It's About Time We Disrupt The Handymen, Artisan & Repairmen Market

Anyone that has had any dealings with an artisan or a handyman will tell you how unpleasant the experience is. From broken promises to buying substandard parts — while charging you for the original — to fixing problems based on guesses, to causing further damage, the list goes on.

A while ago, the air conditioner in my bedroom was broken and I didn’t bother fixing it. I just wasn’t ready for another drama with another repairman.

Why would I?

The heatwave in Lagos and across Nigeria in the last couple of weeks of February 2016 were almost unbearable. The fans these days seems to amplify it instead of bringing the requisite cooling one craves for. It isn’t unusual to shower at least twice or thrice before dawn.

And the power company; Ikeja Distribution Company, Eko Distribution Company and their ilk don’t even help issues. On a good night, the power lasts only 30mins. I seldom rely on them. Inverters to the rescue.

Mr. T

Two weeks ago, after battling with the thought of fixing the air conditioner and braving the heat — saving myself headache troubles from repairmen — I finally came to the conclusion that I’ll give these guys yet another shot. After all, it doesn’t make sense allowing the air conditioner stay broken and unused in perpetuity, I mean, the first reason I bought it was for comfort, not to gather dust in one corner of the room.

I reached out to the guy who originally installed the AC. After hours of diagnosis and going back and forth, he declared the AC was without gas and refilling the gas wasn’t the likely solution. We needed to find the root of the gas leakage, only then, can we refill the gas. According to him, “gas no suppose just the leak like that, na something go don spoil.”

Somehow, this was a relief, at least, we’re getting somewhere, we just need to look a little further.

Mr T, the installer and repairman said we had to change the copper pipes that supplies gas from the outdoor unit to the indoor unit. This was the surest way to fix this problem permanently.

Mr T Sucker Fool

Excited, finally, this whole thing will be fixed and this should be a thing of the past.

Mr T gave me costing for materials; armaflex, gas refill, half roll of 1/2 copper pipe, half roll of 1/4 copper pipe. Everything came to about N16,000 (Naira) including his service charge. I didn’t have cash with me, I asked him to proceed with his cash and I’ll reimburse him when he is done, which I did. That same day, I did a transfer to him. We tested the AC with the generator and everything worked just fine.

At least, I’ll have to shower once this evening and probably use my once neglected duvet. We shook hands and both happy.

Not so fast.

Murphy's Law

Either there’s a thing with repairmen or Murphy (Murphy’s Law) just knows how to trick us.

"Murphy’s law is an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

When power was restored that evening, even for the thirty minutes that it lastedt, I promptly turned on the air conditioner. Lo and behold, the cooling I celebrated hours ago, was non-existent. I told myself the air conditioner needed time to “pick up.”

The surprising bit was the fact that the air conditioner in the living room was turned on after that of the room (repaired one), yet the living room was already cold and bringing succor while that of the bedroom was still finding its feet.

I was upset.

We need to “disrupt” these repairmen, artisans and handymen. Ain’t nobody got time for stress. Tweet

I called Mr T immediately and this is when the drama began. He wasn’t taking my calls. I called both lines five times that evening and he still wouldn’t take my calls. When he finally did, he promised to come in early the following morning before I leave for work. We both agreed 7:30 AM was convenient for both parties. Yet again, I fell for Mr. T’s lies.

He didn’t show up.

Wouldn’t take my calls either. I thought to myself, “what is wrong with this man? why can’t he keep to his words, at his age, shouldn’t his integrity matter to him? Mr T is a middle age man and old enough to be my father, why is he acting like a teenager ?”

All of these thoughts raced through my mind in the space of thirty seconds and I came to the conclusion that this was a bigger problem.

After trying unsuccessfully to reach T, he later called that day and said he forgot about our appointment and must have slept past the appointment time.

Forgot?

How?

Why?

We both unanimously agreed to a time and you tell me you forgot?

Well, I calmed and asked T to come back on a later date to which he did four hours after the agreed time. When T arrived, for yet another round of examination, he fiddled with a thing or two and said the air conditioner transistor was the problem this time. In his words,

“Oga, light no they pass reach the outdoor unit na him make e no they cool.”

I asked him, “why would a transistor go bad hours after we tested the air conditioner. There was no power surge neither did I use the air conditioner. So why would this happen?”

I had no way of verifying this, the outdoor unit is hanging midway between the first and second floor of my apartment. Oh, I don’t do ladders. I have acrophobia.

T left my house that evening with the intention of going to get the transistor, he later returned with yet another repairman. He claimed he needed someone who had expertise in “panel” to check the air conditioner. Both men climbed up my wall and dismantled the air conditioner. Yes, they did that.

At this point, I lost it. “Why would you do that I asked ?” T’s new friend answered, “Oga e fit be say no be the transistor get wahala. We need to open the AC check inside-inside.”

Wait, so why did he tell me the transistor was the issue in the first place?

Ain't Nobody Got Time For That

After another bout of back and forth, it was discovered that the newly replaced pipes had cracked again while trying to install them. Bear in mind that this was the same crack that made us replaced the pipes in the first place. I told “T” I wasn’t paying for another pipe.

We need to “disrupt” these repairmen, artisans and handymen. Ain’t nobody got time for stress.

Nobody Got Time For That

The experience I just narrated above isn’t uncommon, I dare say I’m not the first person to go through this experience neither would I be the last.

Some repairmen, artisans and handymen have their ways and you can’t hold them for that. A part of me will want to believe the think they have the upper hand and the rest of us mortals can either play by their rules or play by their rules.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time a group of people would think they have some sort monopoly to a particular sector and every other person must bow at their alters. History has shown us these organised nor lack of it thereof unions exist. From yellow taxis and medallions to blue collar workers, etc.

They exist everywhere.

What happened to taxis with the advent of Uber needs to happen to repairmen, artisans and handymen.

Uber came in as the underdog and today, it’s posing an existential threat to the taxi industry. So much to the point that cities are outright banning the service and some cities are legislating laws that will render the whole Uber experience less enjoyable.

At some point the French government instituted a law that Ubers had to wait an extra 15 minutes before letting a passenger in the car.

Disruption

Like artisans, before a person would have a seemingly reliable taxi driver that she can call whenever they needed to move around. While these taxis in most cases come through, the experience isn’t always the best. I have been in a taxi where the driver received a call and told the caller that he was at Constain when in the real sense he was still around Ojota. He promptly promised the caller that he will be with him/her in 5 minutes. Five minutes later, the caller called again and he claimed he was in traffic.

It will also interest you to know that there was no traffic at all. This is the experience some had to put up with for years until Uber came to save the day.

This same thing needs to happen to the repairmen, artisans and handymen market. This industry or market is ripe for disruption and we need a service that will disrupt this industry like yesterday. We need to Uberize these guys.

While the concept of a marketplace for handymen isn’t exactly new. The likes of Homejoy, Task Rabbit and Helpful have been doing this in the West for a while now. We have had a couple of them in the Nigerian market with some now defunct and no clear market leader.

Ideas don’t rule the world again, execution does and it’s everything.

Have you had any cause to deal with an artisan? What was your experience look like? Will you recommend the one you deal with?

Posted by Celestine Omin on Saturday, February 27, 2016

My idea for an ideal marketplace will be to have some sort of platform, where repairmen, handymen and artisans can register under categories, based on the service the offer; home and kitchen, electronics, carpentry, electricians, automobiles, etc.

Every registered service provider (repairman, artisan and handyman) is verified via a thorough background check and work ethics. A prospective customer goes to the marketplace, selects a category and choose a service he wants help with e.g AC servicing and repairs.

A list of handymen and artisans is presented, each service provider with their individual star ratings and reviews from past clients including their availability — Monday through Friday, between 9 AM to 6 PM — and rates.

The user select’s a service provider of their choice, books an appointment via the platform, the service provider gets an SMS with an accompanying email — for those that have emails — notifying them of an appointment.

They can either reply the SMS with “YES” to accept the appointment or “NO” to decline it. When a service provider accepts an appointment, an SMS is sent to the client informing them that they have a confirmed appointment for a certain day at a fixed time.

After the service has been rendered, the client can go back and rate the service provider based on their experience. These ratings will either make or mar them. This serves as a means to sift the chaffs from the wheat.

The client isn’t expected to pay the service provider directly, instead, payment is made into an escrow operated either by the marketplace or a third party service. The only money that is paid before commencement of work is a non-refundable N500 for instance, this is to help cover the logistics of the service provider from their current location to the place of service. When the service provider arrives, he assesses the issue and gives a costing.

The client then pays into escrow (this experience can be better polished) and the service provider commences his job.

When trying to pay, the client can choose an insurance option and pay an additional fee. The money paid by the client for the job is kept in escrow for a fixed number of days. This will allow the client some time to evaluate the service rendered and he or she can either file for arbitration or the money is automatically remitted to the service provider while the marketplace takes a small commission.

In the case of damage, an assessment is done and the insurance company covers the damage.
This way, the client is rest assured that he or she is dealing with competent people and in a case where things go South, they are covered. The service provider now understands that he is in a tough market and needs to up his ante to stay competitive else risk going out of business.

Everyone is happy and, at least, some peace and sanity are restored to the world and less time is spent chasing the likes of Mr T and his ilk.

The question now is, who will bell this cat?

We need a messiah. Someone needs to disrupt all the Mr T.'s

Another Travis Kalanick that will put all handymen, repairmen and artisan on a hot seat.

Cover Image, Handyman | Tom Newby

Celestine Omin

About Celestine Omin

Software Engineer at Konga, VC backed e-commerce in Nigeria. Lead maintainer and developer of NSEFinance, an experimental API for the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Convener of The Lagos GitHub meetup

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