A Few Broken Smartphones Lead to a Fix-It Franchise
iDropped retail stores fix broken smartphones and tablets for less than the cost of buying a new one. / Credit: Josiah Lewis
Charles Hibble never intended to make a career of repairing smartphones; he was just tired of replacing his wife s broken one.
She dropped her iPhone and smashed it two or three times, and anothertime, it slipped out of her hands into a hot tub, he said. Hibble, who runs a real estate company in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, was burning through upgrades. So he figured out how to fix damaged smartphones himself.
This started just to fix my wife s phone. Then word started to spread to friends and family members, Hibble said. It started to get so busy that we had to open a retail store. I had 50 or 60 people a month coming to me.
And so began Hibble s unlikely journey from real estate executive to franchise company CEO. He teamed up with a friend and business partner to open the first iDropped store in a mall inScranton, Pennsylvania,in 2011. The store was so popular thatthe team opened four more, all company-owned, and then sold its first franchise. Now, Hibble is focusing on franchising,with an aggressive plan to grow the business nationwide.
The demand has been overwhelming, said Hibble, who still serves as president of his real estate company, Weichert Realtors Hibble Associates. We re hoping to a have a few hundred locations in the next couple years.
Hibble may have fallen into this business, but he tapped an industry with high demand. A market research report by IBISWorld released in May said cellphone repair is now a $1.4 billion industry in the United States alone. The industry has grown about 5percent in each of the last five years, yet there are still no companies with a dominant market share. This large industry is made up mostly of sole proprietors and small businesses.
The cellphone repair industry has profoundly grown over the past five years due to several factors, including cheaper and more reliable mobile Internet and the exploding popularity of smartphones, which are more fragile and therefore more likely to need repairs, the report said. Smartphones also feature higher price tags, which have led consumers to repair [them] rather than replace them.
However, as smartphone replacement becomes less expensive and the market becomes more saturated, demand is expected to stall somewhat, the report said.
The cost of a repair at iDropped varies based on the type of phone and repair, Hibble said. Screen repairs, for example, cost an average of $99.99 for the iPhone 5 and $109.99 for the iPhone 5cand 5s. Hibble said prices are dropping almost monthly due to price decreases forparts. No appointment is needed for a repair, and work is guaranteed for one year.
Hibble s smartphone repair skills were completely self-taught. He had always been technically inclined, so he researched suppliers for Apple replacement parts and taught himself how to fix them. The company has since expanded to other types of cellphones, though it specializes in Apple products, including iPads, and the Samsung Galaxy series. Hibble has personally trained all of his 20 or so full-time employees toreplace screens, dock connectors, power buttons, volume buttons and batteries just about everything but the motherboard.
Hibble set out to make the stores lookappealing to smartphone customers. They are designed to be reminiscent of Apple stores, with clean layouts, bright lighting and no clutter.
iDropped has worked in the retail space, in partbecause malls nationwide are looking to fill vacancies, which has kept rental rates low. The U.S. mall vacancy rate reached a 12-year high of 9.4 percent in the third quarter of 2011, according to data from research firm ReisInc. It has fallen slowly since, but progress has stalled over the last year,with the vacancy rate remaining at 7.9 percent for four straight quarters.
To succeed in the future, Hibble said he knows the company will have to adapt to the times. New devices are being released every few months, and the company will have to keep up with the technology.
However, iDropped can already claim one success, aside from its rapid growth: curing Hibble s wife of her clumsy fingers.
Ever since I started this,she hasn t dropped her iPhone, he said.
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