More than 33.7 million vehicles are registered in Canada, with billions of kilometres on their odometers. Routine maintenance, repair, quality parts, and knowledgeable service are vital to keep vehicles running at peak performance, creating a wide range of franchise opportunities within the automotive sector.
Like any industry, Canada’s automotive maintenance sector is in a constant state of evolution, as it tries to keep up with the latest in consumer, technological, and manufacturing trends. As more and more electric and hybrid vehicles are hitting Canada’s roads, it’s becoming clear that the automotive industry is moving forward at an exponential rate. Innovations in the automotive sector are quickly changing the way we look at our autos, and routine maintenance is no exception. While Canada’s automotive sector continues to thrive, it’s important for franchise systems in this space to stay on-trend.
Here, we take a look at three franchise systems within Canada’s automotive sector and how they’re keeping up with the latest in innovations that are re-defining the industry.
“The tire and automotive business is very competitive,” says Greg Lawrence, Operations Manager for Active Green + Ross. To give its franchise partners a competitive edge, the Ontario-based franchise negotiates with major parts and tire suppliers to ensure best-value purchase pricing and offers regular training courses and coaching. Training covers the spectrum, from sales and social media to technical/shop skills, and creating a ‘female friendly’ customer experience.
“Active Green + Ross doesn’t require our franchisees to be experienced within the automotive industry. All new franchisees receive a minimum of two months in-store training with an experienced corporate manager, as well as classroom training on product knowledge, sales training, customer service, bookkeeping, computer, and software skills and more,” says Rita Chiodo Diamantakos, who heads up Franchise Operations. “We are Ask Patty Certified Female Friendly®. About half of our customers are women, and we want to ensure we are communicating with them effectively. It’s not just about customer interaction, but also the environment. Any renovations are focused on creating gender neutral shops.”
One of the biggest challenges automotive service shops have experienced over the past few years is the increased competition by car dealerships. “Automotive car dealerships have improved their footprint as an automotive repairer, and are no longer just a place to purchase a vehicle. Some vehicles require the customer to return to the dealership for certain services,” says Lawrence. “Car dealerships may only have to service one or two makes of vehicles, and in most cases may only require one or two diagnostic or specialty tools. By comparison, our franchisees need to have equipment to service all makes and models of vehicles. Bulk purchasing of specialty tools and facilitating large group training sessions help to keep costs affordable.”
Staffing can present another challenge, says Lawrence. “Having qualified staff to utilize the equipment is paramount. There is a declining pool of good, qualified licensed technicians available within the industry, so we offer very competitive wages, benefits and regular incentives to hire, develop and retain good workers.”
Charlie Chiaramida, who has owned his Active Green + Ross franchise in Markham, Ontario for 23 years, says keeping up with technology is one of his biggest ongoing challenges. “To keep up, we spend a lot of money to train our technicians,” he says. Active Green + Ross definitely helps by organizing group training.
“Head office is definitely there when you need them, but you mainly get to run your own business,” says Chiaramida. “I would recommend Active Green + Ross to people who are looking to open a franchise. Not because it’s easy – starting any new business is really hard, success doesn’t happen overnight – but because they’ve got a pretty good plan, and as long as you follow it you should be okay.”
“Vehicle technology is evolving at a rapid pace and so does Speedy Auto Service,” says Steve Leal, President and CEO for Fix Automotive Network World. Fix Automotive Network is Canada’s largest automotive aftermarket services provider, and Speedy Auto Service is one of the company’s brands.
“We prefer to call our franchisees ‘Strategic Partners’, as that is what they truly are,” he explains.” We want our strategic partners’ businesses to be responsive to the changes; and continue to adapt and grow. We, as the franchisor, focus on innovation so they can do just that.”
Every Speedy Auto Service location is a full-service auto repair shop, and Leal says that one of the challenges that some franchisees face is a shortage of skilled technicians. “This continues to be a challenge in all aspects of the automotive aftermarket services industry. To help our strategic partners to not only hire highly skilled technicians, but also keep their training up-to-date, Fix Automotive Network will be opening dedicated training centres across Canada, each featuring a fully equipped environment that replicates the layout and repair capability found in a state-of-the-art automotive repair shop.”
Rick Mate started with Speedy Auto Service as a fifth-year apprentice. He worked his way into a management position before opening his own Speedy Auto Service franchise in St. Thomas, Ontario. Last year he moved to a larger facility. “Consumers are not replacing their cars as often,” he says. “I only see potential growth.”
Mate emphasizes the importance of finding and retaining a skilled work team. “A business is only as strong as its people. Without my great staff this would not have been attainable,” he says. He also adds that Fix Automotive Network staff “are good and honest people to work with.”
The company recently introduced the Speedy Zone, a drive-thru vehicle diagnostic system providing an accurate, laser scanned printed assessment of a vehicle’s health. “It’s a first in our industry,” says Leal. “With varying diagnostics available including wheel alignment and tire wear, this free, no obligation service will increase traffic to our strategic partners’ shops and promote confidence in repairs required. This brand new technology is available to all our Speedy Auto Service shop owners at a preferential cost due to our buying power.”
“We try to anticipate the future needs of customers and implement innovations to ensure shops are keeping up with advancing vehicle technology,” says Leal. “It is important for us to continuously develop tools and support for our network partners that enable them to stay on top of this complex and evolving industry.”
NOVUS Glass, another brand under Fix Automotive Network’s umbrella, specializes in windshield glass repair and replacement. A focus on innovation drives the business, as the system encourages franchise operators to stay on top of the latest technological advancements within the automotive sector.
“The NOVUS Glass franchise concept, as with all our brands, is based on a solid partnership between the franchisor and the franchisees, who are our strategic partners,” says Steve Leal, President and CEO for Fix Automotive Network World. “We are committed to offering the sales, operational and marketing support that our strategic partners need to build a successful business.”
“NOVUS currently holds 27 patents for glass repair products with our dedicated research and development team working toward more,” Leal adds. “Long crack repair, often more than 12 inches long, truly sets us apart. Our proprietary chip repair significantly outperforms all others and our long crack resins are specially formulated to provide the unique attributes of adhesion and flexibility required to deliver a permanent repair that is virtually invisible to the naked eye.”
John Inman has owned his Charlottetown, P.E.I. franchise for five years, but worked in the industry for more than 25 years, and he says “The NOVUS glass repair system is a lot more superior” than other systems he’s worked with. “There are so many facets to this business, it’s a bonus if you have experience in the industry.”
Inman notes, “NOVUS provides great training and marketing assistance. It’s also important for the franchise owner to get out there – get involved and be visible in the community. For example, we have promotional signage in all the local arenas, sponsor the Summerside Boys & Girls Club golf tournament that raises tens of thousands of dollars and we run a ‘turkey for every windshield’ campaign which sees around 300 turkeys donated to local families in need over the holidays.”
As with other brands, one of the biggest challenges for NOVUS is a shortage of skilled technicians. The dedicated training centres that Fix Automotive Network is opening across Canada will all include fully equipped glass repair facilities. Increased competition, including “parking lot pop-up” glass repair providers is another challenge facing NOVUS franchisees. “This is where our innovative chip and crack repair that both outperform and outlast our competition truly set us apart,” says Leal.
“We are seeing more and more of our existing Speedy and Fix Auto franchisees adding NOVUS Glass to their business, so they can offer more services to their customers,” Leal notes. “The NOVUS Glass business model is also a perfect fit for someone looking to start up their first franchise business. The initial investment is relatively low and there is a mobile option so franchisees can be up and running in as little as three months. This coupled with the training, equipment and software included in the initial franchise fee sets up NOVUS Glass franchisees for success.”
By Kym Wolfe