Kudos and acknowledgements go to all our staff in every department, from cleaners to receivers, merchandisers and purchasers, front end sales and service, managers, web sales, back office IT and accounting support for their hard work and commitment to customer service. We say a special thanks to our supplier partners who came through in spite of pandemic-related supply chain disruptions. Thank you to everyone who contributed to writing the Memory Express story and the success we have today.”
To the customers the team says, “We appreciate your trust, because we understand that trust doesn’t come freely, and we thank you for giving us the opportunity to earn it. We read all of your feedback, good or bad.”
No matter how big the brand grows, Memory Express will always be a mom and pop shop at its heart.
They conclude, “Our core beliefs are as true today as they were on day one. We believe in service first and will go the extra mile to provide our customers with the most reliable care possible.”