COLUMBIA — At the back of Hinton Radio & TV, Dave Wright bends over the internal circuits of a broken flat-screen television and checks voltages and resistance in an effort to find out what the problem is.
Around him, shelves are filled with boxes of switches, regulators, LED sensors and other parts. A couple of televisions are turned on: One is showing the Cartoon Network, the other a daytime courtroom reality show. Wright also has some background music on the radio but says he'll turn it off if he really needs to concentrate.
When Wright's working hard, it's sometimes difficult to break him out of his zone, his colleague Al Perkins said.
"Sometimes I'll be talking to him ... (and he) never hears a word I said," Perkins said.
Wright, 42, has been fixing televisions and other appliances at Hinton Radio & TV for 20 years. The small shop on narrow Route VV in northern Boone County has been in business for more than 40 years and earned a reputation among customers and manufacturers for outstanding work.
"It is an art that is dying," Wright said.
He can fix from four to nine TVs in a day, depending on the problem and how long it takes him to figure it out.
Although technology has changed drastically, Wright and his co-workers — Perkins and Steve Hill — stay up-to-date through training from manufacturers. They used to go to St. Louis and Kansas City to attend seminars, but for the past eight years, almost every course has been available on the Internet. They take three or four courses in one year to keep their contracts current.
Not all of their knowledge and skills come from classes, though. Wright said he learns something new every day by troubleshooting the sets people bring in.
There used to be six to 10 TV repair businesses in Columbia and the surrounding area. Now, there are only a few, and none have as many contracts with manufacturers to do warranty work as the Hinton shop does. Panasonic, Toshiba, Philips, Pioneer, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Sony and Thomson are among the major brands that endorse its work.
The only shops in the region that compare are in Rolla, Sedalia and Jefferson City. When asked how the business is doing, Perkins was confident.
"Pretty well, obviously, well enough that the manufacturers have faith in us, otherwise we wouldn't be [warranty] authorized," he said.
Customers come from as far as Jefferson City, Boonville, Mexico, Moberly, Hannibal and even Quincy, Ill., among other places.
"The key problem is that we are really busy," Perkins, 45, said. "I may talk to a hundred people a day on the phone."
Right now, the estimated time to repair a television is from nine to 12 weeks. On the front desk there is a wood plaque that says: "We guarantee fast service, no matter how long it takes."
"It's a local joke," said Perkins, who has been at the repair shop for about 11 years. It's his job to deal with the customers. He conceded that some get upset when they have to go without their television for a few months. Some have even threatened lawsuits, but he usually is able to calm them down.
It's clear when one walks into the repair shop that business is good. Televisions are stacked all over the place, some in cardboard boxes. There are flat screen models and some older analog sets — around 100 in all, not counting those stored away in the basement. Radios, DVD players and stereos line some of the shelves. Each appliance has a sticky note attached so the crew doesn't forget who it belongs to.
Raymond Faup founded the store in 1970.
"He started fixing things for people until it was a full-fledged business," Hill said.
Faup died in 2005, and Hill took over the business. "I started working for him while I was in high school, in 1974." Five years later he married Faup's daughter Geralyn.
The family used to live in a brick house just across the street. The original shop was behind the family house, in a white house that's now abandoned. Its yard is invaded by weeds, and its porch is falling down. In 1982, due to a lack of space, they moved the business to the current building. But the place is still full with televisions.
"Everybody has their own reasons for doing things," Perkins said. "I do like helping people."
Perkins got much of his training in electronics when he joined the Navy in 1990. After his military service, he was able to apply that knowledge to television repair.
Since Hill took over the business, he has been very busy with paperwork. He would prefer to do more of the technical labor.
"Unfortunately, I am more of a manager now," he said. He does get to do repair work when he goes on house calls but said that's different from working in the store.
Hinton Radio & TV gets by with just three employees.
"We could use another worker, but it's just been too hard to find anybody that knows how to do this kind of work," Hill said.
The time it takes to fix a television depends on a lot of factors. They may have to order some parts from the manufacturer and that can take from a few days to a week.
"You can't snap your fingers and it is repaired," Perkins said.
There are bad and good customers. Hill said a bad customer is "a person that just can't be satisfied no matter what you do." The good customers are the important ones.
"We have a lot of happy customers," Hill said. Some bring in Christmas cards, cookies, pies, cakes or letters showing gratitude for the work.
"It is very important to me," Hill said. "I really appreciate that."
Jim Reiwhard is one of those happy customers. He had his CD player and his television repaired at Hinton Radio & TV and said he would recommend their service.
"They do a good job, very reliable," he said.
One of the reasons that makes this store special is experience. But experience cannot run a business.
"Honesty and trying to do the best work we can is what makes this store different," Wright said. Hill added that they try to be fair with their prices, too.
No one in Hill's family wants to follow his path and continue the family business.
"I'll just continue doing this as long as I can. It's what I like to do," he said.
Wright said he wouldn't recommend the job to his two sons because the pay is not what it used to be.
"I'll support them whatever they decide to do, and I'll give them my advice," he said.
Perkins, though, noted that there's quite a bit of job security in his field.
"Anything electronic can break down, and someone is going to have to be there to repair it," he said.