Recently, there’s also been a renewed interest and fascination with analog media. Young people are rediscovering vinyl records, cassette tapes, and even typewriters.
But even outside of those interested in antiques and nostalgia of a past era, typewriters are still more widely used than you might think.
The New York Police Department still relies heavily on typewriters. There’s also those of us that prefer the limits imposed by a typerwriter. You’re not going to accidentally press a button and send a document to your entire company on a typewriter. No one can hack into your typewriter and steal your private information.
But typewriters are complex works of art and as such, they need maintenance and repair. Yet the number of people with the knowledge, skills and desire to fix these machines is rapidly dwindling.
To dive deeper into the dying art of typerwriter repair, today, on Small Business War Stories, we talk with Steve Munoz from Duncan Munoz Business Machines, the last surviving typewriter repair person in Central Texas.
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A summary of our interview with Steve Munoz from Duncan Munoz Business Machines is below.
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- How did you get into this business?
- How have you seen the world of typewriters evolve?
- What is it like once you open up a typewriter and start testing all the little machines?
- Have you seen more customers come in, in the past five, ten years then there were maybe in the 90’s?
- What happened to your competitors?
- How have you gone about looking for somebody to teach your art to?
- Do you have any apprentices now?
- What’s something that most people don’t know about the typewriter business?
- Tell me about something that maybe you’re learning right now that you didn’t know and that you’ve been learning the last few months that’s been interesting to you.
- How do you go about finding your customers?
- What’s your strategy with Google advertising?
- What’s maybe the oddest or wackiest thing that you have seen?
- How do you want your brand and your business to grow in the next 10 years?
You are the last remaining typewriter repair person in Central Texas. How did you get into this business?
Steve Munoz: Back when I was 18 years old, I delivered the typewriters and business machines back to the customer after the technicians repaired them. When there was nothing to do, I just scoped them out. Then they made me start to take apart the machines and it went on from there. I just learned. I have been doing it for 41 years now.
How have you seen the world of typewriters evolve?
Steve Munoz: Typewriters as machines have not changed much. In fact, they thought they were going to be obsolete about 15, 20 years ago, but they’re still around. Parts are still around. Typewriter hasn’t changed at all.
Fax machines, printers they’ve changed. They’ve come a long ways. We go to schools for about a week and learn the new, but in theory, everything’s the same. Really, I just go by experience is what it is.
A typewriter is an incredibly complex machine and fixing them is almost like watchmaking. What is it like once you open up a typewriter and start testing all the little machines? Maybe take me into your world for a minute here and tell me what that’s like.
Steve Munoz: My wife says that we’re like doctors, like surgeons because it’s pretty much what we do. We tear it apart. A typewriter can have one problem and six different things that could be causing it. You got to work your way down, and eliminate options. It is very, very hard in the beginning, but if you just carry on and learn, that’s the main thing, you have to want to learn. When you do, you will succeed in it, but it takes a long time.
We have seen a resurgence of analog media. You’ve seen more people going back to listening to vinyl records, listening to cassette tapes, writing on paper with their hands, and typewriters have also been a part of that. Have you seen more customers come in, in the past five, ten years then there were maybe in the 90’s?
Steve Munoz: Yes, indeed. It’s not just people in their homes, but businesses are also starting to buy typewriters. That’s due to all the hacking going on. Lawyers and CPAs and people like that who don’t want something on their computer will type it up and you can always shred that piece of paper therefore, but on the computer it’s there for good.
Then there’s the people like you who just want an antique typewriter and want to learn how to use it. There’s a manual typewriter revolution going on. I don’t know why, but it is, nationwide. They’re just buying them like crazy.
What happened to your competitors? You used to have competitors and you are now the only remaining one in Central Texas, tell me more. What happened to that?
Steve Munoz: Well, Mr. Wizard, I think he had health issues. Then, Austin Typewriter and Computer had their only technician, one that I trained, and he went and found a, I guess you would call it a regular job. The others just got older as and closed up shop. Therefore, that left just me for Central Texas.
The first time we met you were telling me that typewriter repair becoming this lost art and that it’s very difficult to find people who are interested in repairing these machines. Today, a lot of machines are made to be thrown away, but you still do have some higher quality things. Tell me more about that process. How have you gone about looking for somebody to teach your art to?
Steve Munoz: I’ve tried the high schools, they have those vocational programs. I didn’t get anything from them. Then basically it’s people who come in and don’t have a job and they’re interested. Most people are, like you, are very interested in this and wonder about how do you do this?
They’re inquisitive. Those kind of people are what I’m looking for, but today’s kids they just don’t want to work. Bottom line. They like the money, but they don’t want to work.
One of my goals for today is to see if we can get a few people who are interested in this kind of work to contact you. Do you have any apprentices now?
Steve Munoz: There is a young kid out there, Adrian, who’s interested and he calls it shadowing. He wants to just shadow me. He doesn’t realize it, but if he does learn the trade … He’ll have a career for the rest of his life. Cash registers, copiers, everything. The more you learn different things, the more you have a chance of getting a job anywhere. There’s a lot of guys, colleagues of mine that are limited. They know the HP printer and that’s it. They never learned cash registers, shredders, laminators, folding machines, calculators, typewriters. That’s all they know. It’s like tunnel-vision. I learned it all.
What’s something that most people don’t know about the typewriter business?
Steve Munoz: Basically how to use them. They know how to type on them, but a lot of them don’t know how to insert paper correctly. Some of these typewriters have automatic paper insert and people don’t know how to use that. They don’t even know it’s there and how to change the ribbons.
You’re a life-long student. Tell me about something that maybe you’re learning right now that you didn’t know and that you’ve been learning the last few months that’s been interesting to you.
Steve Munoz: There’s always something that you learn. That’s the one good thing about this field is that there’s a different challenge every day. I’ve been doing it for 41 years and I still encounter some machines that’ll leave me baffled. I go to bed thinking about them. That goes to show you that you’ll never get bored.
An example of that is your machine. I had never seen it before. It wouldn’t move. I couldn’t figure it out. There’s the one I went to bed with. I finally saw it in the back, of all places. It was missing two screws. I put those screws in and boom that took care of that. Where we put the draw band, that main spring, it was missing two screws to hold that draw band.
I tried everything. I was running out of ideas and then figured it out. That’s what I’m talking about. The challenge every day. It amazed me that two screws could fix this.
Let’s talk a little bit about customer acquisition. That’s a big challenge for a lot of small businesses. How do you go about finding your customers?
Steve Munoz: Well, for one, I don’t have to do any advertising because we’ve been in business 68 years. Here in Austin. Most of my customers have been life-long. Then, the best advertisement that there is out there is the word of mouth. That’s the best. It’s free and it’s also very true.
People speak of Duncan-Munoz Office Machines. Then you’d be surprised at parties and whatever somebody brings up, I got this old typewriter and boom he says, take it to so and so he’s the best. I’m not saying I’m the best, I’m just saying that’s what people say.
That and Google is the only advertising I do because we’ve been around so long. Even newcomers that move into the city ask questions to their neighbors. The neighbors says, this guy has this and this go see him. It’s all word of mouth.
What’s your strategy with Google advertising?
Steve Munoz: Google has information about us. How long we’ve been here, what we do, directions to the place, and phone number. Every month I get a report from them and 700 people look me up, 20 people looked up the directions, and 10 people actually called. It tells me. There area lot of people hitting me up, that’s all I need, really.
What’s maybe the oddest or wackiest thing that you have seen? You’ve probably seen so much and so many different types of customers. Is there a particular wacky story that comes to mind?
Steve Munoz: Yeah, there’s one when I first started. The carriage moves, as you’re typing it goes across and moves from left to right. Well this one woman had problems at every time that she was typing. It would go skip, skip, skip on her. I delivered it to the technicians, they couldn’t find anything wrong. I took it back to her and she said she’s having the same problem. I picked it up, took it back to the technicians, could never find anything wrong. We kept it for three, four days everybody typed on it. They said, just take it back tell her that we can’t find anything wrong. I did and I was standing behind her to see how it skipped and it did, but this time I stood in front of her. It was skipping and I saw why. It was her boobs were hitting the space bar. I simply moved the desk back and then I said, “Type on it now.” And it started working.
How do you want your brand and your business to grow in the next 10 years? How to do you want to continue to develop?
Steve Munoz: Until I find an apprentice, I can’t grow anymore. I really can’t, but if I get some help then I can grow. If Adrian turns out to be what I need, I also need somebody be able to go out and do the service calls ’cause we go out and do those too. I go to lawyers and doctors and everybody, construction companies. If I get those people, I would just like to grow it. You don’t ever want to get too big for yourself because then you’re looking for trouble.
How you’ve seen Austin change in the 29 years you have been here and where do you see it going in the next 10 years?
Steve Munoz: Drastically, to begin with. It’s basically all been for the good, the exception of traffic. Technically, it’s a technical town. It’s gotten very big. I don’t know how much bigger it can get. I see the growth as a generally positive thing. The cost of living has always been there. It’s probably going to get worse, but the wages go along with it. It makes up for it.
Is there anything else that you want our listeners to know about you or your business and where can people find you?
Steve Munoz: Just that we’ve been around a long time. We’re good at what we do and if we can’t fix it, we’ll be honest. That’s the one thing, to be in business for 68 years you have to be doing something right. That’s being honest, first and foremost with people. They can always call me at my office and we’re here at 818 Wagon Trail, Suite 11 in Austin, Texas. You can also call the shop at 512-451-5206.
Compared to the 90’s, typewriters are seeing a resurgence. There’s those interested in collecting the machines and still those that prefer them for the built in security that they are not connected to the outside world.
Steve Munoz is the last surviving typewriter repair person in Central Texas. He’s struggling to find an apprentice to teach his trade to. He believes there will always be a need for someone with these skills. Typewriters, cash registers, copiers, printers, and more will always need service.
His business has survived 68 years because of Steve’s appetite for always wanting to learn, providing a great service to his clients and as a result, growing exclusively through word of mouth.
If you have any question or comments about today’s episode, please leave a comment below.