We’re currently doing some research to test some of ideas about fostering economies of repair, and we thought why not share some of what we found.
In this south London neighbourhood, like many, there are a number of mobile unlocking/repair/accessory places. Laptop repair is advertised in a couple of unexpected market stalls, storefronts or cyber cafés.
We talked to a handful of these, and all said they get business from passers-by and from word of mouth referrals – they said their clientele was diverse, all ages, all races, and interest in technology. We noticed that the more visible places had more customers and a diverse group at that.
Not one, even the more formal businesses on the spectrum, had a presence on the internet or used the internet to get referrals. Not even the guys fixing computers. (Or the person advertising this photo, who says “text me”.)
A quick glance at the businesses that appear prominently on a Google search in this neigbourhood reveals that there are number of “online only” IT repair guys, who offer to pick up computers and effectively have no store front operation. Some of these sites have reviews from satisfied customers – most do not. And none feature reviews from third party sites.
We wonder to what extent both sets of businesses cater to different groups – the person who only believes in what is visible “in real life”, as opposed to the person who seeks online. Our hunch is there is more potential crossover than might appear at the moment.
Both kinds of businesses seem very concerned with what one entrepreneur called “profile in the community”. The smaller and newer guys with a physical presence were keen for more promotion and new approaches.
And while Yelp! and a lively local bulletin board had some limited discussion of who is good for repair, there is not enough online about any given business (the online and the offline) for a potential customer to draw any conclusion.
This confirms some of our instincts for working on the Restart Project.