Many people will recognize Brightstar as a leader in the mobile phone distribution category, as well as the company founded by Marcelo Claure – before he was ever affiliated with Sprint or SoftBank, of course.
Brightstar was founded in Miami in 1997, when the market was dominated by Brightpoint and Cellstar. The upstart entering the market at the time reflected a combination of the two biggest players, and Brightstar immediately became a formidable player at a time when more than a dozen phone companies were vying for market share – as well as a lot more carriers.
Over the past 24 years, the number of relevant cell phone manufacturers in the U.S. market has dwindled to a grand total of about two, and consolidation turned the U.S. market into a three-way race, with a fourth triggered by an acquisition. Throughout those years, Brightstar changed as well – so much so, its current leaders decided it was time for a rebranding.
Under the new name “Likewize,” the company is showcasing its range of tech services, in-store and at-home repair, recycling and support. Today’s biggest customers include global brands like Amazon, Apple, Tesco, Telefonica, Aon, Vodafone, Walmart, Rogers, Samsung and O2. Its headquarters has moved to just outside Dallas where it’s also celebrating the opening of a new state-of-the-art fulfillment center.
Going back to its origins, Brightstar was a mobile phone distributor, but over the years, it expanded to offer so much more, according to Chief Marketing Office Jeremy Dale. For example, “any tech problem that a customer has – we can resolve it,” he said. “We know that people fundamentally rely on their devices now more than they have ever done.”
Over the past eight years, it’s made nine different acquisitions, mostly in the areas of insurance, repair and tech support.
Among its acquisitions: LucidCX and WeFix, adding premium tech support and mobile repair capabilities to the portfolio. Likewize boasts that it’s unique in its category, offering the broadest range of after-sales products and services.
While the company was known as a distributor for many years, its journey has taken it much more down the path of services and tech, yet the perception lagged behind, said CEO Rod Millar. “The whole business has shifted,” he said.
Hence, it was time for a change. Nowadays, about 95% of the business is around premium tech support and device protection, while probably less than 5% is cell phone distribution, he said. Likewize is owned 75% by private equity; Softbank still owns 25%, according to Millar.
The biggest competitors for Likewize today are probably Asurion and Assurant. The company actually has grown during the Covid pandemic as work shifted to homes and demand increased for refurbished devices and tech support.
5G is driving the handset replacement cycle, and as the average cost of a higher-end device increases, so does the need for insurance. The name “Likewize” is designed to reflect a flexibility and alignment with its customers’ needs, according to Dale.
It’s a B2B2C company, so the message very much is: “When tech goes wrong, we make it right,” he said. Some things are the same, in that it still works with the big OEMs, carriers and retailers, but increasingly nowadays: “We look after their customers,” Dale said.