uBreakiFix Vans

Device-repair company uBreakiFix is dramatically expanding its offering with a massive fleet of franchisee-operated repair trucks. Accelerating an ongoing test, the company already has 640 trucks on the road and plans for 700 by the end of the year.

The vans have been rolling out from market to market, initially to support insurer Asurion's claims. The insurance firm provides coverage for devices and acquired uBreakiFix last year. The second phase of the plan to support customers without Asurion claims was always expected, but like many things, COVID-19 accelerated things.

"Since last year, we've been growing that truck network to serve those customers. We had always planned to flip that over to on-demand customers sometime this year, maybe late this year," said co-founder and director of operations David Reiff. "COVID accelerated that a little bit, so back in March we launched it for people who weren’t comfortable coming in."

At the March launch, it wasn't fully integrated with the franchise system, but now customers can book a "We Come to You" repair appointment and one of the van-based techs will show up wherever and make repairs. It's essentially the same service model as mobile glass repair.

"We come to your house, the grocery store, the gym, Starbucks, your work, wherever you are we can come," said Drew Lessaris, a franchisee in the Detroit area. "It's as easy as that and we carry all the parts in the van so we can do it right there."

The vans, which travel up to 80 miles from their home location, get a lot of business on Sundays when football fans don't want to leave the house and when it's rainy or cold. Lessaris, who has seven brick-and-mortar locations and now 10 trucks, said he's very excited about the new addition and started buying vans last fall. The only slowdown was fabricating the vans. Reiff said there's a bit of work that goes into the vans, which has been the bottleneck thus far, though supply is starting to meet the high demand.

"It's essentially a mini store on wheels. In the back we've got power run back there to run the equipment, heat guns and heat pads and some pretty significant amperage to get that. Smart storage and lockers. So, there is some fabrication," said Reiff, noting that it's still not a bank-breaker. "You’re talking about leasing a Nissan van, the fab is built in, so the overall investment for a franchisee, they pay back the truck in a matter of months."

So far, he said franchisees are pretty happy with the volume of service they're capturing via vans. The company has just started the marketing push around the van service, so he expects more soon.

Lessaris said there's a lot to like both in the van and some synergies with the traditional locations.

"I would say we’re adding another 1,500 to 2,000 customers to our customer base, which is huge for us," said Lessaris. "And it has brought more business to the brick and mortar. There's a few things we can't fix in the van, like iPads and computers. They always ask when we're there if we fix anything else. So that’s brought more people to the store side."

Unlike a typical repair shop visit, he said people are excited when the van pulls up.

"When someone breaks their $1,000 device that’s dear to their heart and someone comes to fix it and its going to be done within an hour, they're really excited," said Lessaris. "The remote tech brings a lot of positivity to the customer already; we’re already doing something for them by showing up."

That's especially true during this weird, isolated time when so many people are glued to their various screens. A crack on your Candy Crush machine or Twitter box is more in your face than ever. Reiff said while the company took a hit along with everyone in March and April, sales are now up double digits compared to last year. Part of that is all the screen time.

"A part of the incremental nature of device upgrades now, year-over-year most of these phones are not changing in a huge way, that’s not driving people to buy every year. In the early years you'd get a new one every time, now it's two or three years. So that crack you might have waited to fix or an upgrade before, that drives you nuts. We're seeing a lot of that non-essential repair," said Reiff.

The trucks also serve as local marketing. When they park to do a repair at a neighbor's house or at a nearby office, people take notice.

"The other byproduct is just increased awareness; we now have branded vehicles that are essentially rolling billboards. So, we see overall demand rise more in markets with the trucks," said Reiff.

As for staffing the 10 new mini stores, Lessaris said the pandemic may have helped. He did a hiring blitz just as people were getting laid off so he was able to hire some high-quality people who actually enjoy the van work life.

"People like the van, they don’t have to worry about picking up a phone or cleaning a store, they can focus on one customer and one repair," said Lessaris.

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