How the ‘Make-do and mend’ mantra is making a welcome return
It’s one of the frustrations of modern life – just as your warranty expires your computer goes on the blink, your child’s new toy gives up the ghost or your tablet won’t turn on.
But instead of discarding them and buying replacements, people are turning the clock back by increasingly rediscovering their local repair shops as the post-war mantra of ‘make-do and mend’ enjoys a resurgence.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics, which are based on HMRC data, showed that the number of outlets fixing everything from phones to furniture has risen by more than a third across the UK since 2010.
In Portsmouth, for example, the number was 20 in 2010 and 35 in 2018, while across the Hampshire County Council area the increase was from 180 to 240.
Over the last eight years, the south east has seen a 39 per cent increase in repair businesses with outlets increasing from 1,165 in 2010 to 1,615 by 2018. During this period, The Bank of England calculated the cost of goods and services has increased by on average 26 per cent – a rise not reflected by a similar average salary increase.
However business analyst, Richard Hyman, believes the increase is equally to do with a shift in consumer demand.
‘I think the appetite to make-do and mend rather than to buy new is clearly an underlying factor in the economy. The modern consumer is looking to spend their money on experiences like eating out rather than physical possessions,’ he explained.
Richard believes this new ideology is epitomised by the decreasing uptake of new mobile phones.
‘With mobile phones in particular, there is the built-in obsolescence where you are instructed to constantly download improvements, which are basically designed to slow your machine down and oblige you to buy a new one. The fact people have started to rally against this is not surprising,’ he explained.
BARRETTS SHOE REPAIRS – HAYLING ISLAND
I remember as a very small child my father taking his work shoes to get resoled. However, not since primary school can I honestly recall anyone I know paying a visit to the local cobblers.
In a quiet corner of Hayling Island, one shop is helping to ensure this once universal trade is continuing to flourish.
Barrett’s Shoe Repair Shop has been fixing footwear for more than 30 years. Owner, Clive Barrett, 62, has been working as a cobbler for 47 years.
‘There is definitely still a market for people wanting to get their shoes repaired. I left school at 15 to do this as a part time job for my dad and have been doing it ever since,’ stated Clive.
‘This is particularly the case at the top end of the market. Customers who buy a quality pair of shoes will want to look after them. If you were to pay £300 for a new pair of brogues then you are far more likely to come and get them repaired rather than discard them at the first sign of wear. I have a number of customers who have had pairs of shoes for over 20 years and they keep coming back to get them repaired,’ he added.
Clive offers a range of services including the fitting of insoles, resoling, polishing and repair of stitching. For Clive, it is not just a consideration of cost but also of comfort.
‘Well fitted footwear is really important and as a result people can develop a real attachment to their shoes. I have one lady who paid £1200 to get her shoes hand made due to the discomfort she had experienced. Having gone to such lengths and found a pair which fit she brings them to be repaired rather than looking to buy a replacement,’ he explained.
While Clive’s business has maintained a steady trade of loyal customers he has not noticed an upsurge in demand as indicated by the report.
‘The market has been flooded by cheap shoes which, due to the value of the product, people will generally discard rather than pay to be repaired. That having been said, if someone finds a cheap pair which are comfortable, they will still bring them in to fix. However, while I am generally busy, I can’t honestly say I have seen a real surge in people wanting get their shoes repaired,’ he explained.
Like many traditional businesses, Clive has been proactive in diversifying into other areas.
‘To supplement the shoe repairs I also now offer key cutting and trophy engraving. Recently, I have also started selling batteries,’ he explained.
WHAT ABOUT ELSEWHERE?
Over recent decades one of the biggest increases in consumerism has been on mobile phones. However, even IT giant Apple have announced a 15 per cent decrease on their iphone sales over the last three months.
Ian Clegg, shop owner of iDeviceFixer in Basepoint Business Centre in Gosport, has certainly seen an increasing number of people opting to get their phones repaired rather than replaced.
‘It costs more to replace a phone than to fix it. People break their phones regularly. They are meant to be bigger and stronger but the bigger they are the harder they hit the ground and the more they break. People have now become as dependent on phones as their car or house. If a phone breaks and they are tied in to a long term contract then they will opt to get their phone fixed,’ he explained.
Having been running his shop for five years, Ian is confident of seeing a steady rise in the number of people repairing rather than replacing their phones.
“There has always been a steady supply of repairs, if an upgrade isn’t suitable then they get their phones repaired. More people are going down this route and increasing trade for repair shops. The future is strong,’ he stressed.
In a digitally dominated age, computers have also become a staple product of modern day consumerism and subsequently so too has the need to get them repaired.
Acronym Computers have been serving the people of Southsea for over a decade.
For manager, Othman Sirokh, many people will opt to get their computers repaired in preference to replacement due to an affinity and connection to their computer.
‘A person’s computer or laptop is personal to them. It may well contain personal and private information which creates a familiarity with the owner. People would rather repair their computer than risk losing personal information. One customer had a computer which dated back to 2006 which he would rather repair than buy a new one,’ he explained.
Whilst Mr Sirokh concurs with the suggested increase in repair outlets, he questions whether the market is sustainable.
‘In recent years I have definitely seen an increase in the number of computer repair shops, however I question whether this is sustainable. I know of two people who opened shops and who ended up closing down,’ he explained.
Like technology, cycling is another area which has seen a massive upsurge in public interest in recent years.
Portsmouth Cycle Exchange mechanic, Steve McKeon, said: ‘We have definitely seen an increase in cycle repairs. This is partly due to an increase in the number of cyclist but I also feel it is linked to the impact of austerity since 2010. Wages have just not increased at the same rate as inflation and therefore people look to make do and mend – bikes are no different.’
Steve also feels the increase in online purchasing of bikes is partly behind the upsurge in people seeking repairs.
‘Traditionally people would purchase bikes from a shop where a mechanic would put their bike together. When people purchase online the product will often arrive in parts which need to be assembled. Many of the repairs we carryout are the result of people not assembling their bikes correctly in the first place,’ he said.
Last week Abbey Electrics in West Street, Fareham said that trade was booming as people brought in electrical items to be fixed. Owner Richard Roberts said: ‘‘Trade is great, although we are going through a recession in the UK, people are turning to repairing their items rather than buying new, which is good for us. Trade is certainly not declining.’
And the Repair Café Portsmouth has gone from strength to strength to since opening last year. It runs on the third Saturday of every month at Buckland United Reformed Church in Portsmouth, and people can bring broken items and have them repaired for free - and learn the basics of repairs.