Lee Tarjan took a one man-shop out of his living room to a store front on main street from one broken iPhone. Lee’s brother sparked a passion when he asked him to fix his iPhone, Lee having a lot of experience with computer repair and somewhat lost with what to do next with his life, took the phone apart and with some trial and error he was able to fix it and put it back together. His brother, ever-thankful for not having to shell out a ton of money or drive out of Bonnyville to have his phone fixed, spread the word quickly. Thus, iMobile Repair was born.
“I actually broke it, the first one I ever tried, I broke it,” Lee clarifies. He felt so bad, considering it was his brother’s phone, that he order a new part, “so I put it together again and realized this is pretty easy. So, I had a friend who worked at one of the phone companies, here in town, she found out about it and she called me.” News that Lee had fixed the phone spread through town and soon retail cell phone stores were sending customers to see him. Lee ordered a batch of spare parts and screens, “and the first week they were gone. We went from ordering three screens to the current 100 screens per week.”
During the initial start-up Lee worked out of his living room, which wasn’t ideal. Lee worked eight months out of the living room, but he had a wife and three young kids sharing the space, so the plan was always to work towards getting out of the home. “Started off in the living room and realized we needed to make a shop in the garage,” explains Lee. The garage was a short-lived three-month venture, “there was just too much traffic, the landlord was wondering why we were always partying,” Lee says jokingly. “We realized if we didn’t get out on the main street Bonnyville, somebody else is going to take it. And if somebody else takes it, no one’s gonna wanna see some guy in a garage. We decided to search around, we found a spot and now we’re here.” Here is The Executive Centre in Bonnyville, a mini-strip-esq mall on main street.
Tinkering and fixing electronics is something Lee has done since he was a kid, “I was really into stereos, I would take them apart to make my speakers sound louder, splitting wires and stuff like that.” He always had a curious mind, which transitioned from stereos to computers, “I got into the computer-age when it came out.” Something inside Lee always knew he’d be where is his today, “15 years ago I knew I’d be in this kind of position.” It wasn’t always phones, however, “not with phones, because nobody really knew about phones back then, but the computer industry. I knew I’d be working in the industry.” Phones are essentially the same, explains Lee, “these are just small computers.” Lee is very confident when he speaks of his knowledge and ability in the phone repair industry, “I always knew this is where I’d be.”
It’s a family business for the Tarjan’s, Lee’s wife, Keally repairs phones at the store, something she never imagined she’d be doing. “My wife never imagined she’d be working on phones, now she’s one of the head people here,” Lee explains, “she’s better than me.” The two were self-trained through YouTube videos and various other online tutorials, though they wouldn’t recommend DIYing it, “at home if you wreck one thing, the pressure’s on,” Lee displays the need for a professional, “here if I break something I have back-up supplies. I have the resources.” iMobile Repair sells professional at-home repair kits if the customer is inclined to try themselves.
There’s a lot of grateful reflection in the Tarjan’s every day life, “at least a few times a week I think back and say to my wife, ‘can you believe we’re here?’. Two years ago I was watching the kids, while she was working in the oilpatch, and not knowing what the hell I was going to do with my life. I had all this skill in my head and I couldn’t do anything with it. Now, we’re here and we just can’t believe it.”
iMobile Repair can fix any mobile device, from any provider. They also repair all brands of tablets and computer repair. A large majority of their business comes from broken or cracked screens, but they can also open up devices, tablets, and computers to work on internal issues. Another portion of their business comes from computer repair, which Lee admits customers are always surprised to learn they do.”There’s nothing I can’t do with a computer, although some repairs are time-consuming,” in those cases, such as ram and memory issues, Lee has a specialist on contract to assist. However, when it comes to software and cleaning computers with viruses Lee does that work himself. The store also has a selection of accessories, including; phone & tablet cases, headphones & speakers, microphones, and stylists. They can also order in whatever the customer may desire.
Every-evolving, Lee hopes to expand the business into TV repairs; smart TVs and projection TVs along with all different types and brands of TV repair, “I want to fix TVs for people, because TV repair is needed. I want people to know you don’t need to throw your TV away if there’s a discolouration, or a green streak or anything like that. People will save a whole lotta money.”
There’s only two things Lee can’t do and that’s crack an iCloud account or crack a network-locked device. For example if someone buys a secondhand phone and it’s locked, there’s nothing Lee can do to unlock it. He advises to always do your homework and check the phone before you purchase it. Be very wary of phones on buy-and-sell sites, like Kijiji and Infomall. Lee says he’s seen countless cases where a customer has bought a phone from a buy-and-sell site and it won’t open or unlock after they pay for it. Unfortunately, those are security features that Lee cannot hack. “The original owner has to call Apple to unlock an iCloud or Apple account and if a phone’s been blacklisted, reported lost or stolen, you can unlock it all you want but it’ll be shutdown. It will not work in Canada,” Lee puts it quite frankly.
Before iMobile Repair works on a phone or purchases a secondhand one, Lee always runs a check to make sure the devices hasn’t been blacklisted. As long as the phone hasn’t been blacklisted, iMobile Repair will buy secondhand devices from customers. This also includes tablets, computers, printers, and any other electronic accessories. “If someone wants to sell me electronics, it’s crapped-out or broken, we know what’s still good in the device and what we can do with it, we’ll offer them a deal. They’re happy to get paid for something they’d throw in the garbage anyways, and we turn around and make it new and make a profit too.”
If there’s one phone that’s a little trickier than the others right now, it’s the iPhone 5C. It’s a different type of screen than all the other iPhones and Lee says they tend to see more broken screens of this model than any others so their supply for new screens is lower than any other models. The phone repair business is driven by supply and demand, explains Lee, “the Chinese manufacturers will hold products back to create a larger demand.” Which is what is happening with the new iPhone 6 model, Lee says, “we’re not able to get screens and parts as quickly as other models.” This leads to iMobile Repair needing to order stockpiles of the products when they can to keep up with demand. Lee says it’s all about the supply chain and they have built up great relationships over the years and are poised well to maintain large product supplies.
Bonnyville has positioned iMobile Repair well in the market. “I don’t think we would’ve done so well anywhere else,” Lee says, “the location is great for in-town and out-of-town people. Everyday I have a client from out-of-town.”
Lee who calls Bonnyville home, grew up in Edmonton. He moved to Bonnyville in his early 20’s, some may remember the days when he DJ’ed at Sonny’s Bar & Grill before it was The Player’s Lounge. When Sonny’s renovated and went in the lounge direction Lee was out of a DJ’ing gig. He moved to Lloydminster, but always knew he’d find his way back to Bonnyville. He met his wife, Keally in Lloyd and together moved from Lloyd to Marwayne to Vermilion to Cold Lake, always with the goal to make Bonnyville home.
“There was a case of not being able to find a place to rent,” Lee explains how his family met a special woman, Denise Hollasch, who would help him discover his potential. “Thanks to our landlord. She really pushed us to progress this business. She saw something in us, that we never did. She guided us on how to make a business and encouraged us to convert the garage. You know, most landlords don’t want you renovating or running a business from their house.” Lee says as much as they are thankful for her, she is proud of them, “she’s seen how far we’ve come, she’s very proud.” Denise holds a special spot for the Tarjans, “she’s a business woman, she owns 14 houses, she rents them out and out of all her homes she’s agreed to sell us ours.”
Gratitude is what grows the business, explains Lee who says working at Sonny’s forged a friendship that helped get his business where it is today. The Naims’, Sonny and his sons, “they were nothing but family to me. They were my second family here.” Lee says Mike Naim in particular was a driving force behind helping iMobile Repair grow into the business it is today, “Mike was a huge factor in getting us a place to live, he always pushed for us to move here. When we finally found a place in Cold Lake, he loaned us the money for the damage deposit. It took us a year to pay him back, but we did.” It wasn’t just financial backing, Mike provided Lee with encouragement and business advice.
“Everyday I say I can’t believe I did that,” Lee states with a lot of enthusiasm, “everyday, I say that to myself, and to my wife.”