Broken phones can be resurrected at NH repair shops
By BARBARA TAORMINA Union Leader Correspondent
There are thousands of ways to break a cell phone, and Shawn Currier has probably seen most of them.
Phones that have flown out of second-story windows, been doused with spilled mojitos or left in the path of a four-wheel drive pickups are welcome at his store, Cellular Freedom in Hooksett.
In most cases, the phone is resurrected, repaired and returned in as-good-as-new condition to the owners.
"People need their phones," said Currier. "If a phone breaks, I have thousands and thousands of parts to fix it."
Currier opened Cellular Freedom back in 2007, which makes the 33-year-old Epping resident a founding father of the fast-growing cell phone repair industry, which generates about $1 billion in revenue annually according to the research firm Ibis World.
"Back then, there wasn't any competition," recalled Currier, who made the jump from cell phone sales to repairs in time to start repairing the first series of iPhones.
Currier taught himself how to how to analyze and fix the phones.
"I stayed up late, night after night, watching online videos on how to repair them," he said.
These days, Currier has a team of about 14 technicians who do the work while he manages the Hooksett shop and a second store he opened on South Willow Street in Manchester earlier this year.
These days, though, Currier does have some competition.
There are now roughly 2,400 shops throughout the country where technicians replace shattered screens, rejuvenate water-logged circuitry and repair charging ports, speakers, cameras and other pieces and parts of mobile phones.
Several companies such as Cell Phone Repair, CPR, and Cellairis, grew quickly enough to start offering franchise opportunities to what Eric Rollins described as tech savvy young people who grew up fiddling with game systems.
Rollins works as a technician for a small, local chain, We Fix Wireless, with locations at the Rockingham Mall in Salem, the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua and Manchester's Mall of New Hampshire."I see a lot of these businesses popping up," said Rollins. "We are a real easy solution for people."
There is plenty of work to keep them busy. In March, Apple announced the company had sold its 500 millionth iPhone. And that's just Apple. Telecommunication industry analysts predict there will be 6.6 billion cell phones taking calls by 2017, and about two-thirds will be smartphones.
There are no forecasts about how many of those billions of phones will have cracked screens, but Mark Belanger figures it will be a significant number.
Belanger, a master electrician with about 20 years of experience in the electronic home security industry, recently opened Cellphix on Nashua Road, on the Derry/Londonderry line.
"When I would be in line at the grocery store, I used to read all the headlines of the tabloids," said Belanger. "Now I look at the person in front of me who is usually talking or texting on a phone with a cracked screen."
Like others who saw the need and recognized the opportunity, Belanger decided to start fixing busted phones. He made the trip to Arizona for a 40-hour training program and tried different repair venues, including a mall kiosk, before opening his independent repair shop.
Belanger works with longtime friend and band mate, Russ Magnuson. When the two aren't performing with their nine-member ensemble, Souled Out Showband, it's likely they are repairing cell phones.
And while cracked phone screens are a major slice of the business, Belanger and Magnuson will fix anything with wires, circuits and screens, including tablets, gaming consoles and audio equipment.
"Some people can't afford to go out and buy a new cell phone or tablet," said Magnuson as he sat at a work bench filled with circuit boards and tools.
And both Belanger and Magnuson believe repairing electronics that still have plenty of life left in them is the sane alternative to the cost and waste of giving up and buying something new.
If consumers don't agree with that green philosophy, they do seem to respond to the convenience and savings the independent cell phone repair shops offer. Gone are the days when someone with a cracked screen needs to book an appointment with a genius, and pony up $149 for a refurbished swap phone.
Although prices vary depending on the type of phone and model, screen replacements at independent repair shops start at around $69, water damage fixes can start as low as $50.
There's also a time factor.
"We do repairs right here, right now," said Rollins who said the mall location is a perfect setting for quick fixes. People drop off a broken phone on the way in and pick a repaired phone one the way out.
At Cellular Freedom in Hooksett, customers can munch on some complimentary popcorn and grab a Red Bull from the machine in the back of the shop while they wait about 30 minutes for their phones to be fixed.
If it's a more complicated problem, they still don't have to wait.
"I have about 1,000 loaner phones if we need some time to do a repair," said Currier.
And if a phone is beyond repair, Cellular Freedom also offers trade-ins and sells pre-owned and new phones without any wallet-choking contract strings attached. Cellular Freedom techs will also unlock phones so they aren't married forever to one single carrier.
At Cellphix, phones can often be repaired at a similar same-day, same hour pace. Still Belanger is considering an idea to beef up customer service with a mobile repair truck that will come to a home or office to fix phones and other electronics.
For the independent shops, customer service is a big selling point, and shop owners offer empathy and repairs.
"People need their phones to feel connected," said Belanger.
And repair techs say there's a lot of satisfaction in getting those connections running smoothly again.
"I like seeing the smiles on peoples' faces," said Rollins. "It's rewarding to see the transition from something going from broken to just like brand new."