Monona business saves grandma’s old mixer, lamp, or clock the old-fashioned way. It repairs them!
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Today’s throw-away society has diminished product quality, Kip states.
“You really get a feeling that everything now is made to fail quickly so manufacturers can sell new product because it’s the only way they can make money. Most of them don’t even sell parts anymore. It doesn’t help them to make something that will last 50 years because they’ll never see that customer again.”
Kip Kiefer repairs an old lamp. After Light House Lamp Repair closed in 2014, Kiefer became the only lamp repair shop in town.
Wayne laughs. “That’s our problem. We only see some of our customers every 10 years!”
Kip continues. “Anyone younger than me probably doesn’t think about getting something fixed anymore. You see people buying $500 TVs and just throwing them out when they go bad, so you know that a kitchen appliance that might cost a fraction of that will also get tossed when something goes wrong.”
Several years ago, Kip stepped into the business full time after his dad was involved in a serious motorcycle accident, and he stayed after realizing that fixing things had a special appeal.
There have been high points, for sure.
In 1998, for example, Fisher-Price issued a voluntary recall on about 10 million Power Wheels ride-on electric cars for children after receiving reports that batteries were overheating and causing fires.
Kiefer’s telephones erupted, and for about three months all they did was repair Power Wheels. “We’d have 40 or 50 of them in a space that we had to rent down the street,” Kip remembers, and because recalls never expire, he still has repair kits on hand for the occasional Power Wheels call.
“These days, when people around the country call Sunbeam/Oster (same company) looking for repairs or parts, the manufacturer refers them to us,” Kip explains. “That can make for busy Mondays.”
As if on cue, Wayne takes a call from someone looking for replacement beaters for a 1964 Sunbeam mixer. Overhearing the conversation, Kip explains that there’s only one supplier left in the entire country.
For a while, microwave oven repairs provided a business boost until Kip says the retail prices dropped so low that the labor to fix them would cost more than purchasing new. “We used to have piles of transformers and circuit boards that we could use for replacement parts to fix things,” he notes, “but we can’t even do that anymore.”
There were warning signs along the way that the industry was changing. “Remington was the first to close its service centers,” Kip says, “and Braun and Norelco weren’t far behind. We used to do a big business replacing shaver parts, now there’s nothing, but I get eight to 10 emails a day from people who are usually looking for mixer parts. There’s something about grandma’s old mixer!”
Asked how much longer Kiefer Appliance can hang on, Kip shrugs. “We don’t owe anyone any money. I don’t make that much, but I don’t have expenses either, so to me it’s worth doing what I can still do. Every couple of days someone comes in who is thankful that we’re still around to fix stuff, and that’s kind of cool to hear.”
It’s no secret the building will be sold, and what Kip decides to do when that day comes is a question of space. “I can sharpen Oster clipper blades forever, but I’d have to pay rent somewhere. Maybe I’d work out of my garage. Who knows?”
Wayne is more pragmatic. “It would be sad to close, sure, but hey, business is business. This has been good to me, but the day I have to start putting money back into it is the day I call it quits.”
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