Independent Repair Shops Keep America Running During a Pandemic

Like healthcare workers, restaurant employees, and gig economy workers, repair stores are keeping the country together during the Coronavirus outbreak.
March 30, 2020, 12:00pm
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Image: Getty Images

Cities and states around the country are ordering shelter in place notices. Non-essential businesses are shutting their doors in order to limit physical contact and flatten the curve of the coronavirus.. Hospitals, doctor's offices, restaurants, and grocery stores remain open. In many places, so do independent repair stores. As America's office workers have started working from home en mass, independent repair stores have become more important than ever.

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“We are still open and busy,” Pedro Ferrer, Manager of CPR Cell Phone Repair in Georgia said. “We saw a large demand for device repair and hardware upgrades on eLearning devices when the schools closed a few weeks ago as well as people fixing their game consoles to prepare for quarantine. We believe to be essential under Communications and IT support."

Kev Notton manages RepairContent, a company that helps IT shops repair their services, that caters exclusively to independent repair stores. He said he's seen some shops close, but most have stayed open. "I have seen many more shops classified as ‘essential’ than non-essential, even though some shops are choosing to close anyway for their personal safety and well-being in the short term," he said.

"We are considered essential as we offer parts to first responders, medical facilities and more. Phones are people's life lines and are part of our infrastructure. Due to this we are still open," Aakshay Kripalani, CEO of InjuredGadgets—an independent cell phone repair service based out of Georgia—said.

Both Kripalani and Ferrer said they're prioritizing repairs for medical professionals. Notton said some of his clients are offering 50 percent discounts to first responders and healthcare workers. "We feel those are more urgent than someone just needing their daily iPad replaced as hospitals may need their equipment to save lives during this time," Kripalani said.

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Ferrer's shop has a long relationship with the local hospital. "They will contact us and let us know if it is a high priority situation or not," Ferrer said. "We’ve also been able to solve problems for other industries, for example fast food restaurants. Since they are having to transition into curbside and delivery only they are looking for ways to minimize contact and still handle volume." According to Ferrer, he helped a local fast food chain set up a row of iPads outside that used FaceTime to create a virtual terminal for ordering. During busy rushes, employees and customers didn’t have to interact until the point of sale.

Ferrer said that the pandemic has changed the way they do business inside the store. It's all about cleaning and containment. They've adjusted furniture to create a buffer between staff and employees, added curbside service, and enforced social distancing in the store. Notton, Ferrer, and Kripalani all said they're using UV sterilizer machines on phones before and after repairs.

So far, the shops are doing well with repair supplies. "Supply chain for parts has not been much of an issue anymore since our vendors have been proactive in communicating what they see in China, so we stocked up on items that were at higher risk of going scarce," Ferrer said.

Kripalani said Asia has done a good job of keeping his store supplied. "iPhone and iPad have mostly stabilized as well as most Samsung [devices]," he said. "Some of the smaller brand names or less popular devices are a little harder to find but still accessible. The main market in Shenzhen for cell phone and tablet parts reopens April 8. So once that's open it should be business back to normal."

What no one has enough of is cleaning supplies. "We were fortunate to have decent stock on 99% [isopropyl alcohol] and latex gloves but are getting a little concerned about keeping up with things like disinfecting spray and wipes," Ferrer said. "We can make our own with the [isopropyl alcohol], but prefer to save that for repairs if we can."

Despite the precautions and the sudden demand, Kripalani said business is down over all. "In the last week, we have seen roughly 30 percent drops," he said. "Some vendors I have spoken to are down greater than 50 percent. Our accessory partner in Los Angeles had to close completely."

Deemed essential by many state and local governments, independent repair shores are critical to keeping America running. Yet companies like Apple and John Deere have lobbied to make it harder for them to operate. Apple closed its stores worldwide on March 14, making it impossible for people to repair their iPhones and iPads through an authorized dealer. It gave customers a two day window to pick up devices left behind for repair. Anyone who missed the window can’t get them back.. They’re locked inside the stores. Nintendo has also closed it’s repair facilities until further notice. Manufacturers have even made the life-saving ventilators we need now more than ever hard to repair.

This pandemic has made clear what we’ve always known—preventing people from fixing their own stuff hurts people and the only reason companies do it is to increase their profits.