Kyle Wiens is on a mission to "teach everybody how to fix everything" and in the process reduce wasted materials and energy spent by manufacturers of nearly every electronic device and household product.
Since Wiens launched the business iFixit from his college dorm room in 2003, when he couldn't find a guide to fixing his Apple iBook, the business has grown to offer help and tools for consumers to repair hundreds of items. From its roots offering help with Apple products and cellular phones, the company has grown to provide tools and advice for fixing not only electronic devices but also everything from cameras and power tools to cars and trucks.
The rapidly growing iFixit announced Tuesday it will expand its growing global business with an East Coast service facility and warehouse in Chattanooga and add more than 200 jobs within the next five years. Like the business itself, iFixit has bought a building in Chattanooga's Onion Bottom station that needs its own fixing for its newest facility.
The company is investing $24.2 million to buy, renovate, equip and staff an abandoned 60-year-old warehouse on East 12th Street that originally housed Dixie Produce Co. Wiens acknowledged that the roof leaks, one wall fell down and the structure needs a lot of work in a part of town that is being redeveloped.
Wiens said he came to town "looking for a rundown broken building we can fix up and restore," just as the company tries to do with almost everything it works on.
"Our mission is to teach everybody how to fix all their stuff," Wiens said during a news conference Tuesday. "Every month, we have about 8 million persons on iFixit learning how to fix everything from their iPhone to their bicycle."
Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, who have been wooing the iFixit company to locate here for months, said the company's culture matches that of Chattanooga.
"This project will once again place our city at the forefront of progress," Kelly said during the news conference announcing the new investment Tuesday. "iFixit allows people to repair their own devices, to keep waste out of landfills and generate a more sustainable future for all of us.
"Just as they are a global leader in repair and restoration, Chattanooga is becoming a center for environmental restoration, rising to the challenge of turning around a polluted industrial city as a model for the rest of the world for restorative development," Kelly said.
The new iFixit site is next door to the Camp House coffee shop, which moved to Onion Bottom last year after renovating space in the former Dixie Produce warehouse on 12th Street. The address is 812 E. 12th St., near a Norfolk-Southern rail line and the Chattanooga Community Kitchen. The building being renovated by iFixIt is only a couple of blocks away from a former homeless camp that the city of Chattanooga cleared and bulldozed last month due to safety concerns.
Wiens said he has a passion for helping homeless people and restoring old buildings, and he was also drawn to Chattanooga by the outdoor activities and bike trails in the city. The company gives all of its employees a bicycle, and the city is working to extend bike trails to the East 12th street location to allow workers to more easily bike to work.
Wiens said the company has begun work to renovate the single-story warehouse to house a tool distribution facility, online teaching facility and offices for workers needed to supply tools and advice to help consumers fix and prolong the life and uses of hundreds of everyday electronic and other household devices. Once renovated, the third and newest location for iFixit will serve as a distribution warehouse for light manufacturing, equipment storage and distribution.
"We're hoping we can be a bit of a shining light for this part of town and add a little vibrancy to a part of town that has been neglected," he said.
Although iFixit does not repair equipment itself, it provides the tools, kits and instructions to help others make repairs for everything from cellular phone repairs to patching a leaky fuel tank. On iFixit's website, hundreds of repair guides are offered on a variety of consumer products for free. The company makes its money selling tools and repair kits for those doing the repairs.
"Chattanooga is a strategic distribution location that will allow us to get products in the hands of our customers quickly," iFixit Chief Operating Officer Luke Soules said in a statement Tuesday. "We've announced partnerships for distribution of repair parts so far this year with Microsoft, Google and Samsung. Those three partnerships alone will be driving a lot of our growth."
Soules said as the Right to Repair movement "takes the world by storm, we expect the market will see a dramatically increased need for repair parts and tools."
Most of the iFixit tools are made in Asia, but kits and light assembly is done at the company's two existing facilities - its headquarters in San Luis Obispo, California, and the other office in Stuttgart, Germany. With the new facility, that work will also be done in Chattanooga. The company will employ people from kit assembly workers to software engineers and marketing specialists in Chattanooga.
Chattanooga will also be a warehouse and distribution center for many parts and batteries destined for East Coast customers that can't be shipped via airplanes. The company's products are already used by about 700,000 Tennesseans, Wiens said.
The building purchased by iFixit is in an opportunity zone designated by state and local governments to help qualify for tax advantages for those who invest capital gains in such areas. Most workers will be paid over $20 an hour, and some are likely to earn over $100,000 a year.
Tennessee Commissioner for Economic and Community Development Stuart McWhorter, in his new job for eight days, came to Chattanooga on Tuesday for the announcement of the iFixit investment, which is among $2.5 billion of new capital projects announced in Southeast Tennessee since 2018. McWhorter, whose uncle was a pharmacist in Chattanooga, said he was thrilled to return to Chattanooga for his first major business announcement since he took over as the state's chief job recruiter.
"As the crossroads for the logistics industry, Chattanooga will be the ideal location for iFixit's East Coast distribution hub," McWhorter said during Tuesday's announcement of the iFixit facility.