Young entrepreneurs develop quick fix for cell phones.
Men at work: Austin Larsh (left) and Charles Rodenkirch have dialed up a new, Wisconsin-focused business model for cellular phone repair.
Some might consider Charles Rodenkirch, 20, and Austin Larsh, 23, wet behind the ears. Rather, their new business, Wisconsin Cell Phone Repair (WCPR), is music to the ears of those who might consider a broken cell phone a crisis of epic proportions, and additional insurance and repair bills out of this world.
Rodenkirch, who had worked for Best Buy and the University of Wisconsin Dept. of Information and Technology, together with his friend Larsh, who had business savvy and Web capabilities, combined their talents and invested $6,000 each to develop a cheaper alternative for cell phone repairs.
They also recruited a journalism major to write blogs and a former UW student to help with website design.
The recent launch of the company’s website has propelled repair requests. About 10 phones are serviced each week now, with about 250 repaired thus far. Parts are ordered through a Texas supplier as needed, allowing the company to service about 100 different phone models.
What makes this business unique? It’s local, the owners say, and primarily caters to Wisconsin college students. Repairs can run between $35 and $290 depending on parts, but most average between $60 and $70. Cracked screens and water damage are the most common problems they see.
Rodenkirch said the company also provides an economic alternative to insurance costs. “Often, people pay a monthly fee to insure their cell phones – maybe $5, $10 a month – plus a deductible of maybe $50 or $100.” And while other shops might ship phones around the country to be repaired, WCPR is Wisconsin-focused, keeping downtime and shipping costs to a minimum.
“Ninety-five percent of the phones we receive get shipped back to the customer within 24 hours,” Larsh said.
The process is simple. Break a cell phone, go to wisconsinrepair.com, and follow the directions. At the end, customers receive a printable, prepaid shipping label they can use to mail their phone. They can also check on the status of the repair and communicate with the owners through a Notes log on the website.
Rodenkirch handles all the repairs himself, devoting about 40 hours a week to the business while enrolled in the biomedical engineering program at UW-Madison. He hopes to go to med school one day.
Larsh graduated from UW-Whitewater in May with an accounting degree and is currently pursuing his master’s. With the website up and running, his hours have scaled back from as many as 60 a week to about 25.
“The website was a huge challenge,” Larsh admitted. “We fired our original Web guy, then had a string of poor developers who weren’t doing what we needed. It was a tough time and we had trouble communicating.” He advises anyone starting a business to carefully research service providers, “and don’t go with the cheapest cost.”
Last April, WCPR applied for space at a UW-Madison student incubator and was recently accepted. The new space will allow customers to drop off and pick up their phones. Meanwhile, monthly profits are being reinvested into the business. “We just see so much growth potential,” Larsh said.
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