Talking with veterans and experts in the repair industry gives us a great idea of how far things have progressed. Gaining their insight helps figure out what are the best ways to succeed for any computer or mobile repair shop. This week, we had a chance to interview Bill Salih, the owner of A One Mobiles in Victoria, Australia.
His long-running business has been running for over two decades and is very well-known within Australia. He also holds the distinction of being the very first customer to sign on with RepairDesk, and his great knowledge of the repair industry has helped him develop a keen sense of awareness for what customers want.
Here are some of the questions we went through with him:
Please tell us a bit about your history, and how do you feel the mobile phone industry has progressed over the years.
I got into this industry probably just about 20 odd years ago – probably been about 25 in total. The industry’s come a long way from where we started initially. Back in those days, [phones] were initially made for predominantly calling and nothing else.
As time moved on, the phones evolved as well, adding features such as text messaging. From text messaging, they went to be able to offer MMS messaging, which allowed pictures to be sent through the network. From there, they evolved to being able to go online and browsing the internet, which was a very tedious option, but it was available at very slow speeds.
As time passed, they started pumping up the speeds, going from 2G to 3G, and then to 4G which is the most common one used now. They were starting to come out with better camera quality, better CPU and RAM which meant that speed was starting to get faster, being able to cope with better speeds for internet surfing, for communication – Skype calling & FaceTime started coming in as well.
So, from just your basic calls, we are now able to do banking online with our phones, surf the internet at tremendous speeds, communication through social media – so we’ve definitely come a long way in the industry and it’s been a lot of struggles with networks being able to cope with the demand of what the consumers need but eventually look like they got there.
In terms of repairability, how do you think the repairing ecosystem has changed over the past 25 years?
As the phones got more expensive, people decided that they wanted to spend dollars on repairing their devices. Initially, when we first started repairing phones, we were also customizing them with blue LEDs. Then customers also wanted basic repairs. Back in the first part of the industry, your mics would go, your speakers would go, charging ports would rarely go. Then came the Nokia’s, and the LCDs started breaking, and then it started evolving to higher-end phones which started playing up with CPU, RAMs, and circuitry issues started to evolve as well.
The repairability on some other phones was very difficult, and some devices were fairly basic. But we’ve gotten to a state where I think the industry is taking up the micro-soldering level of the repair sector, which has helped the industry, I think, grow tremendously. We found ourselves servicing a lot of retail stores & mobile phone stores that are doing repairs but don’t do micro-soldering or board-level work, and we’re now offering those services all across Australia.
Over the past 25 years, how have you adapted to the changes with the repair industry? What sort of things did you feel that you needed to have in order to cater to the market better?
We need to keep up with what repairs are needed. People started needing their data [recovered], so being able to provide data meant that we needed to spend a lot more money on equipment. We needed to have data recovery services, programmers that needed to program certain NAND devices. So, as it evolved, the repair industry really started to need a lot more equipment. Before that, you would be able to repair a phone [with] a set of screwdrivers.
So now, coming from a set of screwdrivers, you need to have soldering irons, programmers, screen copiers – there are EEPROMs that need to be copied across when you’re doing board-level work. Equipment-wise, we’ve needed to keep up to date with that, and I feel that people that are not keeping up to date with these are not probably getting the correct service they need to their customers.
How have you had to scale up your repair operations and processes?
We needed to scale up in the sense that, wanting to stay in this industry meant that there was a lot more competition that was going to be around. The mobile repair sector has grown over the last probably 15 years by tenfold. If you have competition around the corner from yourself, that would have been maybe one or two; you look in your suburb area, the competition is anywhere from five to ten. So, we needed to stand out against the others, and the only way we could stand out is to better our experience with the technology and make sure that we’re on top of things, offering the correct services to our customers and being able to offer the kind of customer service that [people] are after.
To what degree have you been able to see that come to realization?
We noticed that pretty much straight away. As changes came through, we could actually see that the customers were happy with the service that we’re offering, that we were able to do the jobs that other repair stores said they couldn’t do, which made us stand out.
The main criteria is that we need to be different to what everybody else is and offer something that not everybody can offer, and being in a small rural area, we need to offer the services that people are looking at, and not having to send [their phones] away to Melbourne or to the interstate. Being able to offer it to our customers has made us keep progress with everything that’s going on.
How has your repair business progressed over the last 25 years? How do you feel that things have gotten better for you?
To be honest, it’s gotten tougher; there’s no denying that. I don’t think anybody can turn around and say that it’s been easy to run a repair store over the last 15 years. The issues that every repairer is gonna run into first is finding quality parts.
Let’s scale down and talk about your standard screen replacement: trying to make sure that you’ve got a good quality screen to offer to your customer may not be as easy as it sounds. We don’t have the option of buying direct from Apple or Samsung or Sony; we need to source these products, and generally they get sourced from China, which means that quality control is not hundred percent. Once you get the product in your hand, you can run a few tests on it, but once it goes onto an actual device, that’s when you really know whether they are actually going to do the job or not.
What other difficulties would you say you’ve encountered?
Competition is always difficult encounter, I suppose. The industry is growing tremendously – there’s a lot of people that are doing motherboards repairs at the moment making things difficult for us.
People who have started to do board-level work, when it actually goes wrong, we end up getting a lot of devices that have already been pre-worked on. So, pre-repairs are an issue at the moment. It just makes a simple job a lot more difficult – sometimes we can diagnose device in five minutes, where these people have spent hours and hours on this particular phone trying to get it going, and then couldn’t work it out.
Then, they’ve also messed with other areas of the device, which then needs to be repaired as well. Say it could have been a simple filter that was blown, and instead of going for that filter, they could have ended up trying to reflow the IC chip and making more damage to the motherboard than there used to be.
Let’s talk about your customers: what sort of mindset do they have and what are they expecting from a good repair shop or a good repair service?
I suppose it’s two different people that you cater for – your walk-in customers will walk in wanting a really good price, so they’ll base us on cost initially, and the second one will be that walk into our store looking for quality service.
Occasionally we can offer both, but it’s very difficult to offer both at all in all cases. They are either gonna have to pay for quality service, or we can offer them cheaper parts, say, for a cheaper screen and advise the customer that they’re not gonna get the quality that they would be spending an extra few dollars on it. Most people would actually prefer to go for quality products, and that’s how we kind of survived up until now.
How do you deal with customers who believe there is some sort of issue with their repairs that they claim entitles them to a refund or some special service?
We don’t get too many of them. The fact that we do offer quality service and we don’t offer too much of the lower quality options [helps]. When a customer comes in and they get a quality product, they tend to not come back too often. If there is an issue with the part that we fitted, then we always make sure that that gets replaced.
We never denied warranty and we’ve never ever done that in the whole 25 years that we’ve been in the industry. To be honest, we’ve even covered physical damage because we just wanted to keep the customer happy. So as long as our customers are happy, then at the end of the day, we don’t have any issues.
How has this strategy helped in return customers? Do you feel that because of this particular move, you have people who trust & rely on you more, and come back to you more when they have issues?
We’ve just relocated into a new location with probably about 10 times as big as what we were before. Initially, when we started doing the repairs, we were in a kiosk, and we ran out of a kiosk for 18 years. We’re now in a larger location where we get walk-in traffic, as well as servicing mail-in repairs.
We’re finding [out] that our customers are still walking to the kiosk because they’re looking for us. They don’t even look us up, they don’t see whether we’ve changed address – they walk directly to there. We’ve actually still got that kiosk running, so the beauty is that we just tell customers now that they can come over and see us in our new location.
What’s next for A-One Mobiles? Where do you see yourself going from here?
The next thing we’re offering now is gonna be pretty exciting, actually. The people that are struggling with micro-soldering at the moment, we’re offering a training course that’s gonna start hopefully in the next few months. We will be offering one-on-one training services, so that will be our new venture.
We’re hoping to have some larger names coming in to do some trainings. I don’t want to give out too many details, but there will be some big names coming through to A-One Mobiles that will offer training through our store, and that will be on a full-week basis as well.
How do you feel that RepairDesk has enabled you over the years with your repair business?
We were the first to sign up with RepairDesk as a paid customer – we ran a free trial for [a while] to help Usman out with whether we can pick up any faults with it or whether we could put some ideas to it until he improved it. If you look in RepairDesk at the moment, there’s a lot of features there that were actually suggested by myself. The actual base of RepairDesk has a lot to do with what Usman and I come up with.
Before RepairDesk was released, Usman had designed a website for me that had a tracking system on there. We wanted to make sure that we could track our customers and give them a reference number, and make sure that they could walk back and know that they’re going to get their phones and that we had records that would warrant their repairs. If there was any warranty issue, they could walk back in with their reference number and we could pull it up straight away.
That was all done prior RepairDesk, and I think with the combination of what we did on our site, RepairDesk also used a lot of those features in their system and has been proven to work well. I think Usman has just grown with that, and he’s put a lot of hard work into it, and he’s done really well.
What do you think of the changes to RepairDesk that came along?
Personally, the major part that I think that really works for us with RepairDesk is our mail-in side of it. We’re able to book in phones that have been mailed out to us, look at them once it’s been booked in, know the company details, have the invoicing and tracking system set up. The most beneficial, I think, is the mail-in side of it – the online portal has been really good for us. Retail stores that use us for mail-in repairs are able to go on to the portal and be able to look up their details, what notes that we put into their system for that particular repair.
How would you recommend RepairDesk to someone within your industry?
I would definitely recommend them! I recommend in the sense that it’s cost-efficient, it works well it’s on a cloud base – you can use it on any particular device. I don’t think you can run a repair shop without a repair tracking system. Every repairer needs one, and if they’re running without one, I don’t understand how they’re doing it.
What do you feel is absolutely vital or extremely important for a repair business to succeed in today’s environment?
There’s no one thing that you can turn around and say a repair shop is going to be successful with. It’s got to be a combination, and if you put that combination together, that’s when you’re going to be successful. You need to have the right location, staff, communication, you need to be able to advertise quickly, you need to be able to do your job properly. If you’ve got a manager in your store, you need to be able to make sure that manager’s running that store correctly. If I have to talk about any one of them, I would say customer service, but as basically part of a whole package.
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