Car Service City’s Success After Switching To Franchising

Car Service City’s Success After Switching To Franchising

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After dealing with a frustrating and unhelpful service shop, Grant Brady stumbled upon the idea of creating a reliable service centre that wouldn’t try to take advantage of customers.

From this simple idea a large national brand has grown. Today, Car Service City boasts a national network of more than 60 service centres — and the plan is to add to this growing number.

How was the idea for Car Service City born?

I took my car to a repair shop over the festive season of 2003. When I went back, I discovered that they had closed up shop for the holidays without fixing my car, leaving me with no transport.

I realised that my experience wasn’t unique. People were sick of being taken advantage of by fly-by-night mechanic workshops.

I thought there was a gap in the market for affordable services run as a clean, professional, corporatised operation.

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How did you come to the decision to franchise the operation?

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My hunch proved to be correct, as the gap in the market proved to be big. Car Service City took off quickly. Within two years we were operating 22 corporate-owned stores.


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We realised that it made sense to switch to a franchise model, since this was the best way to accommodate our rapid rate of growth.

Although the majority of our stores are franchise operations now, we still have some corporate stores. We keep these stores because they allow us to keep our ear close to the ground — we get to experience the same things our franchisees do.

We get to understand the challenges they face daily. We also get to ‘test run’ our initiatives in our own stores, before rolling them out throughout the franchise network.

How has the franchise operation changed over the last decade?

It all comes down to processes. You can’t run a large operation in the same way that you run a small one. We’ve spent a lot of time putting structures in place that allow us to bring new franchisees on board in a hassle-free and structured way.

We’ve also refined our training. Training is incredibly important, which is why we don’t only train our franchisees, but help them to train their staff as well. We assist franchisees in training staff at every level.

Has your approach to selecting franchisees changed at all?

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Not really, although we probably have the luxury of being a bit more selective these days. We really look for owner/operators that will live the brand and be at the coalface every day. We’ve found that owner/operators have a much higher success rate than those owners who simply put a manager in place. You need to make the store your own.

We’ve also always aimed to allow anyone — regardless of educational or work background — to become a Car Service City franchisee. This is still the case. We aren’t looking for technicians; we want business-savvy people who are passionate about customer service. Some of our most successful franchisees are from the corporate environment where they’ve become used to structured systems and processes.

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What is the biggest challenge of running a large franchise operation?

Communication is probably the biggest challenge. The larger an organisation becomes, the harder it is to communicate effectively with everyone involved. We make sure that we do everything we can to stay in touch with our franchisees.

We are not only very involved with the set-up of a new franchisee, but try to visit franchisees regularly as well. Moreover, we organise events that allow franchisees to interact. It’s important for franchisees to get to know one another, since they can provide each other with great support — they are all dealing with the same challenges.

We maintain an ‘open door’ policy at head office. We want franchisees to feel welcome; franchisees visit me daily.

What sets your most successful branches apart from the rest?

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Energy. When you walk into a great store you can sense that there is a different energy in the air. The employees seem happy, motivated and hard-working. This all stems from the owner. The owner sets the tone. If the franchisee is hard-working and passionate, the employees will follow his or her example. As mentioned, we look for owner/operators for exactly this reason. An owner isn’t there simply for the paycheque — he or she has real skin in the game.

How do you deal with brand image and identity when it comes to a large operation such as Car Service City?

The bigger and more visible the brand is, the more important it is to maintain its image. We pay close attention to this by running large marketing campaigns and managing social media.

Social media has become particularly important because it allows a customer to not only interact with a particular franchisee, but with the brand as a whole.

The franchisees deal with marketing at the neighbourhood level by making use of the brand’s well-known ‘flyer guys’. However, just about everyone knows what Car Service City’s flyer guys look like, so it’s important for head office to ensure that they maintain the desired brand image. Because of this we play a big part in training and equipping them.

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And how do you deal with brand identity at a franchisee level?

Once a workshop has been around for a decade, maintaining brand identity can be tricky. Every once in a while, a workshop needs to be refreshed, as things start to look tired. It needs to be brought up to date with regards to design. You need to update your signage, décor, etc.

Overhauling an entire store can be very expensive, which is why we employ a more constant maintenance plan. We try to help them to slowly upgrade their stores. They might upgrade their signage first, and then update their furniture later. The aim is to ensure that the workshop looks up to date and fresh at all times.

What does the future hold for Car Service City?

We definitely want to expand. The focus will be on growth, growth and more growth! However, we don’t want to expand too quickly. We’ve learnt that growing too quickly can have a negative effect. You want to ensure that you have the necessary support structures in place to deal with the added complexity before you start signing franchisees left and right.

We try to build up our systems until we feel that we can deal with a certain number of franchisees, and only then expand.

Once those new franchisees are up and running, we repeat the process — creating the necessary structures for a next wave of expansion.

Job Creator of the Year

Car-Service-City-Job-creatorCar Service City was presented with the Job Creator of the Year award at the 2015 Awards for Excellence in Franchising, sponsored by Absa.

The Job Creator of the Year award recognises those franchisors who, through the expansion of their franchise brand, or through their network of franchisees, contribute extensively to job creation. In addition to assessing the number of jobs created, the criteria also takes into account the skills training offered and the franchisors’ efforts to encourage entrepreneurship and job creation through enterprise development initiatives.

“We act with integrity and are honest about our work in order to be fair and ethical. Accountability to our customers, franchisees and employees, is clear and we always operate transparently. Skills development, performance rewards and participation in a safe and healthy working environment is offered to all employees and franchisees,” says Franchisor Grant Brady.

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Remember this

Running a large franchise operation is not the same as running a fledgling one. A franchise brand needs to grow and mature.

GG van Rooyen
GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.

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