LAST week I had an opportunity to visit a reputable mobile phone service centre in Harare and yes it was quite a revelation. Having spent more of my working career around software, computers, laptops, servers, routers and switches, this indeed was a great eye opener.
With each passing day more and more smartphones are sold every day. From young teenagers getting their first phone to adults getting upgrades after upgrades. Each phone sale has one thing in common. All phones are fragile pieces of electronic equipment and they break easily. This is by design and this is deliberate.
No sane manufacturer would come up with a mobile phone that does not break or fail. That will be the end of his business journey. Just like any other product phones have a life cycle. The cheaper the phone that you buy the more time that you will spend looking for parts in a repair shop. I do not need to narrate the annoyance that “zhing zong” phones come with. They break easily and well what do you expect they are very cheap. Then you have the genuine phones that go for a while before they break. On the other end of the spectrum you have the expensive and hard to break gadgets from Apple. Good stuff does not come cheap.
Add to that mobile broadband coverage is spreading fast in Africa. This alone is the single largest driver for the upsurge in smart phone adoption and sales.
As more and more people get hooked up to data intensive applications like Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and many more, more and more people join the band wagon. This is a positive development. Two decades ago I did not know more than 10 people with both a computer and internet access. Today it costs less than $40 to possess some smart device that can access the internet. This is important. Information is now readily accessible and a cheaper price.
Official estimates claim that 30 percent of iPhone users have damaged their phone in the last 12 months. That’s three out of every 10 people crack their screen every year. But what is sad news for them is happy news to the cell phone repair guy. I am certain that all other brands follow the same statistic.
Even though cracked screens makes up a large percentage of the cell phone repair business, they are not the only issue. Battery issues, speaker issues, USB charging issue, camera issues, connectivity issues, virus and performance issues. The list of issues pushing this category could seem endless. Even if you do not know anything about phones everything you need to know about how to fix phones is available on the internet.
There are two main types of mobile repair businesses – store front and mobile repair. Store front cell phone repair businesses have a physical location.
These could be in a plaza, street facing, warehouse, inside a mall, anywhere. I am sure you have seen some phone repair operation at a place like Bulawayo Centre or Unity Village if you were in Bulawayo. These need capital. Because you will have to pay rent, electricity and probably security.
Great locations will include high traffic areas and can be an important source of new leads and customers. Flea markets and busy shopping malls are good examples. But locally we have our own variation of the fixed location. You have airtime vendors who now sell phone accessible and repair phones. Their business locations are at street corners. Cost wise this is effective as they do not pay any rent and can easily monopolise a busy corner. The downside of this setup is that those with top notch phones will not risk taking their business there. What if the guy vanishes into thin air with someone’s i6?
Mobile cell phone repair businesses are operated in locations not open to the public. Mobile repair operations offer repairs by pick-up or drop in services.
No need to pay rent in your own workshop at home. The ability to start up the business without a store front allows many repair entrepreneurs to operate from their rooms and garages. This option dramatically lowers the owner’s start-up business costs. Because these businesses do not have physical locations to instill initial customer trust you must make sure that all aspects of your business are professional. Reputation is a huge factor in this setup.
What do you need? You will need to get a few broken phones from friends and relatives to get your hands dirty on how to open up a phone and see how it is assembled. You cannot fix something that you do not know its setup. Along this you will need manuals and videos of basic phone repair tutorials. These are free online. Google them and download them. This constitutes the most important aspect of realizing your dream. You must get your hands dirty. Hands on training backed up by knowledge of how phone works at a component level. This is usually in the form of schematics.
You will need a Universal Smart Phone tool kit. These are pretty affordable in neighboring South Africa or you can buy one online from Hong King using your Ecocash or Telecash. This tool has all types and sizes of screw drivers you can think of.
Walk into any pharmacy you can get this over the counter. This is the magic solution that helps restore water damaged phones. This helps dissipate the water and make sure no corrosion forms on any of the electronic components. Isopropyl alcohol is non conductive and evaporates extremely fast.
Regular brushes that you have seen around create static electricity when you use them to wipe a surface. This can be harmful to some electronic components like capacitors. So an antistatic brush eliminates this problem. You will also need the following basic items besides screw drivers: spudgers, adhesive tape, scissors and tweezers. The last one is particularly important for picking up tiny screws after opening your gadget.
I cannot remember the number of times people have asked me to unlock their phones. Having phone software is not an optional extra but a must. You will discover that not all phones need hardware fix but some software upgrade, virus clean up and even deleting some old blurry images. Do some digging most of these applications are available online at no cost. Naturally when we speak of software this assumes you have a laptop. Get a good used one.
Last but not least is the non technical side of things. You will need to keep a customer database in digital format so that you get repeat business. You can use any cloud storage service. Invoicing and ticketing your jobs as your business grows will become handy as you do not want to get people’s phones mixed up. It goes without saying that once in a while you can send text messages to your clients or potential clients to solicit for business. Bottom line you have to start somewhere.
This short write up is not exhaustive but can serve as a useful check list. The owner of the business I had visited in Harare started with one repair shop at a flea market and now boasts seven repair centers. It is about time you stopped mourning about looking for a job. Create one. Next week we will look at the mobile phone apps and gaming side of things.
Questions , comments and suggestions most welcome.
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