- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Alex Romanov - unlike many others - has found a robust financial wave to ride in these troubled times. “Business has really gone up in the past few months,” says Mr. Romanov, a cobbler who has a store in Cleveland and an online business at www.americanheeler.com. “It’s doubled since last year.”

To Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of Manhattan-based WSL Strategic Retail, Mr. Romanov’s success makes total sense.

“I definitely see a growing market for fixing and repairing,” says Ms. Liebmann, whose company gives manufacturers and retailers advice on business opportunities.

“As customers’ value sense becomes more and more acute, some of the options we’ve discarded through the years [such as repairing things] are being reinstituted,” Ms. Liebmann says.

Her company even has gone so far as to recommend that department and big-box stores reintroduce old-fashioned in-store repair centers.

“You need to think of anything and everything to get people through your doors,” Ms. Liebmann says.

William Peter Field II has no problem getting people through the doors of his custom tailor shop, Field English Custom Tailors, in Georgetown.

“I have a steady stream of customers,” says Mr. Field, who took over the business from his father in 2004. (It has been in the family since 1968.) “I have work lined up [for] at least one month.”

Mr. Field, who also tailor-makes suits for up to $3,000 each, is particularly busy with alterations, which can range in price from $30 to $300.

“I get a lot of suits that have ‘shrunk in the closet’ over the past year,” he says.

Another example of the rise in interest in fixing and repairing can be seen at JustAnswer.com, a Web site that provides online users with expert answers in areas ranging from taxes to electronics.

Edward Davis of New Albany, Ind., is an electronics expert who has seen a steep increase lately in questions on how to fix electronics.

“Sometimes I get as many as 100 questions a day,” says Mr. Davis, who has about 55 years of experience repairing electronics. “A few years ago, I was lucky if I got 15 questions a day.”

The experts are paid $9 and up per question, but a company spokeswoman says visitors pay only if they are satisfied with the answer.

Most of the questions Mr. Davis gets are about television repair. Customers describe a problem, and Mr. Davis and his colleagues help diagnose the problem and then recommend options for repair or, depending on the situation, suggest buying a new set.

“I always recommend small TV-repair shops rather than the big ones,” he says. “They’re usually less expensive, and they’re more dependent on word of mouth.”

Often, a television can be repaired by replacing the projection light. The cost can be as low as $100, and many consumers can handle — with a little coaching — the replacement themselves. Compare that to the cost of replacing the set.

This brings us to what Ms. Liebmann calls the “value equation.”

It has to be financially and emotionally worth it to fix something. Emotionally, she says, it’s gratifying to sustain something that’s well-loved — whether it’s a pair of shoes or a handbag — over time instead of just buying new, which is a little like giving up.

“Shoppers are very conscious of the value equation,” Ms. Liebmann says.

Mr. Romanov, for example, seldom fixes shoes with an original cost of less than $75. It simply would make more sense to replace a $30 pair with another $30 pair than paying up to $45 for a complete makeover.

“We see everything from Timberland to Ferragamo and Gucci,” he says, adding, “Good shoes don’t go obsolete. People fall in love with their shoes. They break them in until they fit perfectly, and then we help make them new on the outside.”

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