Review of Uncle Harry’s Appliance Repair Training

Start An Appliance Repair BusinessI bought Uncle Harry’s appliance repair technician home study course and used it to successfully start my appliance repair business, which I write about in my startup blog.  In retrospect, this is how I feel about the value of Uncle Harry’s materials and support.

When I started out, I knew absolutely NOTHING about the appliance repair business, and I had no relatives, neighbors or buddies who could mentor me and teach me the business.

All I had when I started was “Electronics for Dummies” and a book on appliance repair called Troubleshooting and Repairing Major Appliances, 2nd Ed.  I had watched all the free YouTube videos I could find, and I had studied DIY forums for all they were worth, but I just couldn’t bridge the gap between being an amateur and becoming a professional without SOMETHING else.

I looked at Penn-Foster pretty closely, but I was concerned that it would be too theoretical; also they seemed to teach fixing lots of small appliances.  My gut feeling was that there was no money in that area. It seemed like a waste of time to learn that stuff.   I wanted something practical that taught me what I would encounter in the real world and make a tidy profit. The other schools that I looked at seemed aimed more at training me to be a technician rather than a businessman. Going away to school for 2-3 weeks was not practical for me and I really questioned how much I could absorb is a few weeks.

With all the manufacturers, models, types of appliances and years of technology changes that I would need to become an expert on, how was I going to go from knowing nothing to taking appliance repair calls?

Uncle Harry had a very valuable solution.  First, he taught me the hands-on fundamentals using videos of repairs being done on actual machines, and technical manuals with step-by-step instructions.  He was very wise when he advised turning down known troublesome jobs.  (I found that out the hard way a few times.) Next, what was really important is he taught me the business itself,  including advertising/web marketing, parts inventory, customer service, and pricing.  After all that, he had an extensive support system as I started going out on my calls.

Before I ever started taking service calls, I studied Harry’s materials thoroughly.  Once I started taking calls, I would research specific problems I was trying to solve by reviewing them in Uncle Harry’s course materials.

Harry personally answered my emails and phone calls and helped me through my stumpers, which was critical for me in the early stages of a startup.

Not sure how I would have started my appliance repair business from scratch without using Uncle Harry as an intermediate stepping stone between being a DIY guy and a professional.

For more about how I started my appliance repair business, read my startup blog, and for more about my ongoing business read my business blog.

Raising My Rates

I Deserve A RaiseWhen I started my appliance repair business, I decided to undercut my competition’s rates by 10% to convert sales, book lots of calls, and build a loyal customer base.

To be honest, I also charged lower rates so I could feel comfortable during service calls considering my inexperience.  Basically, I wanted to be cheap enough that nobody would complain if it took a little longer to fix something.

And this strategy has really worked.

The phone rings constantly, I convert over 90% of my calls, I have satisfied customers who give me repeat business, and nobody complains about my turnaround time.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?

Wrong.

I just raised my labor rate 30% to top market, and I’ll tell you why.

First, the phone rings constantly.  It rings so much, I can’t run all the service calls myself.  I have hired other technicians in the past, had as many as three other techs working for me at one time, but I’ve discovered I’m not really looking to run a huge operation.  That’s just a personal choice.  So when the phone rings, I have no alternative but to turn away business.

I figure, one smart way to turn away business is to charge more money, right?

Best decision I’ve made since I chose appliance repair in the first place!

First, I now make a lot more per call while running the same number of calls.  Basically, I just gave myself a big raise.

Second, I realize if I’m converting over 90% of my calls, that’s actually a sign I’m charging too little.  By charging more money, some of the calls do shop around and I get a few more cancellations – mostly the penny pinchers – but I have to admit I don’t miss those guys one bit.

Third, my repeat business does not really come from my rates.  I provide great service, and it turns out the tons of positive feedback I get is about my service, NOT my rates.  All things being equal, even competitively priced, my regular customers still choose me.

And by the way, I am an experienced technician now so I don’t feel like I have to cover my inexperience with lower rates anymore, and I’m pretty proud of that.

Hey, maybe I should have done this sooner…

Starting an Appliance Repair Business on a Shoestring

When I started in appliance repair, I had very little money, so I’m going to tell you the absolute minimum I think you need to get started running service calls.

THE SERVICE VEHICLE:

Although it is a big advantage to have a traditional service vehicle like a truck, van, or even SUV, I will tell you it is not absolutely necessary. If you don’t have a truck or van already, you may not need to buy one right away.

As I said, I was really broke when I first started.  I didn’t have a truck and could not afford it, so I worried about this, but I had no choice.  I originally ran service calls right out of my four-door sedan. I know it doesn’t look as established as a truck, but I never had a single customer doubt my abilities once I got inside the door.

I filled my trunk with tools and inventory (as shown in the photo) and I also neatly filled my back seat with stuff. I think it looked to them like I was a subcontracted technician who worked on overflow business for the company. No one ever said anything negative to me or to the office about it, and by the time I was done with the repair, they always wanted extra business cards to stay in touch and share with others.

If you already have one, the advantage of a nice truck or van is obvious, and will certainly help establish a professional image. Adding magnetic door signs at about $100 is a very effective way to help promote and brand your image, well worth the money and will also get you extra business.

Be sure to declare a portion of your car or truck as used for business purposes with your insurance company. If you have a claim and they investigate and find you were out on a service call, they will deny your claim. I was able to add my vehicle to my existing policy with no increase in premium. Results will vary from state to state.

INVENTORY:

Inventory is a whole subject unto itself, but I started out with about $250 worth of the most basic parts and tools mainly based on the list from Uncle Harry.

I tried to carry the common things that the customer would expect me to have on hand like, fuses, thermostats, belts, and switches, with a few other, frequently needed items peppered in like motor couplers, universal inlet valves, and defrost timers.

Depending on the appliance parts vendors in your area, and turnaround times ordering online, you will be surprised how little you need to stock at first. Let the local parts house or online supplier hold your inventory for you until you get more established.

You will eventually get tired of running to the parts house or waiting for online parts to be shipped for your most frequent repairs, and making two trips to the customer’s home, and start holding more inventory yourself.

OFFICE SUPPLIES:

I started out with 500 nice, glossy, full color, two-sided business cards from nextdayflyers.com for around $30 shipped, 500 carbonless invoices from carbonlessondemand.com for around $50 shipped, and self-sticking magnetic business card blanks (in bulk) at about 30 cents each.

I also use an HP Netbook with mobile broadband for an on-site library of technical manuals and online support (any laptop or portable will do), and mobile broadband costs $50 per month.

I can’t imagine going out on calls without being able to read full-sized manuals and wiring diagrams and getting on the internet for downloads. A must have, in my opinion.

MARKETING AND ADVERTISING:

All of my marketing and advertising is via the internet using free search site business listings (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) (Check out this article for more information.).

I do not buy local print advertising, phone book advertising (which is expensive and considered not worth the money by most service technicians), door hangers or signage.  I’m not saying that there are not some viable things to do to get your name out there, I just don’t use them in my business. A strong internet presence is all that I have found necessary to get things going.

My wife is skilled at website design and internet marketing (that’s how I have this nice blog site!). If you feel you want to try doing your own website design and management, Lunarpages.com has some great deals for annual hosting, domain name registration, email, and website design templates.  If not, it’s a tricky one for me to answer because, luckily, I have never shopped for website design or SEO (search engine optimization).

Good SEO is essential to drive traffic to your website, but free reviews from your satisfied customers are worth their weight in gold, and get you better search rank than anything else you can do!

LEGAL STUFF:

Three important items are license, insurance, and business entity. I would not recommend attempting this business without all three. Get a business license from your local government – mine cost about $50. I have a business owner’s policy for $1,000,000 per occurrence in general business liability insurance which costs me $450 annually.

You will need to decide if you want to be a corporation or LLC (not all states offer this choice).  My LLC cost $100 to set up, and I did it online in one day by going to the Secretary of State website for my state.

Carefully consider before choosing a corporation over an LLC. The paperwork and additional accounting services at tax time made this an unattractive choice for me.

I would suggest you NOT choose to operate as a DBA (doing business as). Spend the money and set up a corporation or LLC to protect your family from the direct consequences of events within your business. Remember you are going into other people’s homes, best to be on the safe side!

BOTTOM LINE:

I spent, bare bones, around $1,000 to set up my business and don’t regret any of the choices I made in the process. Good luck and let us know how it’s going!

Enter the Stealth Tech

It’s the back half of my second year in the appliance repair business, and I am running at full capacity on service calls all day, every day.

I have multiple commercial accounts, one of which is a 600 unit planned development complex that keeps me pretty busy all by itself.

My wife now works full time in the office answering the phone, scheduling, and billing, and I have had to hire a subcontractor to take overflow calls.

That doesn’t change the fact that I still have only a year and a half experience in appliance repair, and that means I still have a lot to learn.

Most of the jobs with problems I’ve never encountered  I can handle using online resources and remote experts.  I continue to tap into Uncle Harry’s online support system to find solutions.  I even use my smartphone’s high-resolution camera to shoot detailed pictures of broken appliances and send them out to his network of experienced techs who can recognize what they see.

But on some of the jobs, I found myself wishing I could just knock heads together with someone who could put their hands directly on the unit, do some real time troubleshooting on site while I shoulder surfed, and give me their second opinion.

I seriously considered subcontracting with someone else’s company so I could gain this “fly on the wall” perspective.

A happy accident occurred when I hired my subcontractor.

He had been a full-time appliance repair technician for 8 years for a national company before going freelance.  He didn’t focus on full-scale lead generation or dealing directly with large commercial accounts.  He got most of his leads by word of mouth around town from one appliance repair company to the next.

When we met it was a perfect match.

As luck would have it, not only does he handle my overflow calls, but he also helps me out with my high complexity calls as my “stealth tech.”  All I tell the customer is that I’m going to have Steve take look at their appliance because he has worked on a lot of these particular units.

I now have that boots-on-the-ground resource that can take a physical look at some of my more difficult cases after I’ve had a crack at them.  I get a chance to watch how he approaches the problem as an experienced technician.  Sometimes it’s the same as I went about it and he just confirms my diagnosis, but sometimes it’s different and he comes up with different results.

Right now I call him in about once a week to take a look at something I’ve been working on.  It’s just one more handy component while I’m closing the experience gap.

Trust Your Stuff

Let’s face it before you can know everything about repairing appliances, you will have to run service calls.

Especially early in your career as an appliance repair technician, you will have gaps in your knowledge and encounter repair situations you’ve never seen before.

All I wanted during this phase of startup was to do a “mind meld” with Uncle Harry and dump his entire 40 years of experience directly into my brain so I could be an instant expert.

Actually, Uncle Harry has done a spectacular job of packaging what he knows, but there really is no shortcut to becoming an expert, so I figured out three ways to give myself the confidence I needed to run service calls in the meantime.

1.  TRAINING AND SUPPORT

Train, train, train.  When a call comes in I’m not familiar with, for example, an off-brand, a difficult problem, or a specialized type of appliance, I use the opportunity to learn about it.  This way, I constantly increase my knowledge base.

A great resource for me in this area is Uncle Harry’s training library and ongoing support through his Nephew Club, expert list, troubleshooting repair wizard and every imaginable service manual.

I don’t take every unfamiliar service call, because some are way beyond my comfort zone at the time, but if I then study it, I’m more prepared to take a similar call next time one comes in.

I currently take all calls that I am comfortable with without thinking, calls that are one step out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, and a couple a week that are two steps out of my comfort zone, so I can keep advancing my technical skills.  After all, that’s how I came to know the ones I’m comfortable with now in the first place!

(If you’re not sure how to back off of calls you aren’t comfortable with, read, “Cherry Pick Till You Make It.”)

2. HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE

Actually, I have gained my hands-on experience basically by running service calls.  At the very beginning, I had to study EVERYTHING before I went out.  I would schedule my calls for the next day and study hard until I had a pretty good idea of what was causing the problem and a plan for a couple of likely things to try in order to fix it.

If I got out there and tried my plan and it didn’t work, I would hit Uncle Harry’s reference materials on my laptop, or call him personally to get his input until I could fix the machine.

It wasn’t long before I started seeing similar problems and similar machines, and could start to diagnose the basic issues myself on the fly.

3.  TRUST YOUR STUFF

The worst thing about not being an expert is not feeling like one.  It seems like if you were an expert, repairs would practically solve themselves before you ever touched a machine.  Wouldn’t that be great?

But I realize if I didn’t love fixing things, I wouldn’t be in this business, to begin with.  After studying operating theory and seeing a few machines, I can’t do anything better than to just go out there and trust my stuff.

I tell myself, “I know this, I can do this!” and go through my troubleshooting routine, working my way through the problem step by step.

If it’s an electrical problem, I test with my multimeter to try to eliminate each of the suspect components one by one until I find the culprit.  But if I don’t find it right away, I follow my instincts.

If it’s a mechanical problem, I open the machine up, get in there and take a look to see what’s going on with the most likely components responsible and check them first.  But if it’s not one of those, I follow my instincts.

When you feel that panic that you are not an expert yet, step back and remember your natural ability to solve problems that led you to choose the appliance repair business in the first place.

Special Tools Needed for Appliance Repair

Special Tools for Appliance RepairI’m going to insist that you need these tools on your appliance repair service calls, even though you may not think so.

I would then ask you in a few months, after running your own service calls, if you still think some of these are not necessary.

The good news is when I add up what I paid for everything listed here the total was under $30.  That’s quite a bargain for the essential role these tools will play in your work.

I’m not exaggerating, because many service calls would not get completed without them.

Security Bits:  $6.00 at Auto Zone
The first thing you will need is a complete set of security tool bits to open any fastener (a.k.a screws) you will encounter.  There is no standardization among appliances and brands, and I guarantee you will need more options than a Phillips, slotted or torx.  Try to explain to the customer that you can’t open up their appliance because you don’t have the right screwdriver with you!

Telescoping Magnetic Pick-Up Tool:  $3.50 on eBay
OK, mine was free, given to me by a grateful customer, and I loved the gesture at the time but wasn’t sure how practical it was.  Turns out it can save your life when you drop odd sized screws down into hard to reach spots of the appliance.  Spend the three bucks, and save yourself hours of dumb retrieval time.

AC Voltage Detector Pen:  $4.00 on eBay
I already had this inexpensive item in my toolbox.  You will use this constantly to check the presence of AC current at different locations within the appliance.

(Yes, the multimeter does this too, but with the pen, you can get a quick read without disconnecting any terminals and fiddling around with two probes.  Save the multimeter for when you need accurate voltage readings.)

The pen quickly reassures you that no voltage is present so you can avoid annoying and costly trips to the hospital for electrocution.

Fingerless Kevlar Gloves – $5.00 Online
This is the most subjective item in my list.  You may really find this unnecessary, and I won’t argue with you, BUT, I have finally gotten tired of all the nicks and cuts that come with the profession when you are sticking your hands in tight places to remove stubborn parts.

The combination of brute strength required and endless sharp edges of sheet metal surrounding your hands (not to mention exposed screws) adds up to continuous lacerations (mostly small).  Make up your own mind, I find it worth the five bucks.

Canned Air:  $5.00 at Wal-Mart
This is really handy on refrigeration repair to chill down any bi-metal thermostat so you can check it for continuity.  A 12 oz can last a good long time…don’t leave home without it.

8’ Test Cord:  $3.00 Homemade
This is just a standard household extension cord with the female end cut off and insulated alligator clips soldered on.  If you don’t know why this is essential, you need to read more of my blog posts.

Turkey Baster:  $1.00 at Dollar Store
This will earn you hundreds of dollars on your service calls when you need to defrost the ice plug in a refrigerator drain line, the classic case of “my refrigerator is leaking water all over inside.”

Empty out the freezer, pull off the back panel and start defrosting all that ice that has built up.  When you get down to the drain-through spout, the turkey baster will be the only effective way to run hot water over the iced-up area until it breaks free.  Completing a $100.00 service call with a $1.00 tool – that’s why I love this profession!

Ok, that’s my short list of things you really need to add to your toolbox for a very small investment.  If it looks like I get most my stuff on eBay and at discount stores, you’re right.  I love to keep the money I earn and hope this helps you do the same!  Please post your comments if you know of any things else I may have missed.

Multimeter Basics for True Beginners

Digital Multimeter Basics for BeginnersA multimeter is an essential tool in appliance repair,  so you’re going to have to learn to use one.

The trouble is, if you don’t know ANYTHING about multimeters, you might not be able to even understand the books that tell you how to use them.

Believe it or not, it’s really hard to find information on basic use for a complete beginner – even “Electronics For Dummies” assumes some knowledge of the tool.

To help you out, here are some good introductory level resources:

  • This clear and helpful forum post is in response to someone looking for “An idiot’s guide to multimeters for dummies” and really breaks down the simplest concepts of multimeters for the uninitiated
  • This site has a concise, basic introduction to multimeters with a little more detail
  • This video on YouTube THOROUGHLY reviews multimeters that sell for $50.00 or less.  The reviewer is such a wonk, it’s funny when he complains about the quality of some of these, and you learn a lot just by watching him describe all the features, what does and doesn’t work with each model:

Appliance Repair – Good Business in a Bad Economy

Back when I first considered starting my appliance repair business not much more than a year ago, I couldn’t have accurately forecast what my experience would be.

I only knew that it seemed like a good idea, although maybe a little daunting to get the proper training and compete with well-established businesses for a piece of the pie.

As I moved through the startup process with Uncle Harry training and my own efforts to market my services, I never stopped evaluating whether appliance repair was still meeting my original hopes and expectations for starting a profitable business.

These are some of my favorite things about appliance repair that have convinced me what a fantastic business opportunity this really is:

  • You are not trying to sell a luxury item, it is much closer to a necessity.  Every household has major appliances, and when they break down people find the money to fix them.
  • This is truly a recession-proof business, and the current recession is actually encouraging people to repair their appliances as opposed to replace them.  I hear their comments about the high cost to replace appliances a bit more each day as this sluggish economy continues.
  • You don’t have to sell the service too hard.  Most customers are ready to buy the service once they have contacted you.
  • People don’t comparison shop the service as much as you would think.  As long as your prices seem reasonable, they will usually have you come out if they have called you.
  • Most customers don’t have any technical understanding of what you are doing, so there is a margin for you to learn as you go with various appliance repairs you have never encountered or have less experience with.
  • Although most customers are not technically sophisticated, they know when they are being treated fairly.  If you treat them with respect and don’t try to take advantage of them, you can easily win their loyalty and repeat business or referrals.
  • People don’t scrutinize your bill to the last penny, so this is an opportunity to make your profit margin.  But there’s a balance.  If you push it too far, you’ll get paid today, but lose in the long run when they call somebody else next time.

I have been self-employed most of my adult life, and few other opportunities have been so easy to start up, manage, and grow.  I hope this helps you make your decision about whether to get into the appliance repair business.

 

What’s So Great About Appliance Repair?

How Do I Like Appliance Repair?OK, I have been in the appliance repair business for over a year now, successfully running service calls and making money, but it’s time to stop and think, do I really like it?

I invested some time (3 months) and money (home study training, promotional materials, and inventory) into learning to be an appliance repair technician and starting my own business.

Now that I’m actually doing it for a living, I thought I ought to review my choice and see how I feel about it.

Well, here are some of the good things about it:

  1. I’m Running My Own Business.  I never liked working for somebody else and being subject to their decisions.  I would way rather be in charge.  I also want to keep all the money myself, and not be dependent on someone else for a raise.  The harder I work, the more money I make.
  2. It is Challenging and Keeps My Interest.  If I had chosen, for example, to become a handyman instead, the learning curve would have been quicker, but over the long haul, it would have become routine.  I am always learning new things in appliance repair, and it is really satisfying to solve a technical problem successfully.
  3. I Love My Customers.  The people whose appliances I service are really, really nice.  Some of them give me tips on the way out the door, and I’ve had some even give me homemade cookies.  One of the best parts of this job is meeting people, solving their problems and making them happy.
  4. I’m Proud of What I Do.  My father-in-law is impressed by how I started up my own appliance repair business in just 30 days.  My brother and sister think it’s cool I am working for myself.  My wife, of course, loves the income, especially in this terrible economy.  I actually amazed myself that I could do it so quickly (of course I took a shortcut with Uncle Harry’s training).
  5. It Gets Easier Every Day.  When I first started out, I didn’t even know the basics off the top of my head, and I needed to research reference material for the most common repairs.  Now I’m pretty comfortable with those same repairs (like I know a warm refrigerator issue is usually a defrost failure or sealed system failure) and I can get in and out of the call faster, and often in one visit if I have the part in my inventory.

Some of the things that need work:

  1. The Learning Curve.  With all the makes, models, types of appliances and years of technology changes, I couldn’t wait to get to that comfort point where I felt like I knew what I was doing most of the time.  I just armed myself with good research materials and support (Uncle Harry was a big part of this), until I had serviced enough machines to be more familiar with them on my own.
  2. More Control of the Call Flow.  Usually, I’m wall-to-wall busy, and sometimes there’s a lull in the action.  I love it when I’m slammed because there’s no better feeling than making money.   Then there will be times when calls will taper off, and I’ll have downtime.   I use it to get a breather, for one thing, and study more about questions that have come up in the repairs I’m doing, or gaps I’ve identified in my knowledge.  Then I can use that information when I get slammed again.

I guess the point is, I enjoy appliance repair.  I would encourage anyone looking into it to read my startup blog to help them decide.

Paid Leads – Chasing the Dragon

I was nervous when I first moved my business to the big city.  How was I going to compete with all the other appliance repair service companies here?

I got some of my customers to write reviews for me and worked my way up to the first page of Google, but my website still hadn’t seasoned yet as far as search engines were concerned, and the phone was still quieter than I was happy with.

In my eagerness to get the phone ringing more, and fast, I decided to try a high-end paid lead generation service.

The way they work is this: they advertise all over the internet, capture a bunch of customers from my area, then refer them to me.

And because they didn’t have anyone else listed in my area, I was exclusive!  This was the break I had been looking for!

Well, the phone rang off the hook day and night.  It was like drinking from a fire hose.  My schedule was so full, I was running 6 calls a day 6 days a week, booking out into the following week, and barely had time to pick up my parts, let alone eat or sleep.

At first, I was really happy the phone was finally ringing too much, which was a good thing, and excited that I was going to make a ton of money.  And I did…in gross receipts.  After a month of working my butt off, I sat down and analyzed what I was really paying per lead, and what I was netting per week.

The per lead charge was tolerable if I raised my rates to cover it on the calls that converted into repairs.  I also figured out with current gas prices, I was just about breaking even on my diagnostic calls where they opted not to repair.

But the real hidden cost was in the junk leads and the drop-offs.

I would get calls from “tire-kickers” researching price and trying to pick my brain for solutions they could do themselves.  And I still got charged.

Because I was so slammed, I would book a call two days out with someone who I could tell was barely committed, then call them the day of the appointment to say I was on my way and be told they already got it fixed by someone else.  And I still got charged.

Sure some of this had to do with city clientele, who demand same day service and can often get it by calling around until they find someone.  Back in the country, I got spoiled because I was the only appliance repair service within 30 miles, and I converted nearly every lead I got, even though there were fewer, to begin with.

But between paying for leads whether they converted or not, and maxing out the margin my market would bear, I realized after only a month that I was working for the lead generation service, and they were paying me a relatively small salary considering how hard I was going at it all day.

Even though they were responsible for the bulk of my business, somehow it drove me crazy that they were taking so much of my hard earned cash.  I had to choose between a quiet phone and having an unintentional business partner.  I decided to turn the service down to a trickle and see if I missed it.

So far, it has been a relief.  I had become so aggravated by the cost of the leads, I was not my old self on service calls.  I started getting less satisfaction from my customers because I was turning into that grizzled technician that has to charge high markup so he can make a profit despite his overhead.

I found a less expensive lead generation service, started working for home warranty companies, got more good reviews and some large commercial clients started calling.  Pretty soon I was able to drop paid lead generation entirely, but I’ll never forget those days – nothing is worse than the sound of a quiet phone.

The Customer is Always Wrong

A typical customer these days thinks they know a lot more than they do, but you can’t tell them that!  They have access to the internet just like you do, which means DIY forums, manufacturer’s websites, and online parts, suppliers.

They honestly start out thinking they don’t need an appliance repairman at all, and that they can fix their appliance themselves.  Sometimes this is true, but more often it is not.

By the time I get a phone call, the customer has usually tried the obvious things, replacing a few snap-in parts, cleaning out the dryer vent, etc.  It hasn’t worked, so they have called someone who knows what they are doing.  That’s the best case scenario.

In the worst case scenario, the customer imagines themselves to be far more mechanically and electrically inclined, and dismantles the entire appliance, or worse, busts it to pieces trying to get to the part they think is broken.

I’m sure in the back of their head they are thinking, “It’s worth a try, and if I screw it up, I can always call a service technician!”

By the time I get that call, the appliance is a mangle of bent metal and scrambled parts that take me an extra half hour to put back together.

But the fact that the customer has finally broken down and called me to ride to the rescue doesn’t mean they have been humbled.  Oh no.  They are still going to help me do my job.

They know all the things that aren’t wrong with the appliance, because they’ve tried all of those, and they definitely know what is wrong with it because they’ve narrowed it down with troubleshooting tips from fix-it answer sites.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in appliance repair, the customer is always wrong.

In fact, their misleading “help” can actually cause delays in the repair by requiring extra proof that the problem isn’t the issue they think it is.

You can also spend extra time explaining the operating theory to these junior repair technicians in order to give good customer service, which also slows down the repair process.

Also, their misdiagnosis can cause them to omit important information that would help you with what the appliance is really doing wrong because they have “eliminated” it as a possibility.

And finally, their inquisitive interference can ultimately distract you from your standard troubleshooting routine.

But, it’s all part of the job.  Appliance repair is not necessarily conducted in a clean, well lit, whisper quiet environment where you have all the time in the world to get your work done.

I consider it a challenge of my skill to go in after a do-it-yourselfer.  I don’t prefer it, of course, but I am always a little prouder when I get those jobs done.

And smart customers keep me on my toes with my technical knowledge.  If I can explain it to them, I have to know it myself first.

Of course, they are more impressed with my expertise if they have tried to do it themselves, which makes for a lasting impression and often repeat business.

So if your customer knows it’s the motor, or the belt, or the pump, remember they are calling you because you are the real expert.  Just be sure to take what they say with a grain of salt.

Cherry Pick Til You Make It

If you want to start an appliance repair business on your own, there is really no way around the hands-on experience learning curve.

I armed myself with good training to start with from Uncle Harry and relied heavily on his support system, but at the end of the day I still had to do the repairs myself, alone, in real time, and there was no way around it.

I had to find a way to ease myself into the water, especially on the tougher calls, and get them on the job training I needed, but still satisfy my customers and get their appliances fixed.

What I finally developed was a “cherry-pick ‘til you make it” strategy using alternative referrals.  Let me explain how it worked.

PART I:  THE “ESCAPE HATCH” TECH REFERRAL

First, I had a friend who sounded like they actually might be a customer call around to my competitors. I had my friend ask about a repair job that could be a lot of things, and how much it would cost to get it repaired.

My friend took lots of notes about which competitor was the nicest, which was the most knowledgeable, and which was the best value.

Now, I obviously used the pricing information to make sure my pricing was in line with my market, but the key point of this exercise was to find my “escape hatch” tech.

I picked the nicest, most knowledgeable and reasonably priced guy to refer jobs to when I didn’t feel comfortable doing them yet.

For example, I got a call from a property manager who wanted me to fix a coin-op dryer in an apartment complex.  With everything else I had to study, I hadn’t gotten around to coin-op yet.

In order to get to the call in a decent timeframe, it would have taken me a few hours of study, and I was booked solid for a couple of days with calls that I already knew how to do.  Sure I wanted to learn coin-op at some point, but this wasn’t destined to be the time.

So I pulled out my trusty “escape hatch” tech’s phone number, and told the property manager, “I know of a guy who might be more familiar with your unit, and I have his phone number right here if you would like it.”  The property manager was delighted, took the phone number and went on his way.

Now everybody’s happy.  I pass a good lead on to the “escape hatch” tech, the customer has a knowledgeable resource, and I look like a real nice guy.

You may never need your “escape hatch” tech, but with his number handy, you just feel more prepared for anything when you pick up the phone.

PART II:  THE FACTORY AUTHORIZED TECH REFERRAL

It’s your worst nightmare.  You’re out on a service call and you’ve tried everything.  You’ve exhausted all of your resources.  You can’t solve the problem, and nobody else can either!

The customer is getting antsy.  You are beginning to sweat.  How in the heck do you handle this one?

You’ll need a strategy to deal with this situation ahead of time, because after one of these, you might become a little gun-shy going out on service calls, and that’s death to your appliance repair business.

Here’s what I do.

I carry the factory authorized tech contact information for all of the major brands with me out on service calls.

If I get in a dead-end situation, I tell the customer, “I have exhausted all of my resources, and at this point, I recommend a factory authorized technician who is particularly familiar with this unit to take a look at it.”  I give the customer the contact information, they are delighted, and I go on my way.

Now everybody’s happy.  I pass a good lead on to a factory authorized tech, the customer has a knowledgeable resource, and I look like a real nice guy.

Once again, you may never need your factory authorized tech contact information, but with the number handy, you just feel more prepared for anything when you go out on a call.