Ap­pli­ance re­pair­men strug­gle to cope in ‘dy­ing trade’

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Bryce Baschuk

Bill Jones, af­ter 42 years, is fi­nally clos­ing the Proc­ter Ap­pli­ance Ser­vice shop in Sil­ver Spring, Md.

“You can’t make a good salary to sur­vive on the way you could years ago,” said the 61-year-old owner of the oven, re­frig­er­a­tor and wash­erdryer re­pair shop. “Ev­ery­thing has changed in the ap­pli­ance busi­ness.”

Mr. Jones re­cently sold his home in Lau­rel, Md. and is in the process of mov­ing to Bluffton, S.C., with his wife, Jean­nette.

Mr. Jones is one of the many Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-area re­pair­men who have strug­gled to stay afloat as res­i­dents re­place, not re­pair, old ap­pli­ances.

“It’s a dy­ing trade,” said Scott Brown, Web­mas­ter of www.fix­it­now.com and self-pro­claimed “Samu­rai Ap­pli­ance Re­pair­man.”

The rea­son for this is twofold, Mr. Brown said: The cost of ap­pli­ances is com­ing down be­cause of cheap over­seas la­bor and im­proved man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques, and re­pair­men are lit­er­ally dy­ing off.

The av­er­age age of ap­pli­ance tech­ni­cians is 42, and there are few young re­pair­men to take their place, said Mr. Brown, 47. He has been re­pair­ing ap­pli­ances in New Hamp­shire for the past 13 years.

In the next seven years, the num­ber of vet­eran ap­pli­ance re­pair­men will de­crease na­tion­wide as cur­rent work­ers re­tire or trans­fer to other oc­cu­pa­tions, the De­part­ment of La­bor said in its 2007 Oc­cu­pa­tional Out­look Hand­book.

The fed­eral agency said many prospec­tive re­pair­men pre­fer work that is less stren­u­ous and want more com­fort­able work­ing con­di­tions.

D.C.-area re­pair­men said it is sim­ply a ques­tion of eco­nomics.

“Nowa­days ap­pli­ances are cheap, so peo­ple are just get­ting new ones,” said Paul Singh, a man­ager at the Ap­pli­ance Ser­vice De­pot, a re­pair shop in Wash­ing­ton. “As a re­sult, busi­ness has slowed down a lot.”

“The av­er­age re­pair cost for a house­hold ap­pli­ance is $50 to $350,” said Shahid Rana, a ser­vice tech­ni­cian at Rana Re­frig­er­a­tion, a re­pair shop in Capi­tol Heights, Md. “If the re­pair is go­ing to cost more than that, we usu­ally tell the cus­tomer to go out and buy a new one.”

It’s not un­com­mon for to­day’s re­pair­men to con­demn an ap­pli­ance in­stead of fix­ing it for the sake of their cus­tomers’ wal­lets.

If they de­cide to re­pair an ap­pli­ance that is likely to break down again, re­pair­men are crit­i­cized by their cus­tomers and of­ten lose busi­ness be­cause of a dam­aged rep­u­ta­tion.

Mr.Jones­said­he­based­his­re­pair de­ci­sions on the 50 per­cent rule: “If the cost of ser­vice costs more than 50 per­cent of the price of a new ma­chine, I’ll tell my cus­tomers to get a new one.”

“A lot of cus­tomers want me to be hon­est with them, so I’ll tell them my opin­ion and leave the de­ci­sion mak­ing up to them,” he said.

In re­cent years, con­sumers have tended to buy new ap­pli­ances when ex­ist­ing war­ranties ex­pire rather than re­pair old ap­pli­ances, the De­part­ment of La­bor said.

Mr. Brown ac­knowl­edged this trend. “Lower-end ap­pli­ances which you can buy for $200 to $300 are ba­si­cally throw­away ap­pli­ances,” he said. “They are so in­ex­pen­sive that you shouldn’t pay to get them re­paired.”

“The qual­ity of the ma­te­ri­als that are be­ing made aren’t last­ing,” Mr. Jones said. “Nowa­days you’re see­ing more plas­tic and more cir­cuit boards, and they aren’t hold­ing up.”

Many home ap­pli­ances sold in the United States are made in Tai­wan, Sin­ga­pore, China and Mex­ico.

“Noth­ing is made [in the United States] any­more,” Mr. Jones said. “But then again, Amer­i­can parts are only bet­ter to a point, a lot of U.S. com­pa­nies are all about the dol­lar.”

For­tu­nately for the next gen­er­a­tion of re­pair­men, some of to­day’s high-end ap­pli­ances make ser­vice re­pairs the most cost-ef­fec­tive op­tion.

The De­part­ment of La­bor con­curred. “Over the next decade, as more con­sumers pur­chase high­er­priced ap­pli­ances de­signed to have much longer lives, they will be more likely to use re­pair ser­vices than to pur­chase new ap­pli­ances,” said the 2007 Oc­cu­pa­tional Out­look Hand­book.

Mod­ern, en­ergy-ef­fi­cient re­frig­er­a­tors can cost as much as $5,000 to $10,000, and with such a hefty price tag, throw­ing one away is not an op­tion.

In some cases, re­pair­men can help con­sumers re­duce the amount of ag­gra­va­tion that a bro­ken ap­pli­ance will cause.

Con­sider the time and ef­fort it takes to shop for a new ap­pli­ance, wait for its de­liv­ery, re­move the old one and get the new one in­stalled.

In ad­di­tion, cer­tain ap­pli­ances such as ovens and wash­ing ma­chines can be a big­ger has­sle to re­place be­cause they are con­nected to gas and wa­ter lines.

“It takes your time, it takes your ef­fort, and if you don’t in­stall the new ap­pli­ance, you’ll have to hire a ser­vice tech­ni­cian to in­stall it any­ways,” Mr. Brown said.

Some con­sumers bond with their ap­pli­ances like old pets, and for loy­alty or sen­ti­men­tal rea­sons, refuse to let them go.

Mr. Rana said some of his clients have ap­pli­ances that are more than 30 years old. It makes sense, he said. “A lot of old re­frig­er­a­tors are worth fix­ing be­cause they give peo­ple good ser­vice. They just don’t make things like they used to.”

Daniel Rosen­baum / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Last of a dy­ing breed? Za­far Iqbal opens a stove up to make re­pairs at Rana Re­frig­er­a­tion, a re­pair shop in Capi­tol Heights, Md.

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