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Cell Phone Repair Shop Offers Clients Alternative

By Tom Knox, Business Writer

December 4, 2010

HOLLY HILL — Larry Hayes broke his iPhone this week when it slipped out of its protective case, its shattered screen making it dangerous to make calls.

So he called AT&T, his cell phone provider, to ask about fixing it. But Hayes, 53, didn't have insurance on the phone and he was told it'd cost at least $200 to fix. So, he and his girlfriend Sherri Meier, 57, of Daytona Beach, searched online for a local repair shop to fix it for less.

She found All About Electronicz, a three-month old store whose owners say is the first electronics repair storefront in the city.

"Thank God for places like this," Meier said Wednesday as Hayes' phone was being fixed for $85.

As the technology of electronics -- especially cell phones — rapidly improves and makes new phones obsolete after a year or two, many customers want to ditch their phone at the first sign of age or damage. So is there really a market to fix phones?

"It's more unique than anything," said Michael Webster, who co-owns the shop with James Risi, both 29. "This is a disposable world we live in, but with us, we fix your old stuff. Why buy something new?"

A lot of customers are 30- to 40-year-old people who have an outdated phone with a broken screen or water damage. But they don't need the Internet or a camera-enabled phone and are attached to an older phone's simplicity.

"Not everyone wants a smartphone," Webster said. "Our generation is going that way, but other people just want a phone."

People keep their cell phones an average of 17.5 months before looking for a replacement, according to a 2007 J.D. Power survey.

Customers with smartphones such as Meier do come in, though, and the reasons for seeking All About Electronicz's help vary. Some don't have insurance, others don't want to extend a contract by buying a new phone. Some want to avoid the long wait that can happen when going through a wireless company for a fix.

Most cell phone carriers have a recycling program in-store where a customer can drop off a phone to be recycled. But many people keep their old cell phones as a backup, and then throw it away later. Webster said if he can't fix it he'll recycle it, another tactic he's using to try to draw people in to the store.

Recycling is still rarely used, though. As of 2007 only about 10 percent of cell phones were being recycled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Although phones contain toxins such as cadmium and arsenic, when they lie in municipal landfills they're generally well protected.

Still, the low-recycling data and rough economic times suggest that marketing an electronics-repair store as a money-saver instead of a green business might be the way to go.

Jon Abt, co-president of Abt Electronics, a Chicago-based store that also sells phones, TVs and other appliances online, said people sometimes don't realize the high cost of replacing a broken or outdated phone.

"Most people typically want to buy new, but it depends how long they had the phone for, and it depends what they did on the phone," Abt said. "A lot of water damage or a cracked screen is relatively easy to fix. You can fix the phone screen for $100 or less. They say 'Gosh, I could get a new phone for that,' and when you tell them they're not eligible for an upgrade, the price can be a little shocking to them."

New smartphones can cost more than $500 if a customer wants to upgrade without adding years to their contract.

Copyright © 2010 The Daytona Beach News-Journal