SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
In coffee shops, airports and lecture halls, glowing smartphone screens have become as ubiquitous as lattes, boarding passes and backpacks. But while those digital devices can do more and more, their propensity to fall, break or malfunction remains the same.
That’s where Jim Reser, owner and sole employee of Four Corners Cell Phone Repair, has found a booming business opportunity. He’s not alone.
Over the last five years, the number of cellphone repair shops has grown across the nation at an average rate of 7 percent per year to 2,455, according to a report by the research firm IBISWorld. Most of those businesses are small local operators, the report said.
The industry’s revenue was expected to increase 14 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to IBISWorld.
Reser started his business in August and now repairs up to five phones a day, dealing with everything from broken screens to malfunctioning home and power buttons.
A former business consultant, he never has been a gadget guy, but he likes fixing systems that most people view as too challenging to tackle.
“This particular device is something that people are afraid of,” Reser said, as he fiddled with an iPhone 4s.
There are a couple trends at work that have helped spur the cellphone repair business, said Nima Samadi, an analyst with IBISWorld.
First is the explosion of smartphones. According to a 2012 study by Pew Research Center, 46 percent of American adults have a smartphone, outpacing ownership of basic cellphones.
Given the high price tags of those devices, especially when sold without a contract, people are more inclined to repair rather than replace them, Samadi said.
“It makes more financial sense to extend their useful life rather than replacing what they’ve got,” he said.
With their fragile LCD screens and touch-screens, glass casing and inaccessible batteries, smartphones also are more prone to break than basic cellphones with buttons and plastic screens, Reser said.
He said the iPhone’s sensitive glass touchscreen, combined with many people’s reluctance to use a suitable case, has created an almost constant demand for his services.
“There are two things I really like about the iPhone: It is made of glass and law of gravity works in my favor,” he said.
And as smartphones become people’s primary cameras, calendars, email platforms and music players, they become attached, Reser said. They don’t want to buy a new one.
“The phone is a constant companion. Some people take them to bed and sleep with them,” he said. “I think they value that phone and are more likely to get it repaired.”
Beyond consumer demand, there are other reasons that more people are getting into the cellphone repair business, Samadi said. Startup and input costs are relatively low, especially if operators work out of their homes or on the road, like Reser.
“You can get parts relatively cheaply, and there’s not much labor input,” Samadi said.
Smartphone repairs have been touted as one of the best ventures to start in 2012, according to the United-Kingdom based website Startups. Of the seven top technology enterprises Entrepreneur magazine named to its Fortune 500 list, all were technology-repair businesses.
“This proliferation (of electronic gadgets) has resulted in the emergence of a crop of ‘e-fixers,’ ready to remedy any tech meltdown a business or individual may experience,” the magazine wrote in 2011.
With the right organization and enough patience, cellphone repair work is getting “easier and easier,” Reser said. He also touts the business’s environmental angle.
Fixing a broken phone saves electronic refuse such as lead, mercury and glass from entering landfills. The United Nations estimated that in 2006, the world’s consumers trashed 20 million to 50 million tons of e-waste each year.
Despite its growth, there still is unfulfilled demand in the cellphone repair business thanks to a continuing hunger for smartphones, Samadi said.
“There already are a lot of smartphone users, and that number is only going to continue to increase,” he said.