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Some assemblers required

Published December 20, 2006

Robbie McGregor assembles a swing set Wednesday in Karen Doherty's yard in Oldsmar. Doherty got the set as a present for her grandson. 'There's no way I could have done it. I'd still be trying to put it together at New Year's," Doherty said.
[Times photos: Jim Damaske]
McGregor heads off to his next job. December is his busiest month, with work starting about 5 a.m. and not finishing until after sunset, six days a week.

Robbie McGregor has spent many a Christmas Eve in strangers' dark back yards, cobbling together some lucky kid's new trampoline or swing set by the moonlight.

Sometimes he wears a Santa hat. That's fitting, because clients have told him that he saved their Christmas.

McGregor, 36, runs Robbie's Assembly Service from his Clearwater home. He and other professional assemblers rescue the people who buy pingpong tables for their kids or computer desks for their spouse, then balk at the big boxes of loose parts and the words "Some Assembly Required."

December is McGregor's busiest month: Six days a week, he rises at 5 a.m. to chart out the day's routes. Then he and his crew he has four full-time subcontractors, a fifth at Christmas set out before dawn in teams of two to tackle assignments throughout west-central Florida. They don't finish until 7 or 8 p.m.

"I don't have time to do very much at Christmas," McGregor said, "except take care of business."

Several national companies, like Diamond Retail Services and Jez Enterprises, also assemble merchandise in people's homes.

There are half a dozen Florida companies listed on the Web site of the Pro-Assemblers Network. Mike Mehrle, the site's founder, thinks there are far more who haven't joined the network.

It's not that the average person can't figure out how to put together a desk, said Mehrle, who runs an assembly service in Columbus, Ohio. But some don't have the time, or the right tools, or the patience to meticulously read the instructions.

Three-quarters of McGregor's December jobs are swing sets, which can take anywhere from one to six hours to assemble. He also puts together a lot of exercise equipment, basketball hoops and Power Wheels cars this time of year.

"I just think his service is fabulous," said Karen Doherty, who hired Robbie's Assembly Service to put together a swing set for her grandson at her daughter's home in Oldsmar. "There's no way I could have done it. I'd still be trying to put it together at New Year's."

The two weeks after Christmas are almost as busy as the preholiday rush - that's when McGregor hears from the people who thought they could put together their kids' presents.

The rest of the year, McGregor gets requests for more sheds, furniture, even spiral staircases. McGregor plans to set up a Web site next year, though most of his clients find him through word of mouth.

McGregor's fees vary by the difficulty of the job, the number of crew members required and other factors. A good rule of thumb, he said, is that a two-person crew can be hired for about $70 an hour.

Kevin Bell, who runs Bell Assembly Service in St. Petersburg, gets requests mostly for putting together office furniture, either for families or small businesses.

Sometimes, people call late at night and want him to hurry over to put together a birthday present or Christmas gift. Usually, Bell tells them that he'll visit in the morning.

But he remembers rushing one night to help a man who had just spent 16 hours trying to put together a desk.

"To be honest, it only took me about 15 minutes," Bell said. "I didn't charge him. I just couldn't."

Bell said his good business is due in part to poor instruction manuals. "They seem to tell you the hard way to do it."

That must help explain why even the rich and famous need the professionals to take the "Y" out of DIY chores: Last week, McGregor planned to put together a playhouse at the home of former Devil Rays catcher Toby Hall.

Christina Rexrode can be reached at (727) 893-8318 or

On the Web

Find Pro-Assemblers Network at 

[Last modified December 20, 2006, 09:52:31]

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