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A Few TV Repair Shops Live On After Most Died

Few people will pay $150 to fix their TV when a new flat-screen might cost the same or less.

That’s the problem facing local TV repair shops, many of which have closed in the past 20 years. The few that remain have found creative ways to survive – either by cutting costs or cultivating specialties or both.

Les Vallarano has been in the TV repair business since 1982. He’s gone from fixing sets with picture tubes to projection TVs to flat-panel LCD TVs with multiple circuit boards.

“In the past, most people fixed their televisions unless they were unfixable,” says Vallarano, who owns Mililani TV Repair.

“But nowadays, people just buy new ones. Sometimes they have it in their head they’ll buy a new one before they even bring it in (for an estimate). … The price to fix it has to be half or less than half of the price of a new one.”

Vallarano has tried just about everything. He’s worked with manufacturers to repair sets under warranty. He spent two years repairing PCs. He even bought a van to drive to people’s homes to fix projection TVs that were too big to bring to his repair shop.

Now, Vallarano has steady business by focusing on repairing out-of-warranty TVs. But he has also had to reduce his costs, so he uses salvaged circuit boards, installed solar panels to cut his electric bill and bought the building where his shop is located. Everything is done in-house, including accounting and tax preparation. And he stopped buying space in the yellow pages; instead, he uses Google AdWords to market his business online.

Sam Lin, who owns Sam’s Electronics in Waipahu, focuses on warranty and extended-warranty repairs. He says that’s helped him keep his repair business for the past 28 years.

“Prices of TVs are going down, but we still try to find a way to catch a part of the business,” Lin says. Though some TVs are cheaper to replace than repair, there are still expensive sets that are worth repairing.

“It’s not like DVD (players) that are so cheap, you can’t service them and the customer just replaces them,” Lin says. He likes working with manufacturers on warranty repairs. The companies help train him on TVs outfitted with the latest technology or that require proprietary software to work correctly, he says.

“If you’re not factory authorized or trained and you don’t have that information, you might be able to replace the component but you might not have fixed the TV,” he says. “It hasn’t been easy, but we’re surviving.”

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Hawaii Business,January