- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Back when the country was flush with cash and consumption was king, people used to trade in their Cadillacs when the ashtrays were full and buy a new iPod when the battery died.

No more.

Consumers today are keeping their cars longer. They are also choosing to repair their electronic devices instead of replacing them, giving a boost to a cottage industry that specializes in repairing and customizing iPods, iPhones and Zune players for a fraction of the price of a brand-new toy.

Two of these companies, Rapid Repair and Restore Doctors, do virtually all of their business on the Internet, and both say business has been brisk despite the economic downturn.

“The most common problem we deal with is either broken LCD screens, water damage or faulty batteries,” said Aaron Vronko, co-founder of Rapid Repair in Kalamazoo, Mich. “Batteries are about $20 to repair; therefore, it would be crazy for someone to purchase a brand-new device over something so minor.”

Shawn Downing of Baltimore said he turned to Restore Doctor of suburban Phoenix “after my video iPod’s screen started acting weird.”

“They offer repair kits online for those wanting to fix the device themselves, or you could send it to them and they will fix it for you,” he said.

D.C. resident Matthew Collingsworth mailed his iPod to Rapid Repair to replace a headphone jack before he took a trip to England.

“I was a little skeptical at first about sending my iPod away to get repaired because I have so much data on it,” Mr. Collingsworth said.

A year ago, he said, he would not have hesitated to purchase a new iPod, especially with more high-tech products available on the market. Today, with the condition of the economy, he said, he does not have the money to spend on a new device.

Mr. Collingsworth said Apple store employees recommended that he buy a new iPod when the battery wears out. Now on his third iPod, he has discovered that replacing the battery is inexpensive and easy.

“I have customers who regularly tell me that they choose to have their devices repaired because they cannot afford new ones,” said Ray Moyers, founder of Restore Doctors.

Both companies said business has been steady despite the recession.

“Our line of business is attractive and affordable during this time of economic strife because people need to save money yet still hold on to their technology,” said Mr. Vronko of Rapid Repair. “This is a great way to salvage a device for a low cost.”

For customers who are cutting back on their spending, Rapid Repair and Restore Doctors give people opportunities to earn cash. The companies buy used or broken iPhones, iPods and Zunes to refurbish and sell through various channels, including their Web sites.

They also offer upgrades, such as LCD modifications and custom iVue covers.

Rapid Repair recently debuted a 240-gigabyte iPod that would require more than $57,000 worth of iTune music downloads to fill, Mr. Vronko said.

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