iPhones, drones, and game consoles, oh my! What do you do when they shatter, freeze, crash, or just plain die? Sure, there’s the Genius Bar and the Geek Squad at the mall, but what if you could just walk down the block to a shop that could fix it all? That’s a business idea that’s spreading across the U.S., and just arrived in Brooklyn.
Gaston and Hernan Ortega, brothers with experience in the tech industry, celebrated the grand opening of their store uBreakiFix in Carroll Gardens last week, after a soft launch in the spring. It’s the first Brooklyn outpost of a growing, Orlando-based chain with 317 locations and nearly 2.4 million customers served. The shops can fix phones, tablets, computers and more, boasting that if a device has a power button, they can handle it. Simple repairs can typically be done the same day for a set price; for example, replacing the glass on an iPhone 7 is $149.99.
The Ortega brothers had worked for many years in the tech world–Gaston as an electrical engineer and Hernan in IT–when they decided they wanted to launch a business of their own, a uBreakiFix franchise. When they couldn’t find the right location in their home state of Florida, the brothers relocated to New York and explored locations in Manhattan. But soon they decided that Brooklyn was the perfect fit. “There is such a high density of people here and a community that is constantly changing and evolving. There are so many cultures here and my brother and I feel so attracted to that mix of cultures. It’s a very special place,” said Gaston.
The founding of uBreakiFix started with an accident. Twenty-one-year-old Justin Wetherill of Orlando, an accountant by training, dropped his brand-new iPhone in 2009 on the concrete and shattered the screen. After an Apple store quoted him a price of $200 for repairs, Wetherill figured that if he ordered the replacement parts online, he could quickly and cheaply fix it. The task was more challenging than he expected, but he stuck with it. He and a college pal, David Reiff, ordered a bunch of broken iPhones online and “worked like mad scientists” to develop their technique, convinced that they might have discovered a lucrative business opportunity. He and Reiff, Wetherill later told Forbes, “were convinced that we didn’t want to work in a cubicle for the rest of our lives.” They began running a store on eBay that provided iPhone screen repairs for a flat rate of $79.99. After business took off, they opened their first storefront in Orlando.
Wetherill decided that franchising was the best way to grow the business. Today, their operation helps prospective shop owners get started by providing the necessary training and logistical help. Individuals need to raise about $125,000 to get started, which pays for an initial franchise fee, training, equipment, furniture and other costs. New operators get three weeks of training in Orlando and three more weeks of intensive training in their stores.
The notion of saving products when they’re broken, rather than just throwing them away out of frustration or paying the high cost of fixing them, is the core business philosophy for the Ortegas, said Gaston. “We want to help extend your devices longer.”
How can a small business fix so many different devices, in a rapidly changing world? The brothers feel they’re fortunate to be backed by the uBreakiFix headquarters operation, “which takes the time to buy, test-break, and fix many mainstream devices that come to the market, and even train franchisees in new processes annually,” said Gaston.
While they’re new in town, the brothers feel attached to their physical storefront, since they know it has a special history. Before uBreakiFix opened, their shop at 392 Court Street was inhabited by Marietta’s clothing store, which been open since the 1940s and was a neighborhood institution. “The clothing shop had been in business for three generations, with brothers Matthew and Joe Chirico running it. We come here with a different message, but we’re still two brothers and we also care about the community and want our family to be connected with the community.”
The Ortega brothers hope to open up at least two more stores within the next few years, but for now, this store is their main priority. After being presented with a map of Brooklyn by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce as an opening gift, Hernan told The Bridge that earlier in the day they were brought their first hoverboard to fix. Nervous about tackling a new product? Hardly. The Ortegas welcomed the hoverboard with open arms.