MILTON-FREEWATER — A repair business gaining visibility around the world is putting this town on the video game map.

Steve Porter, founder of TronicsFix, is a rising star in gaming. Not because of what he can do with a controller, but because of his reputation with a microscope, a hot air station and spare parts from orphan motherboards.

TronicsFix, which moved to Milton-Freewater a year and a half ago from the Portland area, brings gaming consoles back to life. Started from a garage and built into a repair business that specializes in fixes for every model of PlayStation and Xbox, as well as Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Switch, the business is growing in fame with Porter’s YouTube presence.

“It’s because of YouTube I have a trust with people,” Porter explained.

More than 263,000 subscribers follow his videos, which are one part educational for DIYers learning how to fix their own equipment and one part entertainment.

Two months ago he posted a video after buying 18 broken Xboxes from a liquidation company for a little over $1,000. The nearly 27-minute video that has since had 4.6 million views dared to ask “Can I Fix Them and Make Money?” The answer, by the way, was no. But several of them have the same problem, and Porter plans to eventually work on those more thoroughly to try and find a fix.

He had much more luck with a recent load of eight broken Nintendo Switches, which he fixed and then resold for a profit.

Videos like those, and fix-it challenges with other YouTubers across the pond, are part of Porter’s growth strategy, he said.

“That was somewhat of a surprise to me because I didn’t know what to expect when I started with that,” he said.

The back story

On the edge of the community’s busy intersection at Columbia and Main streets, TronicsFix (Tronicsfix.com) moved into what was once-upon-a-time a residence before its business use in the commercial zone. The spot previously had been home to the John L. Scott Real Estate office, which relocated up the street before Porter and his wife, Jessica, moved their family there.

The main floor is the forward-facing portion of the business for the public. Repair services are offered to walk-in traffic. Compared to the mail-in repairs that have come from every state in the country, the walk-in business accounts for only 5 to 10 percent of the average 100 repairs that take place there each month.

The space serves as a shipping hub for receiving, plus repair space, and videography with storage surrounding for parts and supplies. Porter’s mother-in-law, Sheila Campbell, is a full-time employee who leads shipping and receiving and does some of the repairs herself.

The Porters reside in the basement, creating separation from their living and working spaces. The spot gives them their first commercial building ownership since launching the business six years ago.

The couple wanted a move from the Portland area, and as graduates of then-Walla Walla College (he in 2002, she in 2005), they already had a love for the area.

TronicsFix is as old as the PS4 (2013). But its roots go back a little farther than that.

Almost eight years ago, Porter had a kidney transplant. Post-recovery, he stayed home with the couple’s son as Jessica worked outside of the home. Itching for a way to indulge his natural “fixer” tendencies and maybe generate some income on the side, he began buying broken goods off eBay to learn how to find solutions to their problems. The more he learned, the more intricate the items became.

He started selling repaired and refurbished goods with the work he did out of the garage. When the space became too small for all of the projects, he leased a 600-square-foot commercial spot and began his dive into PS4s. That lasted between eight months and a year before growing out of that space.

Next they occupied a roughly 1,600-square-foot location. As the business grew, so did Porter’s YouTube presence. He honed in on videos with more frequency and better content, and subscriber numbers continued to grow until they began generating their own revenue. Sponsorships emerged.

Leveling up

With enough business to generate income, the couple decided to make their move east. Earnings on the sale of their home enabled them to buy their own business space in Milton-Freewater.

“I think you know what time it is: Let’s take it apart,” Porter said on a Friday video posting of an unorthodox exploration into a broken Billy Bass toy he bought for $5 at a thrift store.

Often asked if he can repair items and shoot videos for fixes other than gaming systems, Porter said he is cautious about that idea. He’s vested himself deeply enough into gaming that he can diagnose common problems in a number of the systems and knows the fixes. He doesn’t want the quality of the work he already does to suffer by taking on too much.

The shop receives gaming systems from every state in the country. Porter no longer ships internationally because of damage that can happen in shipping.

Customers range from grandparents wanting a fix for their grandchildrens’ consoles as birthday gifts to gamers who want to avoid the cost of replacement of their beloved systems.

With the family operation in place and help from a separate contracted staffer, a recent busy day receiving 18 systems in one day is still manageable on a three- or five-day guaranteed turnaround time. But those days are rare. If they were regular, the quality and timing could suffer, Porter lamented.

“I want to be busy enough to keep everybody working, but not so busy that it stops being fun,” he said.

All diagnoses are free, and no charge is presented if Porter can’t fix the machine. Costs to fix the equipment vary. An HDMI repair on a PS4 (where there is no display on the TV when the console is turned on) runs $109. The same cost applies to disc drive repair, overheating repair and fan repair. A hard drive repair runs a little more at $129. Prices are comparable on other machines — cheaper than replacement and in line with a fixer philosophy that it’s better to repair and keep the hardware out of the landfill.

“Most manufacturers aren’t making stuff to take apart any more,” Porter said.

The web is ripe with information to help find common problems for electronics, but unlike other industries where parts continue to be manufactured or available, the same is not always true for electronics.

“A lot of these parts would cost literally cents to buy,” he said.

Porter touted iFixit for its resources and network. The California company is a sharing organization for repair manuals, parts, guides and gadgets as a way to counteract electronics companies with a stance that their repair information is proprietary.

“Ultimately it’s bad for everyone,” Porter said.

Parts for some of the equipment is not easily available. Porter uses pieces from motherboards on broken consoles, finds parts through other networking groups, and purchases from suppliers overseas.

He is equally happy if his videos help empower others to open up their own machines and fix the problems themselves. But many who follow him continue to trust the work of his team rather than delve into their own repairs. Jessica attributes it to the power of the videos, where subscribers can see his work for themselves.

“It builds such trust,” she said. “Just from the beginning they can see he knows what he’s doing.”

 

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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