Business

Lexington startup has ambulance for broken phones

Alex Orr repaired a smartphone while Hunter Fryman, left, took a repair order in Lexington. The two founded Device EMS in late 2015.
Alex Orr repaired a smartphone while Hunter Fryman, left, took a repair order in Lexington. The two founded Device EMS in late 2015. palcala@herald-leader.com

The big red emergency medical services vehicle rounds a curve off Fortune Drive in Lexington.

A few moments after the truck stops, a technician enters a building and brings out the shattered patient: an iPhone 6 in a ZipLoc bag. Less than 20 minutes later, the phone goes back to its owner, Antoinette Goss, who works in a financial services office.

Goss found the service, Device EMS, through a friend and called because it was cheaper than other services she had checked. Initially she didn’t know that an “ambulance” would appear with the technician.

The technicians are Alex Orr , 22, and Hunter Fryman, 21, 2012 graduates of Tates Creek High School 2012, who consider themselves as close as brothers.

The two, who are self-taught and have been fixing electronics since they were in school, went into business in late 2015. because Device EMS is a mobile technology firm that answers its phone 24 hours a day, the friends settled on the idea of using a real EMS truck to set themselves apart from competitors.

The first truck came from the Lexington Fire Department; the second, from a town in New York state.

The trucks are capacious enough to allow for all the specialized and expensive little tools involved in electronics repair, such as a tiny jack-like device that brings balky iPhone corners back to their original shape. The truck also holds the firm’s employee, Sonali Patel, 18, who is also Orr’s girlfriend, and the company’s mascot Teddy, a dog about the size of half a loaf of bread who loves to ride along.

Because people rely on their cellphones for everything from phone service to text and Internet searches, “It’s an emergency if you break your phone,” Patel said. “You shouldn’t go without it. ... When people get their phones fixed, they’re the happiest people ever.”

Warren Nash, director of the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Kentucky, said he isn’t familiar with Device EMS, but successful small businesses have to figure out early on who their customers are, what service they are looking for, and what they are willing to pay. After that, there’s the matter of stickiness of the brand name and presentation.

Orr and Fryman know there are other mobile technology services, and even with competitive pricing, they wanted to set themselves apart. After Goss found out that her phone would be fixed in a former ambulance that would come to her office, she was enthusiastic to see it.

The Small Business Administrationadvises small businesses to stand out and to make sure that customers know the face behind the product — and the Device EMS founders emphasize both as important to their growth.

The Device EMS team has divided responsibilities: Fryman handles finances, while Orr is the “master fixer.” The two advertise via promoted posts on Facebook and by using word of mouth and using the rolling billboard of their trucks.

The two estimate their total assets — including working capital, inventory and vehicles — at almost $100,000.

Device EMS repair prices start at $59.99 for older iPhones and $109.99 for first-generation iPads, Orr said. The business works on all varieties of devices — not just Apple products — and sells items such as electronic device screens on eBay.

Not every device gets an ultra-speedy return. At Orr’s home in south Lexington — the company’s physical address when not on the road — he pointed to a stack of three laptops awaiting repair and return. The two work on about 10 laptops a day, Fryman said. They also repair music devices and game systems.

Phone repairs can take as little as 10 minutes or as long as 30; iPads and tablets are 45 to 60 minutes.

Although the truck is now dressed with Device EMS logo rather than an ambulance identifier, the first truck looks enough like the real thing that a police officer who saw the truck near Malone’s recently tried to get Device EMS to go with him on a call.

Orr and Fryman said they saved money before launching the business and haven’t yet paid themselves a salary. Now, they are concerned with putting the money they are paid from daily operations back into the company. They hope to hire some part-time employees and launch a franchising operation within the next few months.

“We’re trying to establish our brand and build our company’s equity before we pay ourselves a penny,” Fryman said.

The two started tinkering with electronics as youngsters: “My teacher would call me out of class and say, ‘Go fix the principal’s phone,’” Orr said.

Orr is having a great time while his business ramps up: “I get up every day, I work with my best friend and I work with my girlfriend. Everything is an opportunity,” he said.

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