Working Lives

Working Lives: The Engineer Who Studied Business Administration

Working Lives: The Phone Engineers of Saka Tinubu

Someone in our team wanted to fix a Samsung Galaxy Note that seemed to have taken in some water after a visit to the beach. He thought the best thing to do was to take it to a certified Samsung workshop. It was a top end phone that he had used for about two years. His expectation had an unhappy collision with reality. A lady at one of the Samsung (approved) repair centres casually told him that he should just get a new phone as the cost of replacing the “board” was N180,000! He has more faith in Samsung products than the Samsung approved workshop- he was sure just a little bit of water could not have damaged a phone advertised as water resistant. He made some enquiries and was directed to a “phone engineer” at the Computer Village Saka Tinubu who “blew out” the liquid in 20 minutes. For the grand sum of N5,000, the Galaxy Note was restored to life. We decided to speak to four “engineers” in the ICT products hub at Saka Tinubu in Victoria Island Lagos.

Kelvin – Shop 13, Computer village, Saka Tinubu

“My profit is N100,000 a week. But I have no savings. I reinvest all my profit in growing the business”.

Where are you from?

I am from Imo state, Ngorpala local government.

Please, tell us about your education

I finished secondary school in 2003 and then enrolled at the Lagos City Computer College where I got a Diploma in Computer Science.  They used to have a branch somewhere in Alaba back then. I worked with the Diploma for three years while trying to get into the university. I sat JAMB thrice. I at last got admission to study Business Administration at the University of Lagos. I finished in 2011.

Tell us about your family

I was living with my brother here in Lagos in my parent’s house.  My parents used to live in Lagos but my mom moved back to the village in Imo state when my dad died.

Where did you learn to become a phone engineer and how long was your training?

I trained with a phone engineer here in Saka Tinubu, Victoria Island for 3 years while I was also studying at Unilag. I had no salary but the man that was training me allowed me to work on some repairs and earn money. I was able to sustain myself with this income. I also made between N1,000 and N3,000 anytime I was sent to buy phone parts. I developed the habit of saving money which has stayed with me since.

 How much did you save every week?

I tried to save about N3,000 weekly. Sometimes I saved more depending on how good the week was. Yes, I had a savings account with GTBank at the time. I went to every Friday to deposit my savings.

When did you start repairing phones on your own?

I started out on my own in 2007 also here in Saka Tinubu. The rent for my first shop was N120,000 per annum.

How much did you first invest in the business?

You don’t need a lot of money to start the phone repair business. About N40,000 can buy you all the basic tools you need.I bought Blackberry software.  Blackberry was the iPhone then. Then I bought a box that is used in unlocking phones for N25,000. I did not need anything else. My initial investment included money I spent on software.

How has the market changed compared with when you started?

The prices of things have really changed because of the exchange rate, everything went high. Someone starting now would require N350,000 to get a small shop and N100,000 to N150,000 to buy tools.

Where do you get your spare parts from?

Spare parts are imported from China. When I started, I used to buy from importers in Computer Village. I later got a link to buy directly from China. I just paid for some spare parts that will be landing in the country soon. Apart from spare parts, I buy phones too directly.  I get phones from Dubai, China and Hong Kong. I have  suppliers in all these countries.

Do you pay upfront or you enjoy credit?

I am not yet a big importer and I have not done business with the exporters in China and Dubai for so long. So, for the level I am currently, I have to pay before they send goods. When I become a major importer, I will start enjoying credit.

What kind of repairs do people mostly come in for?

iPhone is the hot thing now. Young people especially love iPhones. People come in everyday to change the screen. They also come in to swap old phones for newer models.

How much does it cost to change iPhone screens?

Depending on the model of the iPhone, it could go for as little for N10,000 to fix an iPhone 6 screen and N100,000 to fix an iPhone 11 screen. You have fake screens in the market.

Some engineers quote a cheaper price to change the screen but fix fake screens that break easily.

 

What phone can you swap iPhone 6 for?

iPhone 6 is a very old phone. It doesn’t support the new Apple IOS. A used iPhone 6 is between N40,0000 to N50,000 in the market. You would need to as N200,000 to swap an iPhone 6 for a London-used iPhone 11.

Also Read: Working Lives: Ndi Anambra – The Car Parts Dealers of Lagos

The Naira today isn’t what it was a year or two ago. How has this affected your business? 

The prices of phones and spare parts have not changed in the places we buy from. In fact, some of the prices have fallen. The problem is the unstable naira. But I must say some people take advantage of the rising exchange rate to increase prices more than is warranted. This has led to about 20% drop in patronage.

What are the most expensive spare parts?

The most expensive parts of a smartphone are the touch screen, processor and camera. If one of them is damaged, it might be better to buy a new phone. Especially if the screen is a Samsung screen. Samsung screens are very expensive mainly because only Samsung makes Samsung screens. The screens use AMOLED (active-matrix organic LED) technology. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra LCD screen would cost you N90,000 to fix while an iPhone X screen replacement would cost you N30,000.

Please, tell us about an interesting experience or customer you have met while doing this business.  

One marketer told me that there are three types of customers you encounter when I was starting out. Some people you sell to them, if the item is bad, they won’t come back for a change or even call you to let you know what you sold to them is bad. But they will never patronize you again. Another group of customers buy from you and if it goes bad, they call you immediately to let you know and you can negotiate what to do. The third group will say you must change the phone even if the damage or malfunction is their fault. I have experienced the three types but I pray to have the second as loyal customers.

Who are your typical loyal customers? 

Professionals, the usual 9-5 guys.  They don’t like going from one phone engineer to another; they’d rather just stick to that same person that has successfully fixed their phones for them once. A banker has been coming to me to fix his phones for the past five years. Younger customers are less loyal.

Some people think phone engineers in markets spoil phones and others think they fix things the official phone workshops can’t fix. Why the difference in experience?

The views are based on differences in experience. It depends on who you have spoken to and their experience. Bad news travel very fast. Engineers should be away of this. To me the good phone engineer is not the one who is capable of fixing every phone brought to him or her but one who recognizes what he or she cannot fix and returns it to the owner without a screw missing!

How many hours do you work for in a day?

I resume at 10 am and close by 6 in the evening. I work on Saturdays too. I relax on Sundays.

How much do you make in a week?

In a week if I don’t buy a lot of parts I make nothing less N150,000. My profit from this is about N100,000.

Do you earn more from selling phones or fixing phones?

I make more profit fixing phones actually. Well, for now. My projection is that I will start making more money from selling phones when I expand. I still operate on  a small scale. I also make money from selling phone accessories.

How much do you save?

The stage I am right now, I don’t save. I am currently building a 3-phase business line. This our business is actually a 3-phase business. I am trying to combine three things together which are; selling phones, fixing phones, and selling accessories. Selling phones and accessories require a lot of capital, so whenever I get returns from the business that I am supposed to save, I just pour everything back in the business. So, for now I really don’t have any form of saving. I invest all my revenue back in the business.

Do you have other investment or businesses?

There is no other thing I do. This is the only business or investment I have.

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