Auto care entrepreneurs: Brothers combine skills for foray into business

Brothers Christopher and Martin Collings celebrated the opening of their co-owned franchise, Honest-1 Auto Care of North Richland Hills this spring.

The Collingses took on the location from previous franchisees with the goal of breathing new life into the auto repair shop through remodeling, culture and supporting more women to enter the auto sector.

Honest-1 is a national full-service auto care company whose mission is to provide fair and honest service on a vehicle to all its customers in a family-friendly environment.

Christopher explained that the five principles of Honest-1 Auto Care are honesty, integrity, professionalism, courtesy and compassion.

“Ultimately it all stems from wanting to have a place you can honestly go. You want them to have integrity to do the right thing. You want them to be a professional environment that’s safe and courteous … polite and not condescending,” Christopher said. “A big thing that’s missing in this environment is compassion. You know, people don’t wake up in the morning with a car that won’t start and get excited about driving a car to the auto shop to spend money.”

Christopher says he and Martin think long and hard about how they want to run their business.

“Honest-1 has a certain image and model that they follow,” Christopher said. “But within that, as individuals, it’s our choice on how do we really build a foundation for a place that people, I don’t want to say that they’re happy to bring their car into, but at least they’re confident in knowing this is a place that’s gonna treat them fairly, get the job done, and really have their best interest at heart.”

Inside the 908 Grapevine Highway location in North Richland Hills just behind the customer service counter is a mounted statement of “The Honest-1 Open Service Commitment.” It reads:

– We will listen carefully and inspect meticulously.

– We will recommend what your car needs now and what can wait until later.

– We will explain every step of the service before we start any work.

– We will detail everything in an estimate for your approval.

– We will stand behind our 100% satisfaction guarantee.

– We will treat every car as if it were our own.

Each Honest-1 center is designed to be family-friendly and cost-effective for consumers looking for an alternative to traditional dealership service.

“There is a level of openness and customer service and transparency that we’ve really been trying to overcome in this industry. And it’s very important to the consumer to not feel like they’re being taken advantage of, or their lack of knowledge is being used against them when they walk into an automotive repair facility,” Honest-1 Vice President of Marketing Rick Sage said. “And Chris and Martin really understood that, and they really believed that.”

Open-concept, upscale waiting areas with leather chairs and couches, high-definition TVs, complimentary beverages, free internet and children’s play areas make up the centers, which also feature large picture windows into the work bays, so customers can see their car being serviced.

According to Honest-1, across the automotive care industry, 66 percent of customers are female. But the stereotype of women being taken advantage of in the car dealerships and auto care shops is still well-known.

Honest-1 aims to make its service centers approachable, understandable and accessible men and women alike, Christopher said.

“Everybody owns a vehicle … and everyone’s going to have vehicle problems, but we really want to help [and] open our doors to women. I think that they’re just under-recognized, especially in this industry,” Christopher said. “It bothers me when I hear someone talk condescendingly or tell a woman, ‘Well, let me speak with your husband and I’ll explain it to him.’ If my wife came in, this is where I would want my wife to go, ultimately.”

“Our target audience is everybody who has a car, but what we really want to do is reach out to women to have them come in and know that this is a place that they’ll be taken care of and they’ll be treated with respect and dignity,” he added.

From the time he was 19, Martin has been in the automotive industry. He got interested after taking automotive classes in high school and attending technical school. He passed his first Automotive Service Excellence certification test more than 20 years ago.

Christopher and Martin both worked with their father on cars in the garage while growing up. Christopher then decided to follow in his parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps and served for six years in the U.S. Air Force as an air traffic controller.

After the military, he worked as a self-taught computer engineer before realizing 15 years ago that entrepreneurship was his calling. About the same time, Martin started working for Christian Brothers Automotive franchise in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Once he’d worked for the company for a decade and a half, Martin was ready to own his own franchise, so he reached out to his brother about buying a Christian Brothers franchise location that had just gone on the market so they could get into business together.

“I’d been looking for something to do that I could spend more time in Texas with my side of the family and do something with my brother,” Christopher said. “So it was a nice fit for that.”

While doing research about the automotive franchise business, the Collings brothers came across Honest-1 and, after digging into both companies’ business models, figured Honest-1 was the one for them.

Whereas Christian Brothers was set up for one partner and the parent company, Honest-1 would allow Martin and Christopher to co-own the franchise together.

“Honest-1 had the same customer-centered business model. They were built on being an honest mechanic, a family-friendly environment, some place women were comfortable coming to, and the more we spoke with them and we met with the executives from the company over in Arizona, we realized that the Honest-1 was a much better fit for my brother and I,” Christopher said.

The pair entered into an agreement with Honest-1 in March 2017 and began searching for a site to build in the North Dallas area when the idea came up for them to take over a dilapidated Honest-1 location in North Richland Hills.

The location was actually the first Honest-1 franchise in D-FW, and when they saw that it was struggling and not “being operated in the best ideals and the highest ideals of Honest-1,” Christopher said the brothers knew they had a good opportunity to rejuvenate it and make it the flagship location they felt it should be.

They spent the next six months negotiating the purchase from the previous owner, shutting it down and remodeling it. In the end, the Collingses spent about $100,000 on the renovations and the building, even doing a lot of the work themselves. From shutdown to re-open the process took only three weeks.

The brothers redid the ceiling, flooring and tile; painted; added warehouse doorways; added and demolished walls to enhance the lobby and add two more bays for a total of 10. They brought in new equipment, including a new state inspection machine, and all new technical staff.

“In the end, I guess you could square it all down to is, we are customer service and we work on cars. We’re not a mechanic shop. We’re not an automotive repair. We’re not any of those things,” Christopher said. “In the end, we are customer service, and we just happen to work on vehicles.”

Christopher and Martin recognize that as cars and transportation in general adapt and change to include more modern technology, so too will the automotive care industry.

“We don’t just fix cars, we fix people movers. Cars will always change and people will always need their vehicles,” Christopher said. “I mean, you can get a Toyota Corolla that has more computers in it than in the ship that went off to the moon in the Apollo missions, you know? I mean it’s crazy. Every car now is all computerized.”

“Anybody who doesn’t recognize that in our industry, of where we’re heading, is not going to be able to keep up with the vehicles that people come in,” he added. “We’re not afraid to have a high-tech car come in. We’re not afraid to come in with today’s modern vehicles that are more robot, more computer than engine. And we’re perfectly comfortable with that because that’s where the future is going.”

But it’s not just cars but the automotive industry itself that’s evolving. Not too long ago many people would’ve said being a mechanic and working in an automotive shop is a man’s job, but Martin and Christopher aim to help swing the pendulum.

“Women are just under-recognized in this. If you would look at the statistics, I think only 15 out of 100, maybe 15 percent, of women become technicians or work in the automotive industry,” Christopher said. “So when we’re looking at technicians and the office staff as well, we always make sure to give a second look and encourage women to apply as well.”

The Collingses employ one male and one female general service technician and one female and one male service advisor. And Christopher’s and Martin’s wives, Sarah and Amber, respectively, also work in the business.

This article provided by NewsEdge.