“Demetri Leontaris sometimes calls himself the “iPod Doctor” and the license plate on his van that says exactly that. But the first thing you notice is how many people come up to his van and ask him for a business card. Leontaris repairs cell phones, laptops and digital music players, and he says his business got started by chance. He loved the iPod when it came out; he bought a broken one, but he found Apple’s repair prices too steep. So he bought another broken iPod for the parts, took them both apart, and fixed one of them. Before he knew it, he “kept on finding people with broken iPods, who wanted to get them fixed.” In fact he says that most people are amazed. They had no idea they could get their Blackberries, or iPods fixed.”
The DH heard this story on NPR this week and told me about it – he was fascinated by the major aspect of the story: A guy turning a personal need into a business that is growing like crazy – a mobile ‘small personal electronics repair’ business. From the description above, of people coming up to his van to ask for help when they see the advertising on the side, another thought comes through.
This is the 21st Century version of a hot dog cart. Or the late 19th or early 20th century pushcart guys found in every major city. “Strawberries!!” “Rags..Rags..we buy Rags!!” “Pots and Pans – we fix pots and pans!”
The other thought is this: In the midst of what some economists claim to be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, some people have found a way to build a small business based on repairs, which is a very ancient profession indeed.
People who can repair stuff have a skill that is very useful when times are bad because – people are not in the financial situation where they feel comfortable just throwing something away and buying new. Before the ‘throw away economy’ was produced by the Wal-Martization of manufactured goods (and Wal-Mart is not the only ‘villain’ of the piece here – I fully admit that), there were a lot of things that due to the way they were designed and manufactured and the amount of their cost, people would have them fixed. Electronics such as television sets and stereos, shoes, clothing, electronic appliances, small engine goods such as mowers were all the basis of a thriving sector of the economy: Service and Repair.
The cheapening of practically all goods basically put that out of people’s minds. When it costs almost as much (or perhaps even more) to repair than what the item could be purchased for, then it made no monetary sense (we won’t discuss the whole issue of ‘life time cost’ which includes disposal and landfilling) to have something repaired – it only made sense to throw it away and buy something new..whether it was a pair of shoes, a tee shirt, a pair of blue jeans, a toaster, or a laptop.
What Leontaris (and others who are doing the same thing) has found out is that there are a lot of broken small electronics around with owners who actually just want the damn thing repaired. People have become so dependent on their personal electronics that having the item out of their possession for even a couple of days causes upset(how many people do you know who actually wear a wrist watch now? How many people do you know who turn off their cell phones to go on vacation? How many people do you know who have repetitive motion disorder from using their PDA? How many people do you know who refer to their PDA as ‘a Crackberry’).
The other thing is this: The prices of some of these items new have now become high enough that having to replace it now is going to cause a certain amount of ‘wallet pain’.
Enough so that repairing an Iphone makes sense. Even when repairing a cracked screen will set the person back – 10 minutes of time…and $99.00 for parts and service (which is what Leontaris charges). Enough so that Leontaris not only has this mobile business, but a shop where techs repair other items such as laptops and so on that he can’t keep the parts in his van.
I’ve talked before about businesses that got their start or got really growing in the Great Depression. One of the biggest and most famous is HP – Hewlett Packard, which got its start in the Depression in Mr. Hewlett’s garage. In my local area, a safety pin business which was struggling even before the depression (basically because they were trying to compete in what had become a commodity market), took the opportunity to morph themselves into a tool and die manufacturer, which survived on holding the line on costs. They then evolved into an electronics ‘pick and place’ machinery and systems manufacturer and now they are all over the world. Their headquarters is still in my home town here.
Things are very bad right now – let’s not make any mistake. But for people who are interested in ‘finding a need and filling it’ – now is as good – or as bad – a time to start a business as any. Who knows, perhaps you could be someone who can be a success, help people with their needs, and make more jobs for others.
Now THAT’s a plan we can all get behind.
(Ipod clinic photo by Dan Theurer)