How to start a cell phone repair business


cell phone repair business

Matt Rubio, Jr.

Getting out of prison and not sure what to do for work? Are you a technical oriented person who likes to fix things? If so, you might consider starting a cell phone repair business.

According to business industry research company IBISWorld, the cell phone repair industry is a $4 billion business in the U.S., and it’s expected to continue to grow. There are no major players with more than 5 percent of the market. In fact, many businesses who do cell repair are small shops or single proprietors.

It could be a good business for the right person. But who is that person?

What it takes

We asked Matt Rubio, Jr., the store manager of MD Wireless in Pleasant Hill, Calif.,  who began repairing phones in his father’s shop when he was 13 years old – 12 years ago. And here’s what he had to say about the qualities you need to be successful running a cell phone repair business.

“You need good eyesight, because the screws are very small,” he says. “You also need a steady hand and the patience to continue working on things that don’t always want to cooperate with you. You must have attention to detail and be able to focus on what you are doing.”

You also must be a quick learner, using past knowledge to work on newer phones. Retail skills are very important too, and it doesn’t hurt to be friendly.

“If you find it rewarding to solve problems, this may be the type of job you might want to get into,” he says.

Where to begin

Once you’ve decided that cell phone repair might be the job for you, you need to learn how to do it.

MD Wireless offers a four-day training course. The hands-on instruction covers basic repair for different types of cell phones, a day devoted to iPhones, an introduction to microsoldering and information on how to set up a business, create a business plan and get parts. The classes are small, and the tuition is $1,000.

Other hands-on classes are offered by:

Learning online

With tons of Internet resources these days, is it possible to learn cell phone repair for free online?

“It’s possible, but you don’t really have the help. You can go on YouTube, but it’s sometimes difficult to get answers to questions. It’s also possible to get misinformation online,” says Rubio. “We only have two or three people or even one person in our classes. So it’s one-on-one.”

He also said that once people take a course, they can go online to learn more in-depth information.

There are multiple sites with tutorials about cell phone repair. Some are free, and some cost money. Here are a couple of the better examples:

Udemy – Udemy has a variety of cell phone repair courses, including some that are free.

ifixit – The ifixit website includes an incredible number of easy-to-follow instructions on how to fix specific cell phones. Once you understand the basics, this is an invaluable resource.

Planning the business side

After gaining knowledge of, and experience in, repairing phones, it’s time to try to make money.

It’s possible to do this in several ways. You may want to approach existing cell phone repair shops to see if they need any extra help. Doing that will increase your experience level, if they decide to hire you.

Or you might decide to go out on your own from the beginning. There are two ways to start your own business. The easiest and cheapest way is to start small, and do it yourself.

“If you’re doing it yourself, you might need from $2,000 to $5,000,” says Rubio. That would be used to buy tools and parts for the various phones you expect to fix and expenses related to the vehicle used for the business.

“To advertise, most people post stuff on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp, and tell their friends. And they do their repairs in their home. Or in a car or a van with a stable flat surface,” Rubio says.

Once you get some experience, it’s possible to set up a store, which, according to Rubio, will cost between $20,000 and $40,000. And when you decide to open a store, he recommends carefully checking the demographics of the places you’re considering for the location of that store.

Large cities have a lot of competition, but if you were to open a store in a city of 50,000 to 100,000 in population without much else around for another 50 miles or so, you would have a good chance of succeeding, he says.

Marketing is crucial to success

Keep in mind that, like all businesses, marketing is key. You may be the best cell phone repair person around, but if you can’t attract customers, then you won’t be successful. A lot of business, at least at the beginning, may come from word of mouth, whether through friends and family, or satisfied customers.

You also need to create a marketing plan that may involve a variety of tactics but should include a website, social media (a Facebook page, for example), flyers or brochures, and business cards to hand out to people you meet. You may also want to join your local chamber of commerce, especially if you’re in a smaller city or town. This will offer lots of networking opportunities and a chance to get to know other businesses that might refer work to you.

Some cell phone repair technicians partner with someone who can do the marketing for them, so they can concentrate on what they do best – fix phones.

Son of What Color is Your Parachute author Richard Bolles expands his father’s work with eParachute

eParachuteAlthough Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute, passed away more than a year ago, his book continues to be published and his work continues to be honored by his son Gary.

Bolles operates the website, which, like the book which inspired it, can help you learn more about yourself and what you’d like to do with your work life. You will be able to discover your strengths, explore hundreds of career paths and see how well certain careers match what you most love to do.

The site, which costs $4.95 per year to access, will take you through a series of exercises that only take a few minutes to complete. You will choose:

  • The type of people you’d like to be around if you were at a party
  • Fields you love – from building and construction and sales and marketing to geography and public safety and security and many, many others in between
  • Skills you like to use

After completing the exercises, eparachute will give you a list of featured ideas for possible types of work. You can explore each of your chosen fields, skills and people types for more work ideas.

For those leaving prison

Bolles has some advice on how to make the most of your days in prison, as far as a future job or career is concerned:

The time in prison can be well spent by doing homework on yourself – understanding your favorite skills, knowledge, and other unique things about yourself,” says Bolles. “It’s also a great time to study new topics that can be useful to you in the work you want to do when you’re back in society.”

“Of course, society isn’t always as welcoming as we’d like to those who were formerly incarcerated, so you’ll need to be really creative in your search. Doing small projects and part-time work through various online markets, like TaskRabbit and UpWork, can provide a way to do work without having to immediately find a full-time job.”

He also recommends being entrepreneurial and possibly starting your own business. That way you can build a work track record.

“But if you’ve done your homework on yourself, and you can describe your best-loved skills, including ways you’ve used them before, you’ll be in a far better position to tell a prospective employer why you can be the one to help solve their particular problems,” Bolles adds.

Those in reentry have a very special skill

It may not be easy to find a job if you have a record, but Bolles is convinced that many of those leaving jail or prison have a very useful skill.

“Especially for those who were formerly incarcerated, it’s important to know that the world of work is changing rapidly. The people who will be successful are those who are very proactive, constantly adapting to do new kinds of work. If you’ve been in prison, you know how to hustle. Put that hustle to good use in the work you do, working hard to solve problems for the people you work for and with, and you’ll do well,” Bolles says.

But before you get to that point, you still need to figure out what kind of work you’d like to do and find employment. Eparachute is one way to jump start your job search. It’s an introduction to the process of discovering what you like to do. Those who want to go one step further can take a more extensive course on Udemy.

Note: While Bolles mentioned TaskRabbit as a way to ease into the job market, TaskRabbit does require a background check. We’re not sure what types of crimes would prohibit people from working TaskRabbit gigs, however.

You may also want to check the Gigs section of Craigslist or other part-time work opportunities. Another way to work your way into employment is to register with a temp agency, many of which are ex-offender friendly.

Flipping cars can provide a little extra cash or become a viable business

flipping cars

Although Lehmann specialized in Volkswagens, any car that sells well in the area where one lives will do.

Buying and selling cars can be a way to score some extra cash every once in a while. It can also become a lucrative business if you qualify for licensing.

Most states have laws preventing residents from selling more than a certain number of cars per year. And that number usually tends to be rather low – under five vehicles. To sell more than that may require an automobile dealer’s license. And many states deny these licenses to people with felony convictions for some, but usually not all, crimes.

Although it may provide challenges, selling vehicles is still worth looking into, especially for those who love cars and trucks. If you just want to sell a handful, it’s not a problem. But for anything beyond that, you’ll have to check out the licensing requirements with your state’s DMV.

Higher priced cars usually mean higher profits

Many “how to sell cars” websites recommend buying and selling low-end cars, say those worth $1,000 to $4,000. You’ll take less financial risk selling at this price range, but you also may end up buying vehicles that need a fair amount of work before you can sell them, since they tend to be older models. You’ll also make less money than selling higher priced cars, which can offer greater markups and may be easier to fix up, especially if they are recent models with relatively low mileage.

One person who did this is Californian Charlie Lehmann. No, he doesn’t have a criminal record – or at least we don’t think he does – but his story still can be an inspiration to anyone considering doing something similar.

Lehmann began buying and selling a few Volkswagen diesel cars, and together with his son, built a successful business that netted $1.3 million in a year and a half.

That year and a half was 2004 to 2005, and Lehman was selling only Volkswagen diesel cars. He would fly all over the country – from Alaska to Florida – to purchase them and then drive them back to California.

“I would fly there, write a check, go to the bank, get the pink slip and drive back. In some cases, not a lot of cases, we’d actually wire transfer the money into the person’s account. In those days there was a big demand (in California) for the cars we were selling,” he says.

Craigslist, Auto Trader and are good places to buy vehicles

He found the cars on Craigslist, Auto Trader and and was soon selling so many – about 20 per month – that he had to recruit some of the retired members of a social club he’s active in to help him drive them back.

He also bought cars from car dealers who took vehicles that were not popular in their market in on trades. Auto auctions can be a good source as well.

Because he specialized in Volkswagen diesel cars, Lehmann got to know them very well. “It was very important for us (to specialize). It kept us focused. We knew the cars, and we were not buyers and sellers of automobiles (in general). We were limited in our knowledge space.”

Although specializing is important to get a knowledge edge, the most important thing, as far as the cars were concerned, was that they looked like new.

“I’d drive the car back. My wife would have it serviced. If the window had a pit, we’d take it in and have a new windshield put in. The car needed to look like new. If it had a ding in the door, we’d get the ding guy. They’d come out for less than a hundred bucks and get rid of the dings,” he says.

“As long as the margin was there, we’d buy them. Basically we wanted the newer cars within 1-1/2 to 3 years old, because after three years the price is substantially reduced.” They netted $4,000 on average for each of the approximately 300-plus cars they sold.

Although Lehman specialized in Volkswagen diesel cars, this business model can work with virtually any price range and type of car as long as you know what the value is and if there is a market for the car where you plan to sell it.

Because of the quality of the Volkswagens they bought, Lehmann and his crew never had a breakdown driving them back to California. There were three accidents involving animals – rabbits and a porcupine – however.

Tips for those new to buying and selling cars

Advice from Lehmann and others for people starting out:

  • Specialize in a certain make of car. You’ll learn to know it well.
  • You don’t need much money, except to buy your first car.
  • Have a passion for whatever car you choose to specialize in. Without a passion, you can’t sell them, and ultimately selling is everything.
  • Buy cars with the lowest mileage you can get.
  • Make sure they look good, but it doesn’t cost that much money to fix them up cosmetically. You can do most of the cleanup work yourself, although you may want to take it to a detailer and will definitely want to replace a cracked windshield or have a professional take out the dings.
  • Plan to get a dealer’s license – or work with someone who can get one – if you’re going to sell more than the number of cars legally allowed in your state.

So, if you think this might possibly be the business for you, do your research and follow the tips in this and other articles, as well as YouTube videos you find online. Here are a few examples:


wikiHow to Buy and Sell Cars for Profit

Earn $500+ This Weekend: An Intro to Flipping Cars

Business idea for nonprofit reentry organization

This concept could also make a great business for an organization that works with people in reentry, according to Lehman. An organization could employ well suited clients to learn to buy and sell cars as a business under the guidance of an experienced manager. A car dealership might even be interested in becoming a partner in supporting such an idea by helping to share the costs and providing other resources. With a big smile and lots of enthusiasm Lehmann said, “These numbers are real and scalable, and the business is a nice opportunity for learning and profits.”