Student's smashed smartphone led to iSmash success
A difficult smartphone repair frustrated an Irish student so much he built a successful business to fix the problem for others.
Julian Shovlin started out by fixing his phone’s cracked screen using online tutorials and realised there was a gap in the marketplace.
After opening an initial test store in his home city of Dublin, he moved to the UK – and his iSmash brand now has 20 stores around the country.
“I ordered the tools and parts and trained myself on how to fix my own device. I then started up a service from the back office because it was clear there was some demand,” he told BusinessCloud.
“The Dublin store was a success but I decided to move to the UK because it’s a much bigger market, a good place to launch a business and there are bigger growth and fundraising opportunities.”
CEO Shovlin, who has raised £5 million in funding to date and remains one of the majority shareholders, decided upon an extremely targeted approach – which meant heading straight to one of London’s most expensive areas.
“We opened our first store proper in August 2013 on the King’s Road,” he said.
“At the time, the market was dominated by local independent businesses and very fragmented – one-man band, no brand. It was quite a low-quality offering and generally you wouldn’t get a warranty when you got your phone or tablet screen repaired.
“We wanted it to be the exact opposite: we offer a lifetime warranty on our screen repairs.
“We decided to move into high-quality, high-footfall locations to build the brand and set ourselves apart.”
Expansion came in the form of a store in the shopping centre under Canary Wharf in the heart of the City of London then another on the High Street in Kensington. He then targeted the commuter market with a store in Victoria Station on a Network Rail lease.
“They bought into the idea that their commuters would like to see something like this in their stations and we’ve gone on and done a number of stations with them since, including St Pancreas and Charing Cross,” he said.
“When choosing locations we look at the demographics: business locations where there is a high density of workers, the number of people going through an underground station and the proximity to other network operator stores.”
iSmash offers a 30-minute repair promise and customers can watch their device being repaired by technicians in lab coats.
As well as smashed screens, it now conducts all internal repairs and fixes liquid damage. It also caters for laptops, MacBooks and smartwatches, and has plans to add drone repairs to its offering this year. Shovlin says the majority of repairs are for Apple devices.
The firm has opened stores in Brighton, Essex, Kent, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield, mostly in shopping centres.
iSmash store in Manchester's Arndale centre
“Our goal is to have 25 stores by the end of the year then 50 by 2019. We’ve raised the funding to do that and have a clear plan to achieve it – half of them will be in and around London, with the others in major cities.
“We have aspirations to go outside the UK but not at the expense of our operation here – there are a few things to iron out first, such as IT systems and our website.
“America is at the top of the list. It has the highest level of competition, but there is still a gap in the market for someone like iSmash to come into the prime locations in major cities as the existing companies tend to be in secondary locations there.”
Shovlin says that the firm is in talks with mobile networks, insurers and manufacturers about partnership agreements.
Despite his firm’s aggressive expansion plans, he says it is “early days yet”.
“I’m still renting! There is a long way to go,” he said. “At the moment most of my time is dedicated to the business, but I love being in London.
“I also love going back to Dublin – but it feels smaller and smaller every time!”
BELOW: Flick through the Q2 2017 edition of BusinessCloud's interactive digital magazine