Kentucky is known for horse racing, Louisville slugger baseball bats and blue grass. Maybe laptop repair central should be added to that list as we found out on a recent visit to Geek Squad City in Kentucky where over 3,000 laptops are repaired daily on a four-acre site.
Geek Squad Overview
Geek Squad City HQ (view large image)
Many have seen the Geek Squad counter at their local Best Buy electronics store. Geek Squad was a PC repair company based in Minnesota before being acquired by Best Buy back in 2002. After partnering with Best Buy, Geek Squad went national and you’ll find their service desks in around 800 Best Buy stores across the U.S. Geek Squad “Agents” can work on fixing your broken PC by either coming on site (if you’re lucky they’ll drive to you using their Geek Squad branded VW Bug), fixing the computer at the Best Buy location or, as is most often the case for notebooks, it will be sent to Geek Squad City in Louisville Kentucky for repair.
Timeline of Geek Squad history (view large image)
Geek Squad will fix laptops that are covered under warranty purchased at Best Buy and they’ll also perform services and repairs for non-warranty laptops. You can see the GeekSquad.com price list to get an idea of the prices and entire range of services they offer.
We found a Geek Squad VW Bug in the lobby of Geek Squad City (view large image)
Geek Squad City Overview
Being located in Cincinnati we’re a fairly fast 1.5 hour drive from Brooks, Kentucky where Geek Squad City is located. We contacted the folks there and asked for a tour, to which they were much obliged. Our tour guide was the actual “Mayor” of Geek Squad City, Wes Snyder, who was a very enthusiastic gentleman. As the title would indicate, Wes essentially runs the city and is in charge of making sure everyone is happy. Based on the friendly waves and greetings he got from his fellow Geeks, we assume the Mayor is a popular one – even if he wasn’t exactly voted for and elected.
At Geek Squad City 90% of the repair units that come in on a given day are notebooks, the other 10% are mostly desktop PC systems. Geek Squad found it easier to centralize laptop repairs due to the fact it’s easier to fix notebooks and have all the right parts in stock in one place rather than at 800 different Best Buy locations.
The busiest day each week is a Wednesday when approximately 3,500 notebooks will come in, give or take a thousand depending on the season. Why is a Wednesday busiest you ask? Most broken notebooks are taken into Best Buy locations over the weekend when people are off work, and then they are sent via 2-day UPS shipping to Louisville and thus arrive en masse during the middle of the week.
The nearby UPS facility ties in closely with Geek Squad operations and shipping logistics (view large image)
To give you an idea of the logistics involved here, 3,500 broken notebooks is about five UPS trucks full. Geek Squad City was strategically located within 6.5 miles of Louisville airport because it is a UPS shipping hub. UPS flights land at around 5 a.m. in the morning, and soon thereafter broken laptops are arriving at Geek Squad City. Then at the end of the day fixed laptops are picked up in time for the 10 p.m. UPS flights out of Louisville airport. Forty percent of notebooks that arrive will be fixed within 24 hours, meaning a laptops stay in Kentucky could be only a matter of hours.
A look at the "Downtown" floor at Geek Squad City where all the repairs take place (view large image)
The size of the Geek Squad City operation is quite amazing. There are 640 workers located in a four-acre facility that opened at the end of October 2006. The repair floor, affectionately called “Downtown”, is where all the action takes place. Downtown looks like any other high tech manufacturing floor you’ll see. It’s brightly lit, warehouse like, extremely clean, has lots of conveyor belts, is lined with computer terminals and workbenches and the area hums with activity as carts of bar coded broken laptops are pushed around. As each Geek Squad Agent works to repair a notebook they update repair status information on a proprietary web-based tracking application called Agent Zone. Agent Zone allows managers to see how fast things are being fixed and to flag any system that has been hanging around for more than three days. If a notebook is at Geek Squad City for more than three days a status update is sent to the Best Buy it originated from. The only reason it would take such an amount of time is if they’re waiting for a part or can’t reach the customer to ask a question.
An agent at work fixing a notebook (view large image)
What’s the most common notebook problem fixed at Geek Squad City?
Training bench in the lab at Geek Squad City (view large image)
Agents are trained on a variety of repairs done to notebooks in a lab area they have in Geek Squad City. Manufacturers will even go so far as to send sample units of upcoming notebooks months ahead of time so that Agents can be trained on the internals of each notebook they’ll see. But at the end of the day there are a few repairs that will come up again and again. The top four repairs are:
- Loose DC Jacks that need to be soldered back to the mother board
- Too much dust build-up causing overheating
- Motherboard issues
- Cracked or damaged screens
The #3 and #4 repair issues are close enough to be called a tie according to Wes. Learn from this list and make sure no repair shop convinces you a new motherboard is needed when a power jack becomes loose and always blow out dust from your fans using a can of compressed air spray!
Training lab (view large image)
While most notebooks do get fixed, there are some under warranty that simply can’t be fixed at any reasonable cost. When an Agent determines a laptop needs to be junked they’ll take it apart and make sure to shred the hard drive so the source of your personal data is destroyed. The notebook will be sent to a recycling plant at that point. One thing Geek Squad is experimenting with is taking out “good parts” from a junked laptop and hopefully finding a way to use it to fix other broken notebooks of the same brand. Sort of like an organ donor. The thinking is it will be cheaper and quicker to access available used parts than wait for new parts to come in.
As with any work environment, things can get stressful, so Geeks are provided with a way to let off steam in the “Downtime” room. In this room there are several Xbox 360 machines, PC gaming rigs, a Nintendo Wii, Pool table, foosball and comfy couches.
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The cafeteria is rather interesting, with tables areas named after planets and LCD televisions generously sprinkled about.
Geek Squad City cafeteria (view large image)
With all the notebooks shipped to Geek Squad City in a given day, Wes indicated there are about 20 packages they receive each day that are simply “incorrect”. One time they even mistakenly received 60lbs of chocolates via UPS, that was polished off instead of being turned away though.
One of the burning questions I had was to find out whether the Agents really wore those ties you see while working on the Downtown repair floor – they do indeed. Strict geek tie only dress code applies to the agents here, while the rest of the staff wear black collared shirts.
Another thing I wanted to know is whether all Geek Squad employees drove to work in a Volkswagen Bug. While they did have a Bug on display in the lobby, I was disappointed to find no VW Bugs in the parking lot outside – they all drove mundane looking “normal” cars.
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Before visiting Geek Squad City I have to admit to being mostly ignorant to the services and capabilities of Geek Squad. But I left the facility being nothing but impressed by the way it is run and the way people that work there are trained. The Agents there all loved the work they were doing and the entire operation was very well managed. The logistics are sort of mind-blowing when you think about the fact they’ve sometimes received 4,000+ broken notebooks in a day and often turnaround repairs within 24-hours. The goal is to grow too, providing repair service to customers outside of just the Best Buy channel. So next time you have a broken laptop and are considering your options for a fix, marching to the local Best Buy might be better than going to some shady repair shop down the street or trying to muddle through your own repair attempts.