Nearly every small business, be it a manufacturer, medical office, restaurant, or dry cleaner, has run into the nagging ‘right to repair’ issue. While the issue has been brought to light recently by McDonald’s finicky soft-serve ice cream machines, for small businesses, the right to repair issue could threaten their very survival.
The scenario is very simple: a machine that is vital to your small business’ operations breaks down, and if your state does not have a right to repair law, you have no choice but to contact the manufacturer of the machine – or a repair company authorized by the manufacturer – to repair it. This process can take a significant amount of time and cost thousands of dollars, as the manufacturer essentially has the monopoly on repair services and can charge whatever it wants.
SMBs Lose Time and Money
Business owners say that having the right to repair their own machines through whatever local repair shop they choose would reduce machine downtime, increase the lifecycles of their machines, and potentially save them money on repair costs. It also costs consumers money, especially with cell phones, as many consumers would rather replace their cell phones or other electronic devices than go through the hassle and expense of contacting the manufacturer to fix them.
Manufacturers, however, claim that the right to repair would divulge proprietary trade secrets and could, in some situations, even be dangerous -for example – if a doctor’s office tries to repair a piece of medical equipment on its own and does not do it correctly.
Either way, small businesses, such as manufacturers that rely on complex CNC machines or farmers that use John Deere tractors are caught in the middle of this issue, and it is costing them time and money. The US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) estimates that Americans throw away 416,000 cell phones each year because most states do not have right to repair laws in place, and electronics makers such as Apple force customers to come directly to them for repairs.
Get to Know Your Machine’s Warranty
In some cases, your machine’s warranty will cover the cost to repair, or parts needed to repair the machine yourself, said Ryan Fyfe, COO at Workpuls, Inc.
“As with many pieces of legislation, the Right to Repair Act is a set of guidelines intended to keep electronics manufacturers accountable for their products,” he said. “The bill states that all companies must make their devices easily repairable and provide parts or tools necessary to do so. Keep in mind that you may not be able to get a refund on your device if it can’t be fixed…More often than not, the warranty will cover damaged components even after you’ve been using it for some time or attempting DIY fixes yourself. In addition, see what type of warranty your device has from its manufacturer before making any repairs, so you don’t void the protection policy.”
Get Comfortable Negotiating
Kyle MacDonald, president of GPS fleet tracking systems provider Force by Mojio emphasized that manufacturers generally want to keep you as a customer and therefore are often willing to negotiate repair prices.
“I am personally a supporter of ongoing ‘Right to Repair” campaigns since small businesses like mine would benefit from being able to seek lower-priced repairs by independent entities rather than going to the manufacturer,’ said MacDonald. “That said, we negotiate with the manufacturer when there is no other option for repairs. A lot of people think repairs aren’t negotiable, but we have had some success in talking manufacturers down to a lower price in the past. We also keep all warranty information on hand in case we can evoke the language used there to seek a free or low-cost replacement.”
James Green, owner of Build a Head, added that his company works with manufacturers to make sure machines get repaired quickly.
“We have made sure that we have at least two (usually more) of every essential machine so that production doesn’t come to a complete halt if one machine breaks or has an issue,” said Green. “Our management staff has also made it a priority to build personal connections with our manufacturers so that we can hopefully get repairs done more quickly. We haven’t had too many issues, but whenever we do, we try to personally reach out to our connections to reduce the time it takes to fix the problem.”
Be Your Own Repair Person
Most small business owners that Kapitus spoke with said the real solution is to learn how to repair machines themselves. Of course, this solution will take training and hours spent watching instructional videos on Youtube, but it could be well worth it.
Alex Wan, co-founder of small business Vinpit, said learning how to fix his own machines has become an invaluable skill. “I experience frequent breakdowns of my machines, and if I were to pay someone every time something needs fixing, then I’d have spent millions by now,” said Wan. “In short, I usually do a lot of the fixing on my own unless they’re complex and need an expert to get things done. Even when I hire someone to do repairs for me, I usually ask them to take me through the steps because I know I’d need that skill in future. In my honest opinion, small business owners ought to have basic repair skills especially related to their line of work since they could save them boatloads of cash.”
Jose Mier, founder of Heliotherapy Research Institute, said that becoming his own repairman has also saved his company a lot of money. “When I started out with my business and moved to an office, I kept running into problems with the air conditioning unit,” he said. “I had to constantly call AC repairmen, and the costs were piling up. Then, I decided to learn to fix the ACs myself. I watched many YouTube tutorial videos and took some help from professionals…Now, when I run into problems, such as electric control failures and leaks, I’m able to fix them myself. In the past few months since I learned this skill, I’ve been able to save myself a lot of hassle and money.”
Push for Legislation
If your state does not have a right to repair law, you may consider writing to your local politician to push for one. Right to repair laws in states that have them typically require manufacturers to provide repair information on their machines to all customers, including manuals, and offer parts that can be used to repair their machines.
“Repairing your own machinery is actually a great idea, but often one might not be able to do that despite having the knowledge because some companies do not provide the information or the parts one might need,” said David Attard, a web designer at CollectiveRay.com. This act will help small businesses save time and money.”
You can check to see if your state does have a right to repair law. If not, you can contact your local politician and join repair.org, an industry trade group that is advocating for a right to repair law on a federal level.