A visit to Armstrong Audio in Walthamstow (NE London)

This week I visited Armstrong Audio in Walthamstow (London). After the owners Twaleb and Shamil joined us for our celebration of International Repair Day, I was curious to find out more about their business:

Armstrong Audio is specialised in the repair of vintage audio equipment. The family-owned business started off as a manufacturer of audio devices in the 1930’s. Now they solely focus on repair. The team of engineers enjoys fixing devices that have been valued by their owners for decades.

Shamil explains that this was a deliberate decision: Modern audio equipment is usually built to be thrown away after a few years. It is hard to get to the inside of the device and even harder to source spare parts. Attempting to repair such equipment would not make the customers or the engineers happy, he says.

What makes their business so successful is that they think outside the engineering box, as Shamil explains to me. He has designed their repair shop to attract new customers and to make the repair business more visible. A coffee shop at the front of the building welcomes people that stop by for a coffee or a piece of cake. The sliding door to the repair shop is always open, and one gets a good view of the work happening there. Behind the reception, visitors see shelves full of vintage audio equipment and can watch the engineers do their work. This transparency has greatly helped to attract customers and build trust, says Shamil.

He has spent time researching how to market his business in the best way possible. His main advice to struggling repair businesses is to look outside their familiar world of repair work and to walk a mile in the customer’s shoes. Overwhelming information and unattractive shop fronts can repel people, just as transparency and inviting shop decor can build trust with the customers, he says.

It was an interesting conversation that gave me new insights into the world of repair shops. My main take-away message is that businesses can benefit from seeing the bigger picture and connecting with other sectors.

When I was about to leave the shop, a customer walked in. He brought a device which he bought at Armstrong Audio back in the 70’s, and that had to be repaired now for the first time. The devices had latches with which the case could easily be lifted off to reveal the electronics inside. Shamils father Twaleb was happy as he opened the case - very likely he already had his hands on the device when it was manufactured 40 years ago.