Chandler teen Kile Dobberstein turned lemons into lemonade when his damaged broken cellphone needing fixing and he learned how to make the repair. Cellphone repairs are a $1.4 billion annual business.
When a friend accidentally cracked the screen on Kile Dobberstein’s iPhone a couple of years ago, he could have bemoaned his bad luck and cursed his friend. Instead, he used the situation to start a business.
A tech-savvy uncle encouraged the Chandler teen, who was 14 years old at the time, to repair the phone himself.
“I was always interested in taking things apart,” Dobberstein said.
So he dismantled his smartphone, spent hours figuring out how it was put together and ordered a replacement part. He repaired the phone, then started to fix the phones of friends — many of whom had breakage issues of their own — and gradually began to build a business.
In May he put together a business plan and pitched his parents for a $2,000 loan, using a PowerPoint presentation. Now, as Dobberstein starts his senior year in high school, his fledgling business is on a roll. He repairs about three phones a day on average, clearing about $600 a week.
He drives around the Valley, fixing phones at customers’ homes or offices, pretty much at any time of day. He also can make repairs in his car, while you wait. He studies when he isn’t working, and even enrolled in online school so he could work around his business.
His entrepreneurial success at such a young age is inspiring in a still-sluggish economy. Many of Dobberstein’s friends bag groceries, watch kids in swimming pools or have no jobs at all. Nearly 26 percent of boys ages 16 and 17 are unemployed, the highest figure for any age or gender group tracked by the federal government.
He also has a website, DriveNFix.com, a Facebook page (Facebook.com/DriveNFix) and has started to advertise. He eventually wants to study entrepreneurship in college, but for now the business is his focus.
Dobberstein picked a favorable industry in which to launch his business. As cellphone sales have mushroomed, so have damage and repairs. IBISWorld, a research firm, estimates Americans spend about $1.4 billion yearly on cellphone repairs, with the field growing twice as fast as the overall economy. But there are no dominant repair companies, IBISWorld noted, which leaves the door open to enterprising upstarts. IBISWorld estimates there are about 2,400 repair businesses with 7,300 employees, which means most are very small firms.
The $2,000 loan from his parents was the catalyst that enabled him to step up the pace. Previously he made repairs, then waited for parts to arrive. But with an inventory on hand, Dobberstein could fix phones while customers waited.
“I go to CEOs’ offices, doctors’ offices, churches,” he said. “I go to the most interesting places and meet cool people.”
Dobberstein said customers appreciate his quick response. Plus, he offers a repair warranty for the life of a phone.
And some customers get a kick when a kid rings the doorbell. “Some people are kind of shocked,” he said. “They don’t expect a 17-year-old to show up at the door.”
That includes Mitch Burkland of Tempe, who broke the screen on his iPhone when it fell out of his pocket as he was removing a sign while volunteering at a charity event. He tried to get the device fixed through the store where he purchased it but was told it didn’t handle repairs. Burkland didn’t want to buy a new phone, so he called Dobberstein after an Internet search.
“He was there that afternoon. He came to my warehouse and fixed it there,” Burkland said. “He did great.”
Dobberstein focuses on repairing Apple iPhones and plans to add Samsung products soon. He also has started to repair iPads. Cracked screens constitute the vast majority of his repairs. He charges $60 to $100 for a new screen, depending on the model. He also fixes device buttons and cameras and replaces batteries. A typical screen repair takes 15 to 20 minutes. His personal best is eight minutes, he said.
Some repairs could be covered by warranties and thus should be done through the manufacturer or retailer, but warranties typically expire after periods ranging from a couple of weeks to a year. Also, warranties don’t pay for damage due to negligence, such as phones that were run over by a car or dropped into a toilet.
Some cellphone customers purchase insurance, at a cost of $7 or $8 a month, but this also has limits. For example, customers usually must pay deductibles of $50 to $150 or so before the insurance kicks in, and that’s often more than a minor repair costs. In addition, with insurance or warranties, customers might not get new replacement phones but, rather, refurbished devices and possibly not the same model. In many cases, it’s easier to repair an existing phone, especially because customers wouldn’t have to erase or transfer phone numbers, photos and other data to a new device.
Dobberstein admits he can’t fix everything, especially in cases of extensive water damage. On a recent weekend, four female friends went rafting, and all four got their phones wet, he said.
He has a girlfriend, too. “We’re both busy, but we make it work,” he said.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-8616.
How phones get broken
Gazelle.com asked its readers to cite the most common ways they damage cellphones. Here are the top three answers:
• Dropped phones. Gravity can be a dangerous thing if used incorrectly, and that seems to be the case with cellphones. Nearly one third of the respondents said they dropped their phones — or tossed them to another person who failed to make a clean catch.
• “Other” problems. This catch-all category included several types of cellphone risks and dangers. Gazelle.com didn’t go into great detail but cited sinkholes and stalled roller-coaster rides among the threats out there.
• Water. With more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface covered in liquid, not to mention all that rain and snow, it’s no wonder water is a cellphone threat. But what Gazelle.com readers really meant were the dangers posed by sinks, bathtubs and, especially, toilets.
Tips to safeguard your cellphone
Gazelle.com offers these tips:
• Don’t keep your phone in your back pocket. It’s only a matter of time before you sit on it.
• Don’t take your phone into the restroom. If you insist on doing this, at least don’t handle it near the toilet.
• Keep your phone away from kids. Otherwise, you’re just asking for it to be stomped on, dropped or drooled on.
• Don’t throw your phone. Find other ways to take out your anger.
• Don’t cut the grass with cellphone in hand. Otherwise, your mower will figure out a way to chop it up.
What goes wrong
Here are leading types of cellphone repairs:
• Screens, 25 percent
• Battery replacements, 20 percent
• Water damage, 20 percent
• Other functional repairs, 20 percent
• Cosmetic repairs, 15 percent