By Elizabeth Behrman, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Sunday, April 8, 2012
TAMPA — Ed Davis paced the waiting room, ignoring the coffee and magazines. He was anxious for news about a patient he’d just brought in, one “he would be lost without.” His iPhone 4S.
It was suffering from a cracked screen, and Davis had rushed it to iHospital.
“I didn’t realize they’d have to take the whole thing apart,” he said while peering through the window to the operating room, where a technician in green surgical scrubs operated on his phone.
Doctors told Davis not to worry.
Screen repairs and replacements are routine procedures at the iHospital, said CEO Ross Newman.
The “Doctors of iDevices,” or DiDs, as iHospital technicians are called, specialize in Apple devices. They perform procedures ranging from cosmetic repair to software upgrades to data recovery on iPods, iPads, iPhones and the whole spectrum of Mac computers.
iHospital is not affiliated with Apple.
“We really are the experts,” Newman said. “Everyone knows that when they come to an iHospital, no matter what Apple device they have, our employees are trained for that device.”
A graduate of Plant High School, Newman, 27, has always had an “entrepreneurial spirit.” He started his first business when he was 12, selling jewelry to his mom’s friends. Before he dropped out of the University of Florida at age 19, he started a company that sells sports memorabilia. He also owns a wholesale clothing company.
But now he is pouring all of his time and energy into iHospital.
Newman bought his first iPhone in 2007. Fascinated, he taught himself how to take it apart and re-write the software. When friends started asking him for help repairing their iPhones, he knew he had a skill he could market.
“The lightbulb went off in my brain instantly: ‘Wow, I can make a business out of this,’ ” Newman said.
So he did, and his business has taken off.
In the two years since he opened the first iHospital on Kennedy Boulevard in south Tampa, he has opened five other stores in Florida, New York, Georgia and Tennessee. The seventh iHospital will open in Naples next month. His company has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
After setting up the corporate office in Tampa, Newman moved to New York to focus on his company’s expansion there. The flagship store on Kennedy Boulevard will soon move to a bigger location with twice the space, he said.
“We grew quickly because there is a big demand for what we’re doing,” Newman said. “Apple’s hot. We’re hot, too.”
Doctors at the iHospital work exclusively on Apple products. Customers get their devices — with the exception of computers and water damaged machines — repaired while they wait in the store.
Five to 15 minutes is all it takes for routine procedures like broken screens, Newman said.
But a job as a DiD isn’t without risk. Newman said a lot of people drop their phones in the toilet, although they don’t always admit it.
He was repairing a phone with water damage one day when he cut his finger. A few days later, after his finger had swelled to twice the size of his thumb and he had been to the doctor to treat the infection, he realized the customer had dropped the phone in the toilet. Had he known what had happened, he would have worn gloves.
No matter the problem, people are usually frantic without their iPhones or Macbooks, Newman said. He wants his chain of iHospitals to be their emergency room.
“At the end of the day, we don’t care what you did to your device,” he said. “We just want to help our customers.”
And they can usually help for less time and money than the Apple Store, said Eric Linsky, retail director at the iHospital in south Tampa.
“Apple is not a repair business; it’s a retail business,” he said. “They want to sell you a new device.”
For example, under Apple’s Limited Warranty plan for iPhones, which is good for 12 months after purchase, damage resulting from accidents is not eligible for free repair. A repair at the Apple store that is not covered under warranty would cost between $149 and $199 depending on the type of phone. That charge includes a shipping fee, and it takes about a week for Apple to fix the phone and send it back. Apple may end up replacing the phone completely.
Doctors at the iHospital will replace a cracked screen on a dropped phone for between $69 and $100, depending on the model, Newman said. Each repair comes with a one-year warranty, and the iHospital will run a diagnostic test on the phone for free.
A cellphone or computer repair shop isn’t a revolutionary idea, Newman said. But he never liked going to a little mom-and-pop store that took his device into a mysterious back room without clearly telling him what was wrong in the first place.
“I really set out to reinvent this repair experience,” he said.
All of the doctors at the iHospital wear green surgical scrubs, and the chain even has an ambulance to make house calls.
Each store has a pile of broken Apple devices called “the graveyard.” As part of the doctors’ training program, they have to take apart each device and put it back together again and again until they can do it without any difficulty. They can usually diagnose a device immediately.
Occasionally a device comes across their operating table that they can’t save, but that’s not often, Linsky said. He has had to repair everything from cracked screens to liquid damage on a laptop someone urinated on.
On Wednesday, he had to use special gloves to get the cockroaches out of a computer.
“There’s always a solution,” he said.