Some of the most significant comforts and conveniences that we take for granted in the modern world are provided by electrical and electronic gadgets. Even our rural folk have not been left out: cell phones, radios and a host of other devices have made their way into the most remote corners of the country. However, like all things which are made by man, these do not last forever, sooner or later they break down.
In an ideal world, all broken devices will be chucked out and replaced with brand new ones, unfortunately, this is beyond even the capabilities of even the largest of our organisations with mammoth ones like ZESA practically holding together their aged machinery with nothing but optimism and duct tape. Most of us prefer to get our gadgets repaired whenever possible as this is the far more affordable option.
Companies, schools, hospitals and other organisations use thousands of various electric devices and from time to time they malfunction. The frequency of breakdowns is exacerbated by the ever-increasing numbers of the low-quality gadgets we import from Chinese sweatshops. Even some historically reputable companies are rumoured to be intentionally lowering the quality of their products in order to encourage return business.
This means that there is a ripe market for electrical repair businesses in the country. Unfortunately at the moment the said market is largely being served by dozens of what are usually informal, one-man operations scattered throughout towns and cities. There is still plenty of room and need for better businesses to serve this market especially the B2B one. Zimbabwe imports the bulk of its electrical machinery so a thriving repair industry will assist in preserving our meagre foreign currency reserves. Professional repair businesses will save organisations and individuals with significant amounts of money.
There are various strategies that current and future businesses in this sector can adopt, not only to survive but to thrive.
Formalize your operations
You can increase your chances of getting the business of companies and organizations by registering your company. This will allow you to be taken more seriously and enable you to build a brand. Even broken machinery still has value, when you request business from these companies, you are asking that they entrust that value to you. Prospective clients will most likely prefer to do business with a registered business rather than an individual especially if they are handing over company property. They are a lot of scary stories of unscrupulous repairmen who use their customers’ property as sources for spare parts. Indeed, most of these repairmen have dark warnings pasted all over their walls; most of them mention selling your property for a variety of reasons.
If you lived in a simpler time (or want to keep your business small forever) a small, scribbled sign in front of your shop notifying the world of your existence should be enough. However if you want to grow, more proactive marketing methods are needed. To begin with, you can print flyers and distribute them to businesses and households in your neighbourhood or even beyond. It also would not hurt to get a website and get your business listed on google. More and more people are using the internet as their first port of call when they are looking for products and services. Wall calendars are also a timeless and simple marketing tool; just get one to your clients and you will be the first company that comes to mind when any piece of their equipment goes haywire.
In this world of desktop printing and publishing, the temptation to design your own marketing material is great but unless you know you are really good, you should get a professional to do this for you.
The back alley origins of most repair firms means that their methods of operating are inspired by hawkers and vendors. Not every transaction needs to be a negotiation. Some of your clients will find negotiating for simple expenses like repairs to be unnecessary headaches; so try not to be like one of those gentlemen who respond to price queries with, “How much do you have?”. At best you come off as annoying and at worst you sound like a crook. Some people want to limit such negotiations to when they are buying big-ticket items like cars and houses. Instead, try to provide your customers with proper quotations when they ask for prices. Use appropriate business documents such as invoices and receipts. This will all go a long way in assuring present and future clients of your professionalism.
While it is tempting to use one phone line for both business and personal calls, this is very inadvisable. Services like WhatsApp, which use your phone number to identify you, have now become an acceptable way for businesses and their clients to interact. You do not want to accidentally parade your private life to clients in the form of status updates. By using a dedicated line you can gently enforce your working hours without appearing to be rude and ignoring your customers.
Set timelines and create systems
I have met plenty of repairmen who will only start working on your gadget when you go to collect it, the moment you stepped out they will immediately get back to whatever they were previously doing. If you conduct business in this manner you will be forced to constantly lie and make excuses to your customers. This creates frustration not only for your clients but for yourself since you will be perpetually apologizing. There is plenty of evidence that proves that multitasking does not work, so it is better to create a system for your business that allows you to conduct repairs in the most time effective and efficient manner. You do not want to plan your day around the question of which of your clients appear to be angriest.
Remember to respect your customers’ time. Give them conservative completion timelines and then try to stick to these. If for any reason you do not think you will be able to meet a promised deadline, notify and apologize to your customer in advance.