The growth in popularity of technology such as smartphones, consoles, laptops and tablets has provided a much-needed boost to the independent sector as the public look for knowledgeable people to repair their devices. Matt Grainger looks at this sector and talks to the industry about this growing opportunity?

Repairs offer bright future for indie retail

At this point in time, it’s clear that the market has shifted. No longer constrained to a handful of categories consisting of large dedicated computational machines, information technology has penetrated every level of society and is used by a wider range of people than ever before, from schoolchildren to pensioners.

Almost everything now has a processor chip. Most people carry a mobile phone, while tablets of various types can be seen in abundance by anyone who takes the train anywhere. Laptops are seen as an essential purchase for most households and the all-in-one category is growing by leaps and bounds.

An example of this is reflected in figures from market researcher GfK, which show that the tablet category has seen astonishing sales growth during the last quarter, increasing by over 2,000 per cent per month since the beginning of March. The figures were so strong that GfK’s business group director, Carl West, remarked that the tablet category was propping up the rest of the market in terms of sales.

“I think you’ll find that webbooks are actually adding value to the wider marketplace,” West remarked to PCR. “Not only that but if you look at the year-on-year volume combining all categories, webbooks is holding up the computing market.”

The growth in the all-in-one category is noted by EntaTech’s group vice president Jon Atherton: “Although netbooks aren’t quite selling like they were a few months ago, presumably due to the growing tablet sector, all-in-one’s have definitely seen an upturn.”

However, despite the fact that devices such as tablets, smartphones, games consoles and netbooks are common sights, the economic climate has meant that vendors are increasingly looking for direct sales, while multiple retailers jealously guard market share.

While these items may offer indies less opportunity for sales, their ubiquity and their popularity with mainstream consumers means that they offer excellent opportunities for repairs. Although there are competing services available from the multiple retailers, repairs seems to be an area where the independent retailer can punch far above his weight.

“Indies are getting much better at not only doing repairs in-house but they also know who to turn to for the specialist repairs. And I think there’s going to be a lot of work for indies in repairing the new devices that are coming through – the tablets and the convergent technologies that are coming through,” notes Brigantia founder, Iain Shaw.

“Five years ago an independent repairing a laptop would be rare but it’s common now. Either they do it themselves or pass it on to a specialist. It’s moving that way for repairs on consoles and it’ll be the same with tablets in future.”

The preference for repairs is reflected in some of the latest sales trends noted by Target Components, which caters for a broad range of customers including independent retail, e-tail and system builders.

“Target is one of the only distributors of smartphone parts in the UK and our customers have responded very well to them. We’re getting a lot of return custom from people finding that they can make some seriously good money from smartphone repairs,” says Target Components’ marketing executive Scott Frankling.

“Rather than getting a new handset when their contract expires, more and more people are opting to use the one they’ve already got and just get a sim-only contract, which opens up the options for independent repairs. The parts are relatively cheap, so all you need is someone with the expertise to do repairs. It’s not just mobile phones either, another growth area for us is replacement laptop screens.”

While the multiples continue to undercut each other on price and attempt to outdo each other on customer service, independents are able to take advantage of their strong position within their local communities as a source of expertise and a port of call for speedy repairs.

“There’s no real threat to the independent retailer from the multiples,” states Shaw. “At the end of the day, who’s going to do the work? Where are the skilled engineers? They’re not working for Dixons. The good indies out there are the neighbourhood computer experts – they’re the local guy that local people can turn to.”

Shaw’s comments are echoed by Brett Matthews, founder and MD of Cambridge Laptop Repair: “Never before has there been a better time for independent repair shops. I think there’s a great opportunity in adversity. Switched-on independents are taking the opportunity to stretch their legs, diversify and provide an even greater service than what was available before.

“They’ve got to genuinely want to provide true value. They’ve got to offer timely and cost effective repairs, and also a lot of people expect to be able to get a home service.

“In my company, we don’t just rely on our fully furnished workshops to keep busy, we have guys out there whose technical knowhow is taken as a given – what people want now is trust, loyalty and integrity, and those things come very strongly from independent businesses.”

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