Retail, Small Business & Startups, and Technology

Electronic repair hobby turns into full-time job

Ryan Brondyke launched Cell Medic Phone Repair in 2015 after word-of-mouth referrals grew client base.

July 21, 2017
| By Pat Evans |
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Ryan Brondyke tried to repair his first iPhone after it hit the pavement.

It didn’t work and he ended up buying a new phone, but eventually, Brondyke’s handiness worked on mobile phones, enough so that he launched a business, Cell Medic Phone Repair, in 2015.

Brondyke always had a natural gift to repair electronics, all the way back to when he would fix Nintendo controllers and VCRs. His first iPhone repair effort didn’t end well, but when he tried to repair a later iPhone 4, he had more success.

“The first one didn’t go so well, but it was a learning experience and taught me a lot,” Brondyke said. “The iPhone 4 was built a lot differently and was much more repairable.”

It wasn’t until he fixed his oldest daughter’s broken iPod that he began tossing the idea of a business around in his head. In 2012, he began fixing phones for friends and family at little more than at-cost to make it worth his time. His skill spread by word of mouth, and by late 2015, he was fixing up to 10 phones a week.

At about that same time, he gained custody of his youngest daughter, and his life as a 50-plus-hour-a-week CNC machinist no longer made sense.

“That made the choice for me to make a go of it as a business owner really obvious,” Brondyke said.

The launch was low overhead and was just an expanded search for customers and a website build. Other than that, all Brondyke did was ask his customers to tell their friends. Before long, Brondyke was repairing nearly 30 phones a week.

Repeat customers are crucial to Cell Medic Phone Repair. There are times where he thinks of pushing a phone case on them but realizes it would hurt his business.

“It depends on how hard I’m going on the marketing and customers’ circumstances, of course,” he said. “We have some people who break their phones on an almost weekly basis.”

Brondyke said business does fall off a bit in the winter, and summer is the peak season, as more people head outdoors and drop their phones on hard surfaces or into bodies of water.

Cell Medic Phone Repair also does software work, including debugging apps, but the bulk of the repairs are hardware related, with broken screens making up the largest portion. Water damage also is a heavy workload.

“You can pull it apart and see the corrosion or short circuit and I microsolder it,” Brondyke said. “But we do everything from charging ports to speakers to batteries. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with a cell phone.”

Cell Medic Repair is a relatively low overhead business for Brondyke. He has two independent contractor employees and keeps a small inventory of commonly used repair parts, supplied by two of the largest wholesale cell phone parts suppliers in the nation, both here in West Michigan: Group Vertical and Mobile Defenders.

Brondyke said he’s looking at bringing one of his contractors on full time as a traveling repairman, while the other works with a few large clients — businesses and schools — which provide bulk repairs in phones and iPads.

Brondyke said he makes repairs as convenient for a customer as possible by traveling to them and attempting to keep the time from phone call to complete repair under an hour-and-a-half. Once at the repair site, he likes to keep a repair to less than 30 minutes.

“We get a lot of professionals working downtown and drop their phone on the way to work or at work,” he said. “Rather than wasting a lunch break they can give us a call, and we’ll get it fixed before lunch.”

Generally, Cell Medic Phone Repair keeps to within a 25-mile radius of downtown Grand Rapids, but Brondyke said he will make exceptions.

Smartphones, which are more likely to need repair, are much more prevalent than they were when he first attempted to repair his own phone. Also more common in everyday life are tablets and smart watches, a product he sees becoming a big segment of the business.

He doesn’t see business slowing down anytime soon.

A big hurdle for new business, however, is potential customers who simply upgrade to the newest product when theirs breaks.

“There are those people who will drop $700 every time something goes wrong, and I’d love it if they kept that phone going by getting it repaired,” Brondyke said. “But every customer is their own situation.”

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