Tech repair specialist iSmash is a classic scale-up story – the business is always adding new stores and has incredibly ambitious plans for further growth. Here, the business’s founder explains the next leg of the scale-up journey. Early on in our Scale-up Hub series, we looked at a tech repair specialist that has undergone rapid expansion – iSmash. The business, which can handle anything from cracked phone screens and water damage to more complex issues, was founded by Julian Shovlin while he was still at university – and in just four short years boasted an impressive 16 stores. Currently, the business has 27 high street locations. Recently, the business explored a new avenue for expansion – it agreed a retail partnership with specialist technology retailer Maplin. Going forward, iSmash concessions will be rolled out in three major Maplin locations during a pilot phase over the next six months – Monument and St Paul’s in London and in a new Maplin store in Stevenage in December. We caught up with Shovlin to hear more about this scale-up plan. Last time we spoke, you told me that iSmash was planning to expand outside of London this year – how has that progressed? So far, 2017 has been a year of monumental growth for iSmash. From our initial base of 11 stores across London, we have now also opened stand-alone iSmash stores in major cities across the UK, including Manchester, Sheffield, Bristol and Brighton, with Leeds also opening imminently. Our regional stores have been well received by consumers and have performed well from the outset. The problem of consumers breaking their technology will never go away, so there will always be a demand for a service like iSmash that offers high-quality and express repairs with a lifetime guarantee. You’ve recently agreed a partnership with Maplin – how did that come about? Our new, very exciting, partnership with Maplin was born out of the results of a customer research exercise that Maplin undertook that showed a clear desire among their customer base for an in-store express tech repair service. What are the benefits to you of the partnership? We will be trialling the service in three Maplin stores with the potential of expanding this to up to 200 Maplin concessions across the UK. So, for us, the partnership is fully aligned with our rapid expansion plans as we seek to further extend the iSmash footprint to new locations, especially within retail parks, which is a new format for us. What are the benefits to Maplin? The partnership clearly addresses the need among Maplin’s customers for a professional and express tech repair service, all under one roof, while also enabling Maplin to reach younger audiences via iSmash’s customer demographic. Are there any disadvantages for iSmash of the partnership? We are a fast-paced and brave brand – hence our fast expansion – and are therefore always looking ahead. We’ve embarked on this new journey with Maplin for an initial six-month pilot phase, to make sure that we can mutually benefit from the agreement, grow both brands, and get around any potential disadvantages early and together. You have scaled up at a fairly dramatic rate – what do you think is the secret to this success? The company’s unique position means we sit midway between pricey manufacturers and unreliable or low-quality independents. We recognised this opportunity and had to move quickly, recruit our teams and train our technicians to the highest standard. I think this responsiveness and agility has been key to our success, as well as the whole team’s constant focus on exceeding customer expectations. What advice would you give to other businesses hoping to replicate such success? For any founder, the single most important thing is to be passionate about your brand, and understand where you want to take it. That direction and ambition trickles down throughout the entire business, and at iSmash, is why our entire team is able to harness the same kind of passion for growth and success, fuelling our rapid expansion while making sure quality remains top priority. It is, of course, also important to be realistic as a start-up – it’s vital that businesses learn to walk before they run and have a realistic strategy at the heart of the business’s objectives, otherwise it could become incredibly tricky to sustain. What are the plans for the next 12 months? Next year is an exciting one for us as we continue or nationwide expansion as well as focusing on cultivating strategic relationships with manufacturers and insurers in an effort to better service their customers and grow iSmash’s reach. We’ve got real aspirations for international growth, and ultimately see ourselves as the industry leader for tech repair. There’s an undeniable gap in the market for what we’re doing, and that’s a model that we can adapt anywhere. Watch this space.
This article is part of a wider campaign called the Scale-up Hub, a section of Real Business that provides essential advice and inspiration on taking your business to the next level. It’s produced in association with webexpenses and webonboarding, a fast-growing global organisation that provides cloud-based software services that automate expenses management and streamline the employee onboarding process.
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