Eid-ul-Azha abounds with jokes about engineers turning into seasonal butchers, but in the case of Sukoon, this rings somewhat true. “In 2014, during our beta phase, Eid was around the corner, so we started with a butcher service,” says Shoaib Iqbal, cofounder and CEO, Sukoon. Their first client, astounded by the professionalism that resulted in his cow being sacrificed and sectioned by 6:30 a.m. on the first day of Eid, spread the word and “we ended up with a bunch of orders for next year,” says Kazi Umair, co-founder and COO, Sukoon. However, that was the only year butcher services were part of Sukoon’s service menu.
Having conceived of the idea of Sukoon – a Karachi-based online portal providing the services of home repair technicians – business graduates Iqbal and Umair conducted two months of research to learn what people sought when hiring domestic repair services. That turned out to be punctuality, reliability, and security. “Our customers are mostly working couples who prioritise convenience,” says Umair. “Older people are also into it and women who have married and moved away ask for technicians to be sent to their parents’ home because they are on their own.”
“One of the biggest advantages we provide is security,” says Iqbal. “Handymen found outside hardware shops, operating independently, can suddenly vanish without any reason and with no way of contacting them. As a company, we can be traced. We have invested in offices where people can come and meet us.” This may be why, even though repair-work is generally perceived the responsibility of men, housewives have increasingly begun making bookings on their own.
Zohaib Munawar, Managing Director and CEO, The Handyman, says, “Our customers are mostly women because they are the ones usually at home. In Islamabad where we are based, many single women live in apartments and they are not comfortable with anybody from the market coming into their home.”
Munawar, a business graduate and Advocate, High Court, came up with the idea while visiting Brussels where he saw a repairman come over after a simple phone call. Returning to Pakistan, he happened to need the services of a plumber and spent two days hunting for someone, anyone, who could fix a geyser. As a result of the two experiences, he launched The Handyman in January 2015.
Initially, the companies built their teams by looking through their personal networks and scouting the market. “This segment is very disorganised and it is hard to find the right people,” says Iqbal. “You can’t send just anyone to someone’s home; meanwhile a lack of commitment of time on the part of the repairman can also damage the brand.”
“It is taking a while to make technicians see the importance of customer satisfaction, health and safety, and uniforms,” says Iqbal. “This is why although we have no age limit, we prefer youngsters because they are more willing to adapt. If we tell a man with 40 years of experience to change his ways, he will say, ‘Kal ke bachay mujhay bata rahay ho?’”
For Sukoon, professional education is not an issue as the focus is on technical knowledge. “The customer doesn’t care if the repairman has a degree. He just wants the work done right,” says Iqbal. Basic literacy aside, applicants need not possess diplomas or certifications as during Sukoon’s in-house induction process, they undergo tests administered by senior team members to gauge levels of skill.
“The customer doesn’t care if the repairman has a degree. He just wants the work done right.”
The Handyman requires its technicians to have diplomas (DAE, Hunar Foundation, etc.), a condition waived only if the man has work experience in the Middle East, because there, according to Munawar “they have very high levels of professionalism.” Basic literacy is required for billing, and “because we do a lot of work with embassies, some communication skills are a must.”
Guddoo’s staff ranges from matriculates to graduates, and technical qualifications (Aman Tech, Hunar Foundation, Memon Institute, etc.) are preferred to ensure the repairmen embody the “trustworthiness associated with Guddoo, which is that one real-life character present in almost every neighbourhood in Karachi – the guy-next-door who is trusted by everyone.”
Plenty of measures have been put in place to ensure maximum security. Employees are background-checked, wear uniforms, and carry company cards with their photographs and personal details. When technicians are assigned to a job, their names and CNIC numbers, along with time of arrival, is texted to the client.
Services offered are carpentry, electrical, masonry, painting, plumbing (The Handyman provides janitorial staff for corporate customers only and Guddoo has several additional interior décor services). Demand is seasonal – summers see a hike in orders for electricians and AC repairmen while winter is all about plumbers to fixing geysers and hot water systems. Monsoons bring requests for paint, although that is applicable more in Islamabad than Karachi.
Plenty of measures have been put in place to ensure maximum security. Employees are background-checked, wear uniforms, and carry company cards with their photographs and personal details.
An important practice of all three companies – one which is often initially disliked by customers is charging visit fees. “It’s to protect us against wasting our time in the event that someone requests a technician to look at a problem, and then doesn’t follow through with the actual job,” explains Shoaib Saleem, Founder, Guddo. Visit charges, however, are absorbed into service fees after a job is finished. Payments are cash-upon-completion, and a big challenge are customers who decide the work does not justify the charge. “Pakistan is a very price-sensitive market,” says Umair. “We are targeting the middle and upper middle class; disposable income is limited so they will negotiate over price; it happens all the time.”
Operationally, The Handyman’s team of 30 (office and field staff) is fully in-house as they feel logistically it is more beneficial.
Sukoon sees itself as a marketplace. “We bring the service seeker and service provider together,” says Iqbal. While there are several full-time technicians (apart from the administrative staff of about 12), freelancers (after being properly vetted and evaluated) are welcome. “If someone has his own shop and wishes to work with us as well, he can sign on as an independent contractor and take jobs within his reach.”
Guddoo prefers to have full-time office staff and mostly freelance technicians. Saleem says we “initially hired some on full-time basis, but it didn’t quite work out.”
A scroll through the websites’ Facebook pages (which are also their main publicity outlet) shows thousands of likes and hundreds of complimentary comments from satisfied customers – not a bad showing for start-ups, where the longest-running is barely two years old. It also gives an inkling of the future. The potential of an entire industry built on providing repairmen is, according to Munawar, immense. “Construction is booming and maintenance is an allied service. It is a billion dollar industry,” he says, “I’m surprised more entrepreneurs are not tapping into it.”
Customers, however, have embraced this new phenomenon wholeheartedly, especially when providers happily accommodate for services that don’t fall under any official category, such as the very strange plumbing emergency encountered by The Handyman. “We received a frantic call, rushed our man over, and he found the callers perched on a sofa – the ‘problem’ was a mouse in the bathroom,” Munawar recalls with a laugh. “Of course, our man got rid of it – and at no extra charge.”
Sarwat Yasmeen Azeem is a DAWN staffer.