If you’re an Apple product enthusiast, you may eventually make the acquaintance of the new Missoula Mac Repair shop devoted exclusively to fixing Macs, iPhones and iPads.
You’ll find Chad Penewell in his downtown shop at 415 N. Higgins Ave.
“As the name implies, we specialize in the repair of Apple computer products … pretty much everything Apple makes,” said Penewell, Missoula Mac Repair’s owner, sole technician and employee. “Anything that can be fixed, we will fix. We recycle, too.”
“Right now I am the only employee,” said Penewell. “If business allows, I would eventually like to add more employees, specializing in the repair of Apple products.”
He repairs mostly in-house, but will make house calls for certain problems.
“You’re never 100% sure what surprises you’ll run into when performing repairs, so it’s usually better to do most services in-shop, where we have the tools and parts to deal with unexpected issues,” he said. “However, we can schedule house calls in situations where it sounds like it will be a software or networking issue, something where it’s unlikely that we’ll need to replace any physical parts.”
Independent of the huge Apple company, the store aims to fill the gaps where the mothership fails.
“I think everyone who has an Apple product has a horror story about going to the Apple store and being told it’s ‘vintage’ or that a certain part can’t be replaced, they just have to buy a whole new device,” said Penewell. “We go above and beyond the repairs that Apple provides.”
While several computer repair shops exist in Missoula, he said Missoula Mac Repair is the only independent store that works on all Apple products.
“And we have another distinction,” he added. “While I am an Apple Certified technician, we proudly advertise that the shop is not Apple Authorized. I know that seems like a strange thing to emphasize, but the fact of the matter is that Authorized shops are very restricted by Apple as to what repairs they can do, and what machines they are allowed to work on. There are many practical repairs that Apple and Apple Authorized shops simply can’t or won’t do for one reason or another. We don’t have those restrictions. We believe that if you want it repaired, you should be able to get it repaired, not be told to just buy a new device.”
A Denver native, Penewell previously managed several small companies, including a pizza restaurant as a teenager, a snowboard/skateboard shop for a decade, a hobby shop and was a production manager for a small electronics company. In between, he returned to college.
“I then spent the past few years running a shop similar to this one,” Penewell said. “Finally, I decided it was time to get out and start my own. As for my computer experience, I grew up fiddling and fussing, building my own machines, helping out friends with their computer issues. I’ve been an Apple user, working on my own machines for 30 years, and I’ve been Apple Certified and fixing machines professionally since 2013.”
Caleb Baker, former colleague and a friend, owns Fallen Apples Repair in Denver. He worked closely with Penewell.
“He’s great. I started working with him before he knew anything about Apple stuff,” said Baker. “But he learned pretty quickly and ran the store I used to run before I started my business.”
Penewell, 44, eschews the tossed-around term “start-up” to define his one-man business.
“Start-up has such a weird ’Silicon Valley’ vibe,” he said. “I’m not looking for investors or seed money. I’m not looking to go public and be on the stock exchange. Although we do computers, I feel like we’re more akin to an auto repair shop, if that makes sense? It’s not as exciting as a software start-up, I know. But no, we won’t be doing any start up competitions or anything like that.”
In other words, he aims to tweak the Apple penchant for tossing a laptop or device when it’s malfunctioning – and replace it with good, old-fashioned customer service.
“Our business model is to be cool, honestly explain everyone’s options in plain language, and to fight Apple’s ’throwaway’ culture,” he said. “I do practical repair – it leaves a market for me.”
Branching out on his own while staying true to his love for Apple products, Penewell’s mission is clear:
“Our business model is two-fold: First of all, when Apple won’t fix it, we will. I love Apple devices (that’s why I do this!) but I do not like the way they treat their products as disposable. I don’t like how superficial their service options are, and I don’t like the way they push so many people to buy a new device rather than fix their old one. And our prices are very competitive with their out-of-warranty repairs.”
He dispels the condescending tech guy stereotype in exchange for listening to customers’ varied tech problems.
“So many times, I’ve had people say ‘I’m dumb, I don’t understand how any of this works.’ You’re not dumb! Everyone has their own thing that they are good at, and it’s not always computers. And that’s OK. We will to explain your options in a way you can understand, and we’ll never talk down to you for not knowing something. It’s also important to be honest about when it is time to let a machine go. As much as we want to fix everything that comes through the door, there are definitely times that it is not cost effective to do so. We want to give folks as much information as we can and help them make the decision that is best for them.”
When Penewell refers to “we,” he’s actually only talking about himself. He’s been in Missoula for two months.
“I was looking to get out of Denver for a long time,” he said. “I flew to a lot of towns, but I fell in love with Missoula.”
He works on an immensely smaller scale than Apple, but with a personal touch.
“Honestly, I’m just looking to be an established local shop,” Penewell said. “I don’t have any country-spanning expansion plans, or dreams of selling to a big company and cashing out. My hope is to become a well-known Missoula business. The kind of place that people trust and recommend when their devices break. I’d eventually like to get into a bigger stand-alone location, but right now my current office has everything I need. I live in Missoula, I plan to stay, and I hope my shop can become a staple here.”