Putting the HEART in Franchised Auto Care
Brian Moak, president of HEART Certified Auto Care, realizes how most people feel about getting their vehicles serviced—that red-faced, ashamed feeling of being talked into something they either don’t want or don’t need. After buying the Illinois-based auto repair chain from his father in 2009, Moak began his quest to build a brand that rivals the largest names in the car repair world.
HEART is an acronym for helping everyone achieve reliable transportation, but is also a metaphor for his approach of empowering customers, using photography to document and explain problems and to change old ways of employee compensation for the benefit of all. And this softer mindset has the convenient side effect of making more money with a more ethical approach to an oft-maligned industry.
“The biggest driver for me is creation,” Moak said of his approach. “The money’s good, the business is exciting, the growth is fun, but creating opportunities is really what it’s all about.”
After his father bought his first auto shop in 1983, the younger Moak grew up crawling around tires, learning from his dad and getting his hands dirty in a decidedly kid-unfriendly world he eventually fell in love with.
Following his years in college, Moak started working with his dad in 2004, which his dad said was one of his proudest days as a parent, even though he previously pleaded with him to prevent him from going into the automotive industry.
From that point forward, nine years ago, he purposely curtailed the company’s growth, while he wrenched behind the scenes to rebuild the company from top to bottom, applying the customer-first focus that has become the norm in sophisticated, multi-unit auto and collision repair brands.
He brought in a friend, John Rost, with years of franchising experience to leave no bolt unturned. A new approach for salesperson compensation, new inspection programs and customer-facing policies that included doubling its warranty, photographs of everything and, as Moak puts it, streamlining “every system so every store could be the exact same.”
Years of work culminated in the beginning of HEART’s franchise sales program last fall, but the brand is still at the starting gate with its three corporate-run locations in Northbrook, Evanston and Wilmette, Illinois.
Even with a robust set of standard operating procedures and the right mindset, the auto repair space remains wildly competitive as a decade of consolidation has led to a handful of very aggressive, persuasive players looking to add units and attract new owners.
“We have two customers, the one that comes in the front door and the one that checks in on the timeclock at the back door,” he said of his approach. “We’re looking for someone who views the world in the same way, and it’s a must—we will not sacrifice.”
Starting this year, he hopes franchising sales to lead to five new franchisee-run units. Once he feels they are running perfectly—”the first five are supercritical”—he will resume unit sales to begin realizing his dreams of running a multi-state operation.
Asked what auto players he admires, in an industry where mom-and-pops are quickly being replaced by more sophisticated corporate brands, Moak singled out Christian Brothers and Honest-1 as two of the most reputable competitors his HEART will be up against.
“My goal, frankly, is that 5-10 years from now when we have the number of locations I have in mind as a dream, that I’m the model that they’re coming after,” he said. “That’s my goal, because I believe what we do is pretty exceptional and it’s also in part because I know the industry is changing and I want to be that change.”