Census reports reveal that there were about 1.8 cars available per household in 2016. Much of America owns cars, however, most Americans don’t know how to perform basic vehicle maintenance. Randall Huntsinger, founder of BRAKES to Go, wanted to make car care more accessible to the average American. BRAKES to Go provides an alternative service option for brake maintenance. The solution is mobile and on-demand, offering an alternative to traditional auto shops that is both convenient and competitively-priced.
We recently rated BRAKES to Go a Deal to Watch. Since then, we sat down with Randall to learn more about the origins of the company, expansion plans, challenges, and more-
Can you tell us the origin story for BRAKES to Go?
Brakes To Go was started by my best friend, partner, and co-founder, Jonathan Ganther, out of the back of his pickup truck. Jonathan had just graduated from technical school when he returned to Austin and began working for himself. What started out as servicing friends and family in need of car repair morphed into a specialized focus on mobile brake service. As a lifelong friend, Jonathan knew I had experience crafting business plans and creating financial pro formas for business ventures (I am an attorney and a former financial auditor with an accounting degree). In early 2014, Jonathan came to me with his mobile brake service idea and after running the preliminary numbers we agreed it made sense. Over the second half of that year we flushed out the final version of our business plan and presented to potential friends and family investors. By spring of 2015 we had raised seed capital of $125K and we formally commenced operations as Brakes To Go on May 1, 2015.
How would you describe in your own words how you’re different from Wrench, YourMechanic, and the others in the space?
There are two primary distinctions between BTG and Wrench/Your Mechanic.
Firstly, and most obviously, we are a specialized service. We do one thing (brake repair) and we do it better than anyone else. We believe specialization is the key to our consistent, predictable revenue stream. Brake repair was chosen because this is automotive service offers the best margin for a relatively simple repair that can be performed in a short period of time. Contrast this with a mobile service company such as Wrench/YourMechanic, who provide general automotive services which by their nature cannot be easily prediagnosed, thus requiring inspection and sourcing of needed parts immediately thereafter. In the same morning where one “no-start” appointment is diagnosed, sourced, and repaired by a general service auto mechanic for a few hundred dollars, Brakes To Go technicians can perform three $500 brake jobs. From an efficiency perspective, our time would be wasted if we branched into additional services. Each of our technicians can perform five brake appointments per day, so at maximum capacity our vans generate an average of about $2,500 daily.
Secondly, the companies you mention are both essentially just referral platforms. Sort of like an AirBNB to source local, independent mechanics. The majority of these technicians are thus independent contractors and not company employees. As a result, customer service is unpredictable and establishing a genuine brand identity almost impossible, in my opinion. At Brakes To Go, we have a strict company ethos and value system that is hyper-focused on extreme customer service. Our technicians are W-2 employees who we feel are family. We see each other every morning for pre-shift meetings. Everyone has great uniforms and well-branded vans (six in Austin alone, at the moment) which are essentially expertly-wrapped mobile billboards. This sense of community at the workplace ensures that our values reach our customers, that everyone is towing the same line. And with over 1,000 combined five-star reviews across Yelp, Google, and Facebook in Austin alone, I believe we have proven our approach works.
Do you have experience in the industry, and if so, how did you build it?
Well, neither Jonathan nor myself have ever operated an automotive service company before. But we view that as a great thing. It means we came into this with no preconceived ideas on how to sell brake repair. Consequently, our approach is much more customer-oriented than the traditional brick & mortar service centers. We don’t bill flag hours. We don’t upsell additional services or repairs. We provide specific appointment times — and we meet them. I mean, think about this — we’ve designed a service where a customer who hears brake noise on his/her drive to work can call us, we can source their parts and be at their office that same day to complete the repair, allowing them to drive home in what feels like a new car. All of this and they NEVER HAD TO LEAVE THEIR DESK. Why waste a day or two dealing with this yourself at a brake shop? When you understand the genius of our mobile model, concerns that we’ve never previously operated a brick & mortar brake shop fly out the window. And at $5.6M in sales over the past four years, with each year stronger than the last, our customers are our biggest advocates.
How do you see BRAKES to Go evolving over the next 2-3 years?
Expanding. We’ve really locked down our operational model,including learning “how-to” expand. In 2018 we began servicing customers in San Antonio. In the course of that no-cost expansion (we had no additional/spare funds to deploy), we learned we don’t have to duplicate the majority of our administrative costs when we bring new service regions online. Instead, we now use a single toll-free number regardless of service region. All customer calls and email/digital submissions come into our central operations hub in Austin, regardless of service region. This means our highly-experienced Austin team is in charge of booking all appointments, sourcing all parts, and coordinating all technicians, regardless of location. We don’t have to hire additional coordinators for Dallas, Fort Worth, or Houston, we just have to field revenue-generating trucks and technicians. There is little additional non-marketing overhead. This makes expansion highly efficient and limits our expenses to those incurred directly for the production of revenue.
Can you talk about your potential expansion plans and what that entails?
We will first expand into the major metro Texas markets of Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston. Firmly establishing ourselves in what we, as Texans, consider our “home field” is a logistical priority. We believe we need to establish our company in our home state and flush out these huge markets before we launch nationwide. After Texas, we anticipate moving west to Arizona and Las Vegas. When it comes to our first out-of-state expansion, choosing dry weather climates just makes sense from a logistical perspective. Next would be the largest automotive service market in the world, Southern California. At this same time we will also target eastward across the south. From a timing perspective, we believe we can flush out Texas with new service regions and vans within 12 months of funding. The secondary out-of-state moves would happen over the subsequent 12-18 months.
Who is on your team today and what hires are necessary for BRAKES to Go to take the next step?
Our executive management team consists of myself as CEO, Jonathan Ganther as COO, and Trey Richards, as Assistant Operations Director. Jonathan and myself are focusing on the expansion into new regions, while Trey manages daily operations in Austin, as well as supervising the customer service coordinator team which handles all incoming calls and digital appointment requests regardless of service location. As we expand we will need to hire additional technicians for the new regions AND eventually additional service coordinators in Austin (but at a much slower rate than technicians, considering the reality of call volume and appointment requests). Consequently, we don’t have to allocate a tremendous amount of funding toward any personnel whose services don’t directly produce additional revenue.
Why have you decided to crowdfund your current raise and how will the capital be utilized?
Earlier this year we were approached by MicroVentures, who proposed that we consider crowdfunding as a great way to reach a large audience of excited investors which might also include enthusiastic customers. Having serviced almost twenty thousand customer appointments in Central Texas over the last four and a half years, many of whom have expressed interest in investing in Brakes To Go, this immediately made sense. After all, with over 1000 five-star reviews across Yelp, Google, and Facebook, our customers truly are our biggest advocates — why not choose a funding source that will allow us to capitalize on the excitement we have created in our customer base? This is our first effort to raise funds outside of friends and family, so we have an open mind when it comes to alternative fundraising options. As for utilization of funds, I must defer to our Form C disclosures for formal numbers and percentages. But in general I can explain that the single largest allocated portion of our expansion capital will be dedicated to marketing. Currently, we are almost 100% focused on digital marketing. But we have learned that expanding into new service regions in which we don’t have an established brand identity also requires traditional marketing — if for no other reason than to provide a third-party source to reinforce our digital message.
What are the unique challenges BRAKES to Go faces?
The most unique challenge we face is helping potential customers understand the validity of the mobile nature of our service. Everyone who has ever had brake service has done it the traditional way — driving to a shop, sitting there for hours <OR> coordinating with a friend to drop your car off at a shop and then take you back to work and then back to the shop later. This is an annoying process, but it’s the way it has always been done. Breaking this pattern, getting people to believe and understand that this entire nightmare can be avoided and this problem resolved with very little effort on the part of our customer seems almost too good to be true. We’ve found people hesitant to try us because because they don’t understand how it can be this simple — that there must be some gimmick or drawback. Getting people to change behavior is always a challenge, but it particularly unique for a mobile automotive service company.
It may be a few years down the road, but what do you see as potential exit opportunities for you?
After our Texas expansion we anticipate another round of funding to finance the out-of-state growth described above. At that point we will be considering a combination of franchise and corporate stores, all of which would remain coordinated by our central team in Austin. At any point after we go outside Texas I believe we have the potential for an IPO. We want to take this company nationwide, so that is the ideal operational model to accomplish this goal. But we can’t discount the possibility that our current parts supplier won’t finally decide to merge us into their company, as our mobile model would allow them to realize the margin of full service retail markup on automotive parts on which they normally have a very small margin — all by merely putting more trucks on the road. You see, a primary reason parts companies don’t offer service is they don’t want to dedicate the capital necessary to build large, expensive service centers. But that’s not necessary when you only need to deploy a truck. Regardless, while potential exits are very important for investors, I firmly believe that the best way to ensure they exist is to focus on making our company perform at its peak. As we become successful, we become valuable. At which point there will be exit opportunities we haven’t even considered today.
We at KingsCrowd are excited to see where Randall and his team take the company. Again, BRAKES to Go was previously rated a Deal to Watch by KingsCrowd. BRAKES to Go is currently raising funds on the MicroVentures platform and via crowd note with a minimum investment of $100.