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It doesn’t take a genius to fix a Mac.

In fact, avoiding the Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) Store “geniuses” altogether will typically save Mac users quite a bit of time, money and frustration.

The Difference

When my beloved dog knocked a cup of coffee onto my Macbook, as a recent convert not knowing any better, I made an appointment with my local Apple store, only to have it rescheduled when I got there. When I got to speak with someone and explained the situation, I found out that any liquid damage meant a minimum, standard fee of more than $800.

And when I asked why no one could tell me that on the phone, I heard that the people who answer the phone aren’t trained “geniuses,” and couldn’t give out such information.

A friend recommended a local store that fixed me up for about $200. And the person who answered the phone was the person I met with when I arrived.

John Deas, a friend of mine in Philadelphia, had a similar experience when his two-year-old Macbook Pro crashed. Apple told him the computer was fried and that the repair bill would have a comma in it; his local Mac guys replaced one newly-recalled part for free and sent him on his way for the $40 inspection fee.

How They Do It

Many of these local stores are not Apple Authorized Service Providers, meaning that anything they fix is no longer covered under warranty. But it also means that they don’t have to buy their parts directly from Apple for heavily inflated prices.

For example, it costs Ken Gould, the nearly 20-year owner of MacAlliance in Austin, Texas, $25 for a Macbook charger as opposed to the $80 it costs from Apple.

“The number two reason is I’ve always kept my overhead really low,” Gould said. “This place looks like an old hotel. It’s not a really in a high-trafficked area and the rent is low. I’m not in a swanky strip.”

And the most advertising Gould has ever had to do for his steady stream of business involved listing himself in the phone book.

“We’re out for the best interest of our customers,” Gould said of why his business stays so consistent. “If I do that, if I treat my customers like that and I’m going to be in business like this for a long time.”

In addition to cost and customer service, local stores typically have a larger knowledge base than the Apple stores. Even though Apple trains their geniuses, it is still a retail store, and retail stores mean low pay and high turnover.

“When you’ve only worked for someplace for 5-6 years ... They still don’t have as much experience as me,” Gould said. “I have 25 years experience with Macs, I’ve worked with every single computer apple has ever built all the way back to the Lisa.”

Gould’s business has remained steady throughout Apple’s waning and waxing popularity, and he says the brand likely has no problem with stores like his, though they could not be reached for comment.

“I don’t think apple frowns upon us, all we do is Apple, and we’ve been doing it for 25 years,” Gould says. “We fit a niche of the market that Apple doesn’t reach. Apple doesn’t like to fix anything that isn’t under current manufacture; they’d rather sell you a new computer. We’ll fix just about anything up to a certain point.”

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