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Founder: Alex Fourie
Growth stats: 2011: 210% ; 2012: 190%
The growth stats:
“We grew by 210% in 2011 and 190% in 2012. With our new product ranges we expect excellent growth going forward as well. We’ve found a great gap in the market, and because we always keep our customers and their needs top of mind, we believe this is only the beginning.”
“It was 2006 and my iPod broke and when I took it to the iStore I was told to throw it away. I was in varsity and all my music was on that iPod.
“No way was I throwing it away. So I Googled how to fix an iPod and found a video with instructions. I found the part I needed on eBay, and I managed to fix it. Soon my friends started asking me to fix their iPods and iPhones (which weren’t even available in South Africa yet) and I realised that there might be a market for this service, so I placed a free ad in Cape Ads.
“My phone started ringing ten to 15 times a day. People were asking me to fix all kinds of things. I always said yes. I’d figure out how to do it once they’d dropped it off.”
Had you always planned to start your own business?
I think I had. By the time I started studying I’d already spent some time in the UK promoting SA bands to that market, and we’d launched an online music store locally.
I also recognised the opportunity as soon as it presented itself and ran with it, which is, I think, the mark of an entrepreneur.
When did the business start growing from a dorm-room business to a serious enterprise?
It was slow organic growth, but it started almost immediately. I obviously didn’t have a store, so I used my parents’ house as a drop-off point.
Customers wanted some form of proof that they’d dropped off their property, and so I needed to implement a hand-in slip system.
Volumes picked up so quickly that I needed to rope in an engineering friend to help me with the repairs. The fact that I said yes to everything gave us good experience, and was also excellent for word-of-mouth referrals, and so we just kept growing. By the end of 2007 I could afford overheads and was able to open a workshop with two technicians and a drop-off point.
When did the first iFix store open?
I wanted to finish studying before I opened the first walk-in client store. I realised I needed to be there, to become the face of the brand, and so it wasn’t something I could rely on someone else to do.
By 2009 I had finished my degree and opened the first store with funds we had saved up while operating from the workshop.
You’ve grown from one to eight stores in four years. What do you attribute this success to?
From the beginning, my attitude has been that anyone can repair a phone, so why do we get business? We’ve got two clear differentiators.
First, we focus on a fast turnaround time. iPhones, iPads, iPods and Samsung smartphones and tablets are an integral part of our lives and businesses.
When something breaks, it’s already disruptive. The thought of taking days or even weeks to get our devices back causes massive stress in most cases. We promise a 24-hour turnaround time, and even a one-hour express service, which is more expensive, but preferred by many clients because it means they’re reconnected within hours.
Obviously there are some things we can’t do in that time-frame, particularly if a device is water damaged, but most problems we can fix quickly and efficiently.
Our second differentiator is that we really focus on the customer when they’re in our store. They can have a beer or a cup of coffee while they wait for our on-site technicians to fix their devices. It’s a great, homely atmosphere.
How have you instilled that attitude in your employees?
I train all our managers myself, really focusing on engendering our culture in all our new staff. It’s important to me that everyone not only understands our philosophy, but buys into it as well.
I spend three to four months with each new manager before they’re sent to run their own store, and I travel to all our stores across the country weekly, ensuring quality control is maintained.
However, it’s also important to empower my managers to make on-the-ground decisions. I learnt early that the best industry to hire my store managers from was the hospitality industry. We have trained technicians to repair devices, but it takes a specific skills set to keep customers happy.
Hospitality managers work well under pressure, are excellent when it comes to client services, dealing with difficult and demanding customers, and also manage staff well.
What is your customer retention as a result of this philosophy?
We have clients who have been with us since we opened. We also generate a lot of word-of-mouth business and referrals. We’re known for excellent customer service, and for delivering on our promises.
We also call clients to check on the service they received, so that we can pick up and address any problems quickly and efficiently.
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What has been your growth strategy?
I wanted to make sure the first store was operating perfectly before we opened a second store. This took time, and there were lessons we needed to learn, but gradually we created an ecosystem that we can now roll out from store to store.
That would always be my advice to other business owners: Perfect your systems and create a structure that’s replicable before you start growing. You want to invest in growth that’s sustainable, so don’t rush into it. Set good foundations first.
Have you bootstrapped the business or did you receive funding?
We bootstrapped the first two stores, and then received a round of venture capital funding.
One of our customers knew his boss was looking to invest in a business and recommended us to him. We set up a meeting and came to an agreement that worked for both parties. The fact that we came so highly recommended from a customer worked well in our favour.
Receiving funding allowed us to pursue a more aggressive growth strategy, and we were able to open stores in upmarket centres, including Canal Walk and Melrose Arch. This has also led us to develop a retail strategy, as we now have higher foot traffic and walk-ins.
What is your retail strategy?
We’ve teamed up with Paul Simon, the founder of YDE, who’s helping me with my retail strategy. We sell products, and have developed our own range of mobile accessories called Houdt.
Like our service strategy, our products keep the needs of our customers firmly in mind. We’re also branching into an insurance product. Even though products have a warranty period, the excess for repairs means it doesn’t make sense to claim from insurance, and many people don’t have R1 500 cash to immediately repair a cracked screen, for example.
We’ve developed a product called iSurefix that costs R59 a month and covers repairs. We have clients who come in regularly because their children have broken their iPads – this product is for them.
We worked out our breakages ratio versus clients to make sure the product made sense, actuaries designed it for us, and we got it underwritten. Because we don’t add a profit to the cost of repair, we can make the model work.