Posts

DO YOU HAVE OEM PARTS?

There’s been a dirty little secret in the tech repair industry ever since the industry started. OEM PARTS.

In an effort to win more business people in the industry have often said they have OEM parts (Original Equipment Manufacturer). I’ve seen it and heard in the industry since the industry began. From repair shops to distributors, it’s been a blight on the industry since day one. Some whisper it while others blatantly advertise that they sell OEM parts. If you Google Apple OEM parts today you’ll see how some companies sneak OEM into their SEO results.

Let me make this clear. Outside of those authorized by Apple (or another OEM) NO ONE HAS OEM PARTS!

Even if you’re one of the honest people out there (and there are a lot of you!) the claim impacts your business because when your competitor says it you find yourself in a bad spot. You can try to maintain your integrity and hope you don’t lose the business, argue with the customer by telling them the other guy is lying, or bend to the pressure and say yours are OEM too. In the end you simply hope the customer doesn’t know or see the difference.

Either way the interaction damages the industry as a whole by putting questions in the customer’s head.

NOW APPLE HAS ADDRESSED THE ISSUE IN TWO MAJOR WAYS

The problem has become so big that Apple is the first company (others will follow) that will now include a software verification system that will clearly show the customer if they have an OEM part or an “Unknown Part” in their device. If you don’t think this will have a major impact on the repair industry, then think again.

As iOS 15.2 rolls out, Apple is adding a new “Parts and Service History” section in the settings app. A feature that will allow anyone who looks at the phone to know if a part has been replaced on the device. If it has, each part replaced will show up in the history followed by either “Genuine Apple Part” or “Unknown Part”. The Genuine Apple Part message will only appear if Apple software is used to sync the parts – a part pulled from another device will appear as “Unknown”

In some ways this will be a really good thing with customers now able to see if the parts in their device or one they might be thinking about buying has been repaired and what kind of parts were used. This will also add another layer to device buyback and/or trade-ins. Some good, some bad for the greater tech care industry.

The second way Apple is addressing this problem is the soon to launch Apple Self Service Repair Program that will put OEM parts directly into the hands of the customer. A program that has been discussed a lot and many are wrongly dismissing as a non-factor for independent repair. You can read additional thoughts on this subject on the WiGoMan blog.

Flying under the radar a bit, Apple also announced recently that they will be doing mobile repair work for small businesses.

A MAJOR CHALLENGE FOR REPAIR SHOPS

Here’s where things will impacting repair shops and the entire repair parts supply chain.

  1. OEM vs Aftermarket parts will be clear. No more hiding. No more lies. But the question is how will the customer react? Short-term impact might be minimal. The long-term outlook not so good.
  2. Trade-in repairs will be impacted. The customers who come into a repair shop now to get a screen fixed to increase trade-in value will likely stop. Assuming that the trade-in value will drop with this new knowledge. Maybe not at first but over time people will realize that they can’t trick the system anymore.
  3. Self-repair is bigger than you think. iFixit’s ($25-30 million in revenue) business model is built on this concept. Then think of all the eBay & Amazon part sellers. Every shop sees customers who have botched repairs themselves but that’s only a small fraction of the people who do self repair.
  4. Marketing Impact. Expect to see shops that are authorized, including Apple Stores, to advertise that OEM parts are the only way to go which will further impact the market for aftermarket parts. Restricting smaller independent shops even more. The larger chains (now owned by huge corporations) will benefit greatly by selling more OEM screens.
  5. Apple getting into mobile repair will also start to take a toll on independent repair shops. Again slowly at first but with a larger impact as it rolls out across the country.
  6. ** While not known or clear at this point this keeps open the possibility that Apple reactivates device software that can disable certain features on a device (Face ID, Fingerprint Sensor, etc.).

I can promise you that Apple and its partners have a plan and they are concisely executing that plan. Each of the things listed above will take away business from the industry. We need to turn the tide!

Listen, getting repair business in the past has been easy for most. You really didn’t have to do much to get some customers. Because of that a lot of people got into the industry. Opportunists that saw the potential and seized it. Think about it. A lot of those people are now getting into crypto, vaping, CBD, etc. Tech repair was a wide open market. But now it’s not. Now it’s going to require more work on your part. It’s going to require you to be more savvy as a business person if you want to stay in business. It’s going to require giving up some control and collaborating with others. It’s going to require a vibrant independent trade association.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF INDEPENDENT REPAIR

People within the industry often site automotive repair as an example of how OEM and aftermarket can coexist. They then try to overlay that example with the tech repair industry. While I often use this example myself there are a few major reasons why it doesn’t work in exactly the same way.

Besides the fact that the automotive repair industry has been around a lot longer and is a much larger industry it has two distinct benefits that are lacking in the tech repair industry. Exposure/branding and industry representation.

Let me explain. The auto repair industry benefits from a lot of brand exposure. If you were to ask someone to name an auto repair business, they could easily. Ask them to name some brand name aftermarket parts and most could do that too. In terms of industry representation there are numerous trade associations that represent the myriad of players in the auto care industry. The biggest of which is the Auto Care Association, a powerful group that helped lobby for the original right to repair legislation and spends a lot of time and money on promoting the industry to the public.

The tech repair industry has none of those things. The only recognizable brand to the public is iFixit followed far behind by Batteries Plus, UBIF, and CPR. Surveys have shown that the average person on the street can’t even name one of these brands, even when they live and work nearby. Ask them to name a parts brand and – sorry to tell you this guys – but you get crickets.

I’ve said it many times in the past, people just don’t know the tech repair industry exists. An active trade association can change that dynamic!

What’s the potential for working together with a neutral non-profit trade association?

I’ve used this example before but think about how other industries responded to challenges to their revenue models. Two of the biggest industry campaigns ever were “Beef, it’s what for dinner” and the “Got Milk” campaigns that were hugely successful in countering the negative consumer culture that had risen at the time. Both of these campaigns were a product of industry trade associations and both of these campaigns produced amazing results for their industries. But they didn’t do it alone. They worked together as an industry to make their industries bigger and better to benefit everyone large and small. How about you?

HOW DOES THE TECH CARE INDUSTRY SURVIVE?

First a question: Do you want a divided race to the bottom or a united climb to the top?

Races are often run alone while climbing tall mountains requires working with others. If you want a divided race to the bottom, then keep doing what you’re doing. If you want to climb to the top of our potential, then let’s work together! Unity can be achieved without conformity.

The fact of the matter is that Apple owns the pie we’re all trying to get a piece of. The tech repair industry has been fighting over a small slice of it for too long, in essence hoping that Apple will give out more slices. The Tech Care Association believes that we can increase the size of the pie (Yes, the whole pie, not just our slice), thus making our slice bigger, by making more people aware of repair and the benefits of working with independent repair. Apple doesn’t want to promote repair because it tarnishes their brand. So we have to, which in turn takes the industry to higher ground instead of fighting each other in a race to the bottom.

Don’t be naïve and think that the recent moves by Apple will not have a major impact on your business. They will. Maybe not at first, but like the tide coming in on a sandcastle, slowly and surely, what you have worked hard to build will be washed out to sea. Everyone will feel the impact from shops to depots to distributors and marketers. You can’t hold the tide back by yourself – no one can!

By working together, a united tech repair industry can turn the tide and increase the size of the pie.

Working together we can promote the quality and value of 3rd party parts or as Apple likes to call them “Unknown Parts”. We can raise brand awareness for the many high quality repair parts that are already in the market. We can help customers understand that a repair with a 3rd party part is a great value for them and make efforts to set standards for parts that will have greater value in the resale market.

Now, more than ever, people need to be better aware of what the independent tech repair industry is all about. We can climb this mountain together or we watch the tide come in alone. The choice is yours.

Help us to help you and change the narrative about the independent tech repair industry by joining the TECH CARE ASSOCIATION and working together. Join us today!

Repair People are amazing! Despite the efforts of big tech companies (OEMs) to make fixing our tech harder and harder independent repair people have shown what they are capable of time and time again. To suggest otherwise is silly.

Next time you go into a big tech store (apple, Best Buy, AT&T, Verizon, etc.) and one of their salespeople tell you to just buy a new device, ignore them and take it to a repair expert at a local tech repair shop (www.WhereToRepair.org). Because I’m here to tell you that EVERYTHING can be fixed and, just like a car, you won’t know the cost of repair until a professional technician has a look under the hood. A sales rep at the Apple store, BestBuy, AT&T, or Verizon has no clue!

Listen the people who build cars or sell cars don’t fix cars. So why would people assume that the people who make tech or sell tech can fix it? Your best bet when your tech is broken is to always get advice from the people with the most experience fixing it.

CAN IT BE FIXED?

The simple truth is EVERYTHING tech can be fixed, and the final cost is in the eye of the beholder.

Yes, I know saying that everything tech can be repaired is complicated. Allow me to expand that thought by keeping in mind that I ran a successful tech repair operation for more than 10 years and we came across almost every repair scenario possible while repairing tens of thousands of devices. We always had a repair option for our customers. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Why? Because we had amazing technicians that refused to back down from a challenge. That was the culture of our shops. EVERYTHING TECH CAN BE REPAIRED!

Allow me to expand on the philosophy that everything tech can be repaired.

When a customer has a broken piece of tech the most important question for them is, “can it be fixed?’ In my shops the answer was ALWAYS YES*. Why always yes you ask? Because it’s true. Everything can be fixed. The only limitation to whether the customer will or should proceed is going to be the final cost and what their individual goal is going into the repair. Those are the variables that no one is qualified to answer expect for the customer.

Now here’s the complicated part – the asterisk if you like. Sometimes the cost is too high. Not necessarily the price but the cost of the final repair. Sure, sometimes its price. But sometimes its data or sometimes its time. Those are the main variables that may cause the customer to decline the repair, but it is rarely a situation where a piece of tech cannot be repaired by someone. The cost may be too high, the data may not be recoverable, and it make take a lot more time than the customer will allow. These are things you don’t know until you have properly evaluated the repair.

TECH REPAIR PEOPLE ARE TRULY AMAZING

Since the dawn of the modern tech repair industry, which I estimate to be around 2004, tech repair people have always risen to meet any challenge they have faced. These are amazing people whose skills (and industry) is often overlooked even to this day. I know this industry well because I was a part of it from the beginning and I have seen the amazing work that the industry has done firsthand.

First of all, the tech repair (or what started as cellphone repair) industry wrote the book on fixing tech. You see the main cellphone repair players of that day were Nokia and Motorola who were actually shutting down their repair operations nationwide because phones had become disposable. Newer smartphones (Blackberry, Palm, Windows, Symbian) had just entered the market and were complicating things. Nobody saw the iPhone on the horizon yet – it would change the industry forever.

The biggest repair challenge in that day was… trackballs on Blackberry’s. Yea, for real. The tiny little ball that gave you navigation capabilities would get gunked up and fail. Enter a brilliant entrepreneur who started selling trackballs online and made millions. Then it was charge ports which ushered in the soldering iron in tech repair shops. Soon after it was keyboards and flax cables with some of the early plastic touchscreens also finding repair shops. Then, in 2007, the first iPhone hit the market and just like Steve Jobs would later say, “Every once and a while, a revolutionary product enters the market and changes everything.” This was certainly true for the tech repair industry. iPhone changed it all!

Smartphone OEMs Were/Are Clueless About Repair

I’ll give credit where credit is due. At least Apple figured something out when their flagship device started coming into their stores on a massive scale – that little glass screen broke a lot! Unlike their smartphone competitors Apple offered a device swap when customers came to them with busted screens, which was an immediate, yet costly solution. There competitors (Palm, Blackberry, Nokia, HTC, etc.) would require you to ship off the device for repair/replacement which would often take weeks. Both solutions had serious downsides.

Immediate onsite repair was only available from independent tech repair shops. In fact, It took Apple more than 5+ years to finally offer limited onsite repair in the Apple stores. Then, as it is now, their repair offerings are lacking greatly as compared to independent tech repair shops who can do so much more.

Do you know who taught them how to repair the iPhone? You got it. It was the independent tech repair industry.

How do I know? Call it coincidence if you like but I trained techs in my shops who were VERY curious about everything we did while training, took really good notes, asked lots of questions, only worked a month or two, and then we found them working at Apple almost immediately after they left us. We also had recruiters calling my shops on a regular basis who would snag one of my techs from time to time that ended up at Apple as well. I’ve heard similar stories from around the industry.

We know that despite building a sexy device with a wonderful user interface (UI) that Apple didn’t spend a lot of time testing capabilities when they rolled out the first few iPhones. This is well documented with all of the issues the first few iPhones experienced. Obviously, they didn’t test durability either because they had zero plan for repair. By the looks of things, they assumed people would just buy a new device every year.

This lack of planning created tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurially inspired independent tech repair people to fill the gap. One that many brilliant people have filled over the years. No one taught them how to do it. They just seized the opportunity and built businesses around their hard work. Overcoming obstacles along the way.

An industry was built without any formal training as tech repair people have taught themselves how to reverse engineer tech, diagnose issues on a board level, and then use microsoldering techniques to repair the most complex issues you could imagine. These are amazing people who should never be underestimated.

Do OEMs make repair unnecessarily difficult to fix their tech? Yes, and in some cases, it should be criminal in others it’s just sloppy design. Do we need laws to force OEMs to make devices more repairable? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that if an OEM has designed any kind of repair program, then that program needs to have reasonable availability to independent tech repair shops.

Afterall, you owe us. We taught you how to fix your tech in the first place.

The tech repair industry had three big stories rattle its core over the last week. The biggest should come as no surprise, while the other two stories may go unnoticed by many. Either way these three stories will help shape the industry permanently going forward.

The first story should surprise no one as Apple has gone to a place that everyone should have seen coming. The serialization of their repair parts continues with the iPhone 13 rollout this week. Multiple sources have now confirmed that if you replace the iPhone 13 screen then the face id feature will no longer work. In a nutshell, this means you need to go to Apple or an Apple authorized repair location to make the part work with the phone. This is one step closer to Apple simply just disabling any and all parts that someone outside of Apple’s network tries to install during the repair process.

While the right to repair movement enjoyed a recent win the biggest tech giant in the world moved forward with making independent repair much more difficult. As I have mentioned before a right to repair law is years away at best, that’s just the way law making works. I wish it were different and I wish we could have right to repair on the books today. But we don’t. The industry needs to come to terms with it and find ways in which we can all succeed now.

One last word on right to repair, the law as it is designed now is too broad. I’ll address this in a future blog post, but it’s why I think Apple will once again be successful in defeating any attempts at legislation as we move into the new year.

Name Change at the Industries Biggest House of Repair

The second biggest industry story this past week might have slipped by you as not a big deal, but it’s huge. The country’s biggest franchise in the industry is changing its name as uBreakiFix (UBIF) parent company Asurion announced this past week they would rebrand all of their more than 650 locations from UBIF to Asurion Tech Repair & Solutions.

Sound negligible to you, right? It’s not. (WARNING: Feeling’s alert) The tech repair industry (a recent term) has long suffered from some really bad names. It started with cute medical references like; doctor, clinic, hospital, etc. (my first shops used clinic in the name BTW) and then morphed into cutsie names that incorporated; break, fix, smashed, phix, etc. At the same time many shops wanted to add Apple branding to their name with a simple “i” or they boldly added “iPhone” – which often brought nasty letters and legal action from Apple.

The worst mistake most shops made seemed innocent at first and in many ways helped bring in business and raise SEO scores. This is one I used early on too but changed when we rebranded my shops a few years later. That mistake is using the term “Cell Phone Repair” to describe your business. Sure, if that’s all you want to be go for it. But its going to limit your future and the future is now.

The name change at UBIF is brilliant on many levels and will allow them to achieve greater success in the long run. Don’t be surprised to see the CPR (Cell Phone Repair) franchise do the same in the coming year. I love the people over there but that’s a name I never really thought would last very long. You know what through, you guys do you! It’s all good.

Why a Big Announcement in the Automobile Industry Matters

Just this week Ford Motor Company made a huge announcement that they will be making their biggest single manufacturing investment EVER to build electric vehicle factories in the US. An investment of $11.4 billion to build two enormous manufacturing campuses for electric vehicles (EVs), creating more than 10,000 new jobs. You might be saying that’s fabulous. I’m all for creating new jobs – especially in US manufacturing – and I love to see US industry modernizing what it produces but what the heck does it have to do with tech repair???!!!

You might have seen this story and skimmed over it, but I doubt if most of your perked up like I did when I read the last line of this major announcement from Ford. It reads, “Ford also announced it is investing a total of $525 million across the United States over the next five years to train electric vehicle REPAIR TECHNICIANS.” In other words, TECH REPAIR PEOPLE like you!

Please hear me out and follow my logic on this opportunity.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are much, much different than the gas turbine mechanical vehicles in our current world. Repairing EVs takes a much different skillset than that of the current auto mechanic. Ford just said that in not so many words. I remember the first time I sat in a Tesla I said to myself, “Wow, this a really big iPad”. I had also recently repaired my electric lawn mower and I was frustrated how different it was from the gas-powered ones that I had worked on with my dad growing up. Then the wheels in my brain started to turn and I said to myself, “wait a minute…”

THIS IS PART OF THE FUTURE OF TECH REPAIR!

Stay with me for a minute or two. In the last couple of years, I had discovered that there was a major need for people in the appliance repair business. Mainly because many of the “old timers” in the industry had retired rather than trying to learn an almost completely different skillset repairing modern, much more tech driven, appliances. The industry needed/needs younger more tech savvy repair people.

Repairing appliances has quickly become a more tech driven ordeal and the automobile industry is starting to steer in that direction. Allow me to share two incidents in my past make that a great case for our industry to move into EV repair. The first happened by chance while the second was founded out of my own stubbornness to take no for an answer.

While getting coffee at church a bumped into an old friend who shared a story with me about taking his older BMW to the dealership and getting a $5,000 quote to make repairs to his entertainment system that had stopped working. They told him they needed to order a new “motherboard” to complete the repair. He thought it might be time to just buy a new car. I asked him if we could take a look at it in my shop – I had an awesome board repair guy working for me at the time. Long story short. We fixed the board for under $100 bucks, saving him $4,900.

A year later one of our family vehicles failed state inspection because of some issues with the electronic display. My trusted mechanic quoted $2-3K for the repair. It seemed like a simple fix to me so I asked why he couldn’t fix what seemed to be a basic electronic repair and he told me no one in the industry really messes with the electronics they just swap them out. I found an electronic repair guy in NC that specialized in fixing this type of issue. We pulled the console, shipped it, they fixed it, shipped it back, and in less than a week my vehicle passed inspection for only a couple of hundred dollars. He had never heard of this shop. Imagine how much more business is out there.

Friends, there’s gold in them thar hills! Are you ready to keep digging?

These issues highlight the type of work we’re doing for you at the Tech Care Association. We’re working hard everyday to advocate for you and your business to try and keep big tech companies open for business for our industry while we work to bring you new opportunities to expand what you do. This industry is only getting started. Please think about membership today.

Join the Tech Care Association today with a paid membership and help us to help you succeed