This year became the first year in which more than half of all adult Americans own smartphones.
It’s abundantly clear that smartphones are here to stay, and companies of all kinds are making the ubiquitous technology part of their business.
But what happens when a smartphone breaks down?
Americans have spent nearly $6 billion on damaged iPhones since they were introduced, according to research by Squaretrade, a number that encompasses all iPhone repairs, replacements and insurance deductible payments. Thirty percent of iPhone owners have experienced accidental damage in the last 12 months, 17 percent have damaged an iPhone more than once, and 11 percent use phones with cracked screens.
One company that is looking to address these issues is Hartland-based Batteries Plus Bulbs. The company has recently introduced “device repair” as an in-store service.
“If you break your iPhone screen and look at buying a brand new one, if you’re still in your contract, you’re looking at $300, $400, $500 for a new phone,” said R.J. Wendt, manager at the company’s store at 10724 W Greenfield Ave. in West Allis. “For a small percentage of that cost, we can get them the repair they need. It’s a real value for our customers.”
Batteries Plus Bulbs’ rollout of its device repair is starting in the Milwaukee area, and at other corporate locations in Tennessee and Virginia, said Wendt. There are 10 stores located in southeastern Wisconsin and all of them offer device repair.
Device repair technicians at these stores go through a training process to become certified to provide the service.
“All of our technicians go through a 40-hour certification training,” said Wendt. “A certified person doesn’t get to work on a live consumer repair until they complete the 40 hours and pass a test.”
The technicians work in the Batteries Plus Bulbs store locations and fix damaged phones on site.
“It takes about 60 to 90 minutes, on average,” said Wendt.
At the West Allis location, device repair went live about two months ago, and Wendt said the early returns have been positive.
“Response from customers has been really fantastic,” said Wendt. “I have people come back and say it’s like a brand new device. It’s been a very, very positive reaction from our customers. What’s really blown me away is how many people have iPhones and how many have them that are broken.”
Screen repair is offered for Apple products, including the iPhone, iPod and iPad, and for the Samsung Galaxy S3. Prices for screen repair range from $99 to $130. To do this, said Wendt, “we removed the entire old assembly and put a new assembly in. It’s a full replacement.”
In addition to screen repair, other device repair services offered include speaker replacement, port repair, camera replacement and button replacement. Incorporating these new services has been a natural extension of one service that’s been done at these stores for some time – battery replacement.
“We already replace batteries in the devices so it was really a natural transition to do this, too,” said Wendt. “Device repair is what’s considered our third major part, along with batteries and bulbs. We want to have device repair as another service that we offer. We do offer a lot of other services, as a part of our repair services. We’ve always done repairs on building custom battery packs for people and repairing battery packs for people. We’ve done that for years. That’s what makes this device repair such a natural transition.”
Some of these repairs can be challenging; it’s not always an easy fix.
“If you fix an iPad screen, you have to do quite a bit to get the screen off,” said Wendt. “You have to apply a lot of heat with a heat gun to try to loosen the adhesive. It’s a timely process. With the iPhone, you have to take apart a lot of it to get to what you’re trying to do. That’s why we see the value in offering this as a service, because we have certified people to do that. That’s where the 40 hours of training comes in.”
Each repair presents its own challenges, some can come in mangled, or the screen can come in broken spider-webbed, and some can take more time than others. But so far, said Wendt, “There hasn’t been anything that’s come up that we haven’t been able to (repair).”
Wendt added, “The only devices that there’s really a question on that would be beyond repair, possibly, would be anything that might be water damaged. Anything that’s water damaged we have to send in to our center to do a diagnosis. If the water gets inside the unit, it can be dried off, but it could harm some of the delicate components inside. So that’s the only thing we don’t work on at the store.”
Two months into incorporating device repair, said Wendt, his store is doing about seven to ten repairs per week, and the current goal is bring that number up to two per day.
The West Allis location where Wendt works is one of 350 locations to have made the transition from ‘Batteries Plus’ to ‘Batteries Plus Bulbs,’ which officially began taking place in late 2012, though the stores began offering light bulbs in 2010.
Batteries Plus Bulbs is owned by Roark Capital Group, an Atlanta-based private equity firm. It has 580 locations nationwide, the first of which was opened in 1988 in Green Bay.
The company has grown in recent years, adding both new products and opening new store locations.
“Over the last year, Batteries Plus Bulbs has increased its product access by 13% to more than 45,000 batteries, light bulbs, and related accessories from 40,000 the previous year,” said Russ Reynolds, CEO. “The company has experienced a 51 percent increase in store count since 2010 (201 new stores) and is currently opening stores at a rate of one per week across the country.”
Reynolds said they have seen financial growth at the company and a growing number of employees, as well.
“Same store net revenue increased an average of 8.4 percent annually from 2010 to 2012, while the total system sales increase average was 15.2 percent annually during this same period,” he said. “Touching on employee growth, each store location hires approximately five to six employees. With the opening of 55 stores next year, we anticipate creating an additional 275 to 330 jobs.”