Window Shopping: Retail franchises
Christine Ricci, third from left with business partners and staff, operates 10 uBreakiFix device repair stores in a 180-mile radius around Kansas City, Missouri. “It was a great chance to really optimize,” she said.
Finalists: Wireless Zone, Fleet Feet, Wild Birds Unlimited
Some people hate it when their franchisor changes hands from its founders to a new, unknown and larger entity, like uBreakiFix when co-founder Justin Wetherill sold to tech repair insurance giant Asurion in late 2019. But Lonney Krentz is a fan.
He and business partner Nate Bautz have grown their holdings from one store nearly four years ago to eight stores and a ninth under construction, plus four mobile tech repair vans, controlling the entire Buffalo and Rochester, New York, markets.
“I’m all for it. Money breeds money. The bigger the better. So a company like Asurion buying us, we were doing back flips,” he said, one reason being that Asurion now steers its repair business to uBreakiFix.
Krentz says average revenue in his stores is around $40,000 to $50,000 a month. As for profits, “that’s always a moving target,” he said. “Things have changed in the industry quite a bit,” including uBreakiFix inking deals to be certified repair providers for Google and Samsung devices. After the Asurion acquisition, he jumped on the chance to buy, staff and equip four vans to visit commercial customers and provide repair on devices under warranty. Profits are 15 to 20 percent of revenue, he figures, “but then it varies.”
+ Contracts to repair Google and Samsung devices boost the brand’s profile—and revenue.
+ A new well-heeled corporate parent brings more resources to the formerly boot-strapped brand.
- On the other hand, everyone knows the honeymoon doesn’t always last after founders sell their franchises.
Justin Wetherill and his pals started uBreakiFix in 2009 after he dropped his phone and found nobody who could fix it. The device repair retailer has grown up in a big way since then, inking exclusive contracts with major players and recently attracting sophisticated operators.
“We’ve been in growth mode, so whatever profits we have just get rolled over and put back into the next store,” he said, adding he is proud to be adding benefits for employees.
“We just rolled out a company-matched 401(k) plan; we just rolled out a health plan for our employees. We’re almost up to 50 employees, and we’re doing that to keep and retain our key personnel, and ideally, have more people come on board,” he said. “It’s a big deal for the people that work for us, and it’s a big deal for us to be able to do that.”
Three of the four brands in the Window Shopping category—Wireless Zone, Wild Birds Unlimited and uBreakiFix— had “great” or “very good” information included in their Item 19, home of the financial performance representation that helps franchisees determine how profitable they can be. Franchise Times does not include any franchises without one in its annual Zor Awards project, and recommends would-be operators avoid brands that do not detail profitability.
Our research team ranked the brand first of the four when calculating return on investment, weighing average unit volumes, COGS or cost of goods sold, investment range and other items. A robust number of uBreakiFix openings—140 in 2018, 81 in 2017 and 117 in 2016—gives a bit of a pause because especially in emerging brands, franchisee support can suffer when the pace is too fast. A solidly low number of closures, however, 23 total over three years, indicates Wetherill & Co. are staying on top of the game.
In previous interviews, Wetherill mentioned his brand’s recent ability to attract more sophisticated multi-unit operators as franchisees, versus the early days when single-store tech nerds were the typical operator. A case in point is Christine Ricci, in Kansas City, Missouri, and the outskirts. With two business partners and over the past year and a half, “we’ve got 10 stores that span about a 180-mile radius,” she said. “We were already a business that was operating” under the Phone Medic name, “and we converted some of the stores over and then opened up three new stores. We did some consolidation” as well. “It was a great chance to really optimize.”
About three years ago, Ricci and her business partners began “looking into the future. How do we grow and then service our market of consumers and businesses? And part of that strategy was partnering with uBreakiFix, and bringing the two forces together.”
She’s a nurse by training who then earned an MBA and built an emphasis in information systems and now fixes phones and other mobile devices. She draws a surprising connection between her first career and her current one.
“It’s still fixing things. It’s still the whole same psychology and anxiety when somebody comes in the door with something broken, and it’s emotional and unknown,” she said.
“When I was reflecting on everything all I could think about was, that was the experience in the ER and the ICU and it was all about solve the problem.”
As a franchisee of 10 stores and counting, her advice to prospects is simple. “You can’t have a role where your head is constantly in the cloud. You have to get in the trenches. You have to get dirty, to truly understand it.”
'Zor Awards 10 Categories
Finalists: Einstein Bros Bagels, Great Harvest Bread Co., La Madeleine, McAlister’s Deli
Finalists: 911 Restoration, Paul Davis Restoration, Rainbow International, Restoration 1
Finalists: 9Round, CycleBar, The Camp Transformation Center, Title Boxing Club
Finalists: Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar, Hooters, Oggi’s Sports Brewhouse Pizza, Twin Peaks
Finalists: CertaPro Painters, Five Star Painting, The Grounds Guys, Spring-Green Lawn Care
Finalists: Express Employment Professionals, Link Staffing Services, PrideStaff, Spherion
Finalists: Carl’s Jr., Culver’s, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Wendy’s
Finalists: Fleet Feet, uBreakiFix, Wild Birds Unlimited, Wireless Zone
Finalists: Precision Door Service, Screenmobile, Mr. Handyman, The Glass Guru
Finalists: Donatos Pizza, Hungry Howie’s, Pizza Factory, Toppers Pizza