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Replace Base full of ideas to keep the pace in refurbished market

Megan Robinson
September 7, 2022

As more companies enter the UK’s booming market for secondary devices, Northampton-based mobile parts specialist Replace Base has multiple ideas for staying ahead of the game and growing business

The secondary market is booming across the UK, as many people are turning to companies that offer refurbished devices, repairs and ways to recycle their tech.

As more companies enter the industry, there is a growing need for them to find ways to stand out and provide the best customer experience, while making a commitment to sustainability.

One brand that is making waves across the secondary market is Northampton-based
mobile parts specialist Replace Base.

The company is an independent supplier of handset, laptop and tablet parts, and even
sells batteries.

Selling iPods

Replace Base came into existence in 2011, but its journey started two years before that
when founder Steve Garner decided to buy an iPod on eBay for £30 and fix it for profit.

“I got £160 for that iPod, and all I did was reset it,” says Garner. He then bought faulty iPods from China that needed parts and imported those as well.

However, Garner says that didn’t really work as a proposition, creating an excess of stock.

“I sold the iPods and the tested parts separately, and realised there was more money in selling the parts, so I continued the cycle of buying, testing and selling the parts,” he says.

A member of the team hard at work!

Garner continued to do this as a side hustle whenever he had a break from work, and
later quit his job to create Replace Base.

More than a decade on, the company has a central UK warehouse in Northampton hosting more than 10,000 different components for over 700 devices that are available for UK next-day delivery.

“We had to build another office recently for our different teams, and now we have
space for our in-house customer service team to deal with direct-to-consumer stuff which we sell on eBay,” says Garner.

“It’s quite a busy team and very different to the business-to-business side of things, as it can be chaotic at peak times as customers try and get in contact with us.

“Dispatch is always flowing and we’re at our busiest around 3:30 before we close the shipping at 4 o’clock. We usually ship around 500 to 600 orders a day.”

Full of ideas

Garner explains that no day is the same at Replace Base, with himself and director Lee
Lewis constantly coming up with new ideas.

“We come in, do the orders, service and trade, but typically there is always something
going on,” says Lewis.

“We don’t work fixed hours and quite often we’re messaging at 1 a.m. with crazy ideas
and new opportunities, and we go back and forth trying to make it work for the business.”

Garner says that the pair have come up with a potential idea for a buyback scheme, whereby people can sell their screens to Replace Base if they damage them.

This would involve offering customers a free aftermarket screen and selling on their broken one through other channels to make a margin, he says.

“We discussed what partners we could use and how it would work, and then we said we
should revisit it at another time.”

And this is not the only idea they are planning to revisit. After announcing in June that it recently gained over a million views on TikTok in less than a month showcasing its
new polisher, they are also trying to use the social media platform even more.

“I love TikTok, as you can get a big audience for free and really get noticed,” Garner says.

“So we have an idea in the works where we get a competitor’s screen product that says it’s
explosion-proof and we’ve got in touch with a social-media influencer that owns the UK’s
largest fireworks company to try and explode the ‘explosion-proof product’.”


As well as getting in touch with social influencers, Replace Base works with an array of businesses.

Garner cites insurance company Assurant, for which it acts as a fulfilment partner for high-street tech-repair shop Pocket Geek.

“We supply a lot of parts to them and do their sourcing, and provide all the software to help their team grow in their networks. That’s a big project at the moment.

“Pocket Geek channels insurance through the high street. We’re seeing that a lot, as more people are not willing to send their phone away.”

Garner explains that Replace Base has also been working with inventor Bradley Bacigalupi of Red Wolf, who invented the Primo polishing system that helped the company gain views on TikTok.

“The Primo polishing system does the same as a normal polisher, except you can do it at your desk and it takes a fraction of the time,” he says.

“Replace Base invested in Red Wolf to help them get some start-up cash and we have been there ever since.

“We have done so much R&D on the product, and helped build it for the UK market and show ways in which it can work.”

The Primo polisher is in the early-adoption stage, with the company handing them out to customers to get feedback on what can be improved.

Replace Base warehouse in Northampton

Garner and Bacigalupi were also debating whether to hand out the polisher to retailers
like Currys, but Garner believes it can be used to the fullest specifically in the refurb
industry, where such functions are needed far more often.

In the meantime, Replace Base is keeping busy with its most in-demand product –
iPhone screens.

“There are so many versions of iPhones and a lot are on their way out, with probably 20 to 25 variations of the iPhone in circulation,” says Garner.

“A lot of these variants use the same screens, but we have 287 variants of iPhone screens because we have genuine screens removed from units, refurbished screens that have had new glass fitted and aftermarket screens.

“There are different variants because customers like different things and different price points.”

Circular economy 

Garner and Lewis emphasise how important sustainability and support for the circular economy are to both Replace Base as a company and themselves individually.

“I’ve always wanted sustainability in my business and been a fan of used and reclaimed
parts,” Garner says.

He says that if he had asked four years ago if someone with an iPhone that needed a
new battery wanted a pre-used replacement, people would think he was joking.

However, the difficulty that has sometimes been found in sourcing new Apple parts and increasing awareness of the need for sustainability in general means that people are now more open to the idea.

“We’ve got one with still 98 per cent battery capacity that has come from a reliable source and is safe,” says Garner.

He adds that this is the case for many parts. “Why not use something that has come out of a perfectly good iPhone which you’re saving from landfill to make your phone last longer?”

Lewis talks of how the second-hand market is evolving and becoming popular with

“People are coming around to the fact that there is more availability of reclaimed parts and
there are all these devices that can be saved from landfill,” he says.

Garner says that striving for sustainability can be a difficult and expensive process when initially seeking to gain volume, but is something that has to be done.

Replace Base is now trying to get its partners and other companies into being more eco-friendly by using biodegradable boxes and going plastic-free.

Lewis describes how big companies that the firm works with can be told that they need to become plastic-free by a certain time as a condition of getting loans.

“We’re working with our partners to get them into sustainability by using our parts supply, and this is working well,” he says.

Evolving plans

When Mobile News earlier spoke to Replace Base towards the end of last year (issue 713), the company had plans to open 25 distribution hubs across the country in two years and become the UK’s easiest-to-access supplier of replacement parts, but Garner says these plans have changed.

He said the company originally opened three hubs in Sheffield, Plymouth and Bristol, but it became clear from the demand patterns they saw that mixing these up with less permanent locations might make better business sense.

“Because we originally looked at permanent locations, this cost a lot of money, but hopefully next year we can look at pop-ups, do a three-month lease and put an area rep
there to grow the business.”

The Replace Base team outside of its main warehouse

Lewis says the distribution hubs helped grow business quickly in the areas where they were established, but agrees that pop- ups provide a good complement as a future direction.

“We have clients like iSmash, whereby they have a collection of stores in one area and because of those hubs, they are asking if we can set up a pop-up,” he says.

“They are offering us enough business that it could become permanent.”

Replace Base now has a new partner in the guise of The Restart Project, a social enterprise
that encourages people to carry out device repairs and prolong the life of technology.

It plans to use this relationship as a way to further grow awareness of the repair industry,
including via a “creative centre” that it hopes to set up with its partner in the next year or two, says Lewis.

“This would enable people to repair their own phones and perhaps train the new age of technicians coming into the industry, as well as having technicians teaching customers how
to fix their phones using our tools,” he says.

He thinks that combining this with Replace Base’s planned pop-ups will be a further boost to raising awareness of right-to- repair and sustainability in the industry.

But in the long term, Garner and Lewis want to open up more to distribute parts from a wider selection of manufacturers, in addition to the likes of the Apple, Samsung and Huawei components it already stocks.

They are, for instance, currently in discussion with Chinese vendor Oppo on this matter.
“We’re starting to make progress with Oppo and we’re ready to legitimise the whole
industry,” says Garner.

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