GVSU alumnus opens business in downtown Grand Rapids
Zakry O’Brien graduated from Grand Valley State University in April of 2017 with a dream of opening his own business one day. Little did he know, that dream would become a reality in less than a year’s time.
O’Brien, who double majored in business entrepreneurship and management information systems at GVSU, and ran track and field, officially opened up his shop, Lake Effect Phone Repair, on Jan. 6. The downtown Grand Rapids shop focuses on repairing, reusing and recycling various electronic devices.
“I’ve been doing this sort of business (working with technology) pretty much since high school, but obviously with going to school and everything like that, getting my degree was first priority for me really and obviously for my family, (too),” O’Brien said.
Despite always knowing he wanted to go into business, O’Brien started out at GVSU in computer engineering.
“My dad was a small business owner," he explained, "and I always knew in my heart of hearts that I wanted to own my own business one day. … That’s why I switched my major after my second year at Grand Valley to business, and that’s kind of when I got my start with entrepreneurship.”
In addition to business, O’Brien has also always had an interest in the Great Lakes. Born and raised in Grand Haven, Michigan, he worked at a local surf shop and spent a lot of time on the water himself. This passion carries over into his business today, as part of the Lake Effect Phone Repair proceeds go toward supporting Michigan’s Great Lakes.
“That’s always kind of been a thing I wanted to do with my business, too, to have that value proposition where there is something else," he said. "The Great Lakes have always been a thing that’s super influential to me growing up right by the water, surfing out in the lakes and doing all that kind of stuff, so I found a way that I could creatively be able to give back, and I thought that was a really cool opportunity."
Luckily for O'Brien, Grand Rapids has a reputation for being a great place to open up a small business. A big part of this involves the support of the surrounding community—many people prefer to shop small businesses rather than chain corporations, giving shops like O'Brien's an advantage in the city.
“With Grand Rapids, it's kind of an upstart city, so everyone has that really small-town vibe where they support local business,” O’Brien said. “Everyone that comes through and talks to me are always excited about seeing a new shop, … and with Grand Rapids, it’s the perfect size: It’s not a huge city, but it’s also not small, so you get plenty of people.”
Though many customers have come in as a result of word of mouth or the shop's central location, many have also been driven into Lake Effect Phone Repair as a result of O’Brien’s presence online and on social media, where he does all the advertising himself.
“That’s the fun thing about being a small business owner," he said. "I have to be the jack of all trades. I have to be able to do the advertising, do the accounting, do the sales. … I’m the head of the whole thing. … I’m everything from taking the pictures to writing the posts.”
Success in life is not guaranteed, and O’Brien understood this when making the decision to open up Lake Effect Phone Repair. However, with the help of his family and friends and his own determination, he was able to successfully transition from GVSU graduate to business owner.
“I just rolled the dice and went for it,” he said. “That’s really the biggest thing—just taking a leap.”