High-tech reliance means steady business

High-tech reliance means steady business
On Black Friday last year, uBreakiFix opened at the Plaza San Marcos shopping center. The chain is expanding in California and is looking to expand locally. Photo by Julie Gallant

SAN MARCOS — When the sizzle in a tech device fizzles, there’s a gold mine of resources emerging in inland North County to help out. Surging through Escondido and San Marcos are an expanding network of services dedicated to putting dropped, frozen or otherwise malfunctioning cell phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers back to work in the hands of their owners.

Since Revival Repair opened its independently owned shop in Escondido’s Felicita Town Center off Centre City Parkway the first week of July, store manager Christina Francis has been busy fixing things like broken cameras, replacing batteries and cracked screens and recovering data on various iPhones, iPads, laptops and tablets.

A technician who specializes in repairing only laptops is also occasionally on site, usually once or twice a week, to help out. And Francis says she’s willing to outsource some of the work to other shops that are more familiar with particular repair issues.

“If you focus on the things you’re good at your business becomes more successful,” she said.

Francis learned her craft with lots of on-the-job training at her cousin’s device repair shop in San Diego. She began working there about four years ago, juggling evening and weekend shifts while working full time managing a dental office. She started out in the repair shop just organizing the inventory, then began paying more attention to how the technicians there answered questions and dealt with customer service issues.

“I really enjoyed it,” Francis said. “It didn’t feel like work to me. It was fun meeting different people and learning something new. One thing led to another. It was a good change. I’m glad I took that part-time job.”

From handling repairs at her cousin’s shop, Francis took the leap with a silent partner to start a mobile device repair service in January 2016. One thing led to another again and she recently found herself scouting for a small retail outlet to start a brick-and-mortar business.

Francis said she looked around San Diego but the city was pretty saturated with tech device repair shops so she broadened her search to include North County. She says she liked Felicita Town Center’s anchor stores, including Trader Joe’s, Major Market and Rite Aid, and the location didn’t have any direct competitors in the shopping center, although she’s aware of a few in close proximity. Among them is JI Phone Repair, which opened its Escondido location at 426 W. Second Avenue, Suite A, four years ago and has steadily expanded the past few years in Murrieta, Solana Beach and in mid-August opened another outlet in Vista.

Many of the repairs Francis does now are for Petco Animal Supplies and construction companies and she’ll be picking up more work at public, private, Christian and charter schools once they’re back in session. She also draws business from her Felicita Town Center neighbors, TMobile and Verizon.

And with a lot of traffic coming through the shopping center for the anchor stores plus Starbucks, Papa John’s Pizza and the next-door Goodwill donation center, Francis is optimistic her business will double in six months and double again in a year.

“It’s going to grow once people know we are here,” she said, noting that Revival Repair is promoting its business on Google, Yelp and in the monthly get1free coupon magazine.

Also staking a claim in Inland North County are chain outlets like uBreakiFix, which debuted at the Plaza San Marcos shopping center at Nordahl Road near Montiel Road and Center Drive on Black Friday 2016.

The uBreakiFix franchise was founded by Justin Wetherill along with partner David Reiff with some help from their friend Eddie Trujillo. The company website says Wetherill’s “aha moment” occurred when he dropped his new iPhone 3G in 2009. The avid tech geek began tinkering with the phone and other broken iPhones bought online. That summer the trio opened their first storefront in Orlando, Florida, and the company has since grown to more than 325 locations in the U.S. and Canada.

The company’s repair services include iPhone, cell phone, Google, tablet, iPod, computer and game consoles, but San Marcos uBreakiFix manager Zach Hartley says they’ll at least attempt to repair just about anything with a power button. Some of their more unusual requests have been for a hover board, an air-conditioning unit and a Christmas sweater that wouldn’t light up.

The company keeps a running total, and altogether, the combined stores have completed more than 3 million repairs, according to a San Marcos uBreakiFix spokeswoman, who describes the local work flow as erratic, with customer service lulls interspersed with jam-packed waves.

“They tend to come in swarms,” she said. “We have our own goals we have to hit for the day and we typically hit those goals.”

UBreakiFix differentiates itself from some of the smaller shops with its partnership with Google as the exclusive walk-in repair partner for the Pixel cell phone. The partnership means uBreakiFix stores are capable of using Google parts and because it is being repaired through uBreakiFix, the customer would be able to use a warranty.

The spokeswoman said uBreakiFix has been progressively expanding in California, with stores in Los Angeles and San Francisco plus one that opened a few years ago in San Diego. For now, uBreakiFix only has one store in the North County but the company sees potential for growth and is looking to expand locally while keeping proper distancing between stores, she said.

“Ten or 15 years ago cell phones weren’t a thing,” said Hartley, whose background is in computer programming. “Now they’re an integral part of our lives and we can’t go a day without one.”

Another tech repair newcomer in Inland North County is Phone Repair San Diego, which opened shop at 624 N. Broadway in Escondido about a year ago.

Owner and solo operator Abdul Malik said he decided to open his own repair store because he has a lot of friends with similar interests. He said he also wanted to work close to home and Palomar College where he’s taking general education classes and wants to learn more about computer networking.

So far Malik says his work buying, selling and trading cell phones as well as selling accessories and repairing cell phones, laptops and desktop computers could be described more as steady than stellar.

“The first year is not what I wanted but I’d say it’s OK,” he says of his business volume.

It’s been a reliable job, especially in the afternoons when people get off work. Malik said he can usually turn around an iPhone repair in 25 minutes but the computers take longer to work on. Handling the different brands can be challenging because some devices can be more difficult than others, but he says he enjoys doing it like a hobby.

Even though he has several nearby competitors, including Escondido Phone Repair at 312 E. Second Ave. and Fix My Phone SD at 250 Woodward Ave., Malik has no plans to branch out yet and is content managing mostly walk-in customers seven days a week.

“I don’t advertise,” he said. “Basically I have Google and all the social media (including) Facebook and a lot of word-of-mouth. It pays the bills.”

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