iSmash hit: plenty more in store for mobile repair specialists

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Founder and MD Julian Shovlin outlines ambitious plans for expansion and increased turnover

I’m sat across from iSmash founder and managing director Julian Shovlin (pictured) in a coffee shop as we gaze through the window at the first iSmash store in England on Chelsea’s famous King’s Road.

The business only turned four last month as Shovlin tells Mobile News of incredibly ambitious plans to increase turnover to £25 million by the end of 2019, £12.5 million by the end of the year – driven by organic growth and rapidly expanding retail footprint by opening 50 stores nationwide.

There’s even bigger plans for the fledgling firm. Aside from the 50 stores, Shovlin lays out plans to expand even further with partnerships struck with retailers, operators and manufacturers. He also intends to roll out iSmash internationally.

The company repairs on average 12,000 devices per month in 20 stores nationwide, with the majority being in London, in popular tourist and shopping locations. Placing the stores in high footfall locations has paid off and is a strategy the firm will continue to adopt. iSmash stores are a high street presence in Canary Wharf, Victoria station, Tottenham Court Road and both Westfield shopping centres to name a few.

Six more stores will be opened by the end of 2018. Deals have been struck to open branches in London Underground stations: Bank, Bond Street and Oxford Circus – with another being situated close to Covent Garden station. Two more will be opened in Brighton and Leeds.

Moves have been made outside of London recently with two stores opening its doors in Manchester and Sheffield in popular shopping centres. The target is to have 38 stores in operation by the end of 2018.

Front and centre: iSmash’s mobile repair technicians are visible in-store allowing customers to see their devices being repaired in real time, increasing trust and transparency levels

Staff numbers stand at 150, up from 140 a month ago – a figure Shovlin claims is not enough and the recruitment process continues with new stores being opened.

Additionally, the firm will spend £500,000 on marketing on social media and traditional media campaigns this year.

Do-it-yourself It wasn’t long ago Shovlin was carrying out repairs himself in the King’s Road branch, but nowadays the 26-year-old runs the company from the 4,000 square foot head office in Chiswick.

It all began six years ago in Dublin where Shovlin was a business and economics student at Trinity College. On one fateful day the Irishman dropped and smashed his iPhone 3GS.

Only this time he had the idea to fix it himself, as flashbacks of his last repair experience filled his mind.

Shovlin previously had to travel an hour to a forgettable location where one can have a smartphone repaired and buy a pint of milk in one breath. Shovlin was met with a poor service that took hours – the horrible experience etched itself in his memory.

A few clicks on the internet and Shovlin had ordered the necessary tools and studied video guides to successfully repair his expensive iPhone.

Some may think this is an extreme version of DIY but to Shovlin it was a Eureka moment. He realised there was no prominent figure in the mobile phone repair market, one that he could fill.

“So the second time round when I thought there must be a better way to do this, I trained myself and ordered the parts and tools and fixed my own device. It quickly became apparent to me there was a growing need in the market for a reputable repair service like iSmash.

“There was no recognisable brand advertising a mobile repair service at the time. That was quite a while now and a few more companies have emerged so it’s now a different story.

“People are dependent on their devices and they are getting bigger and more vulnerable as technology advances each year,” says Shovlin. “To me, it looked like a great opportunity.”

London calling

The concept was developed as Shovlin was finishing up his degree, he opened a single store in Dublin as a test. Investors immediately flocked to the then graduate, giving Shovlin the sense there was increased opportunity across the sea in England.

He left behind the Dublin store after securing a £800,000 investment, with the help of a corporate finance firm. Using the fund Shovlin opened the King’s Road branch.

Shovlin states he is “one of the majority shareholders” but did not to state how much of the firm’s equity he has to his name. He did, however, confirm that he won’t be relying on the other shareholders or more private-equity investment to fuel his ambitious national roll out. Around £5 million has been raised from profits to fund the rollout to 50 stores by 2019.

Fixed up: iSmash stores offer repairs on a range of devices including smartphones, Apple
Macs, Apple Watches, laptops and tablets. The stores will also soon offer repair of drones

“We raised £5 million to begin rolling out to 50 stores. The business is profitable and has come to a point where we’re self-funding the rollout,” he says.

“Of course, £5 million doesn’t fund you 50 stores. Its far too sparse – it’ll get you to a point where you can be self-funded if you’re successful.

“In the UK the plan is to not gain any more private-equity investments, unless our business plan dramatically changes and unless we say we want to roll out 100 stores within this year, we plan to reach 50 stores by 2019 in our current plans.”

Front and centre

The pink and white adorned iSmash stores offer repairs on not only smartphones, but also Apple Macs, Apple Watches, laptops, tablets and soon drones. Customers can also buy refurbished smartphones and trade-in for cash.

Shovlin believes iSmash is unique in the market as it encompasses: professionalism, quality and time. Three features he believes independent repair services, manufacturers and operators currently do not offer.

Compared to independent stores Shovlin says: “If you compare us to the unbranded local independents you get professionalism, a lifetime warranty and quality. There’s a trust factor as well, so your phone’s not being posted away or spending a few hours in a back room with God knows who.

“For us, we put our technicians front and centre where you can see your handset being repaired, we’re there, we’re branded and we’re in very well-known locations.”

In regards to the networks and manufacturer repair services Shovlin said: “Versus the manufacturer and the networks is slightly different, people obviously trust them, they have a quality factor to them but they can be quite slow and inconvenient to deal with.

“If people went to a network they may offer a service but it’s going to be a post away job taking up to two weeks. They’re not specialised in repairs and it’s almost an inconvenience for them to offer repairs, and so that’s where the express repair service comes into play”.

Partnerships

Despite the competition, Shovlin revealed talks are being held with retailers and operators to strike a partnership, where we could see an iSmash kiosk inside established names – a move that Shovlin believes has the potential to accelerate numbers rapidly.

Names were not mentioned nor a time frame but there have been talks with manufacturers to offer immediate repairs for customers in and out of warranty. The partnership route is one that can drive a significant amount of growth according to Shovlin.

“We’re speaking with certain networks and tech retailers about a potential store in store opportunity which can accelerate numbers quite quickly,” says Shovlin.

“We’re also speaking to manufacturers for an accreditation for in and out of warranty repairs. For example, a handset manufacturer which may have little or no retail presence in London like Huawei for example.

“If you’re a Huawei customer who has damaged your phone you have to bring it to your network and have it sent away for a long time.

“Or you can contact Huawei directly and do a handset swap which is costly for manufacturers. Basically, its poor service if it takes days and it’ll be expensive for manufacturers to swap the device.

“We are the answer for a fast and cost effective solution by rolling out nationwide and providing a base for repairs.

“Most of our growth will come from rolling out new stores but there could be significant growth from partnerships forged”.

Global growth

There are also aspirations to one day expand into Asia, Europe and North America, when “the right time and opportunity” arises. Such planning has been underway for the past two years. Quite like the UK market, the mentioned continents are flooded with independent services that carry poor reputations.

However, there are markets that iSmash will look to avoid such as France, that already have established players. Markets in scope include Germany, Spain and the Nordics.

Shovlin said: “Markets in Europe, North America and Asia are being surveyed for store rollouts, maybe even for franchising. “Certain countries such as France already have a few branded repair shops, which we will avoid. From our point of view, we’re looking at EU and US primarily because both are known entities.

“In the EU we’re looking at all big markets so maybe Germany, Spain, the Nordics as well – it’s an interesting place the Nordics, even though it’s not the biggest market, it’s a sophisticated market with plenty of disposable income.”

“We have a real aspiration to grow out of the UK but we need to make sure we do it at the right time, and not stretch ourselves too thin.

“A strong management team has to be in place here and there as both sides of the sea can influence each other.”

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