In 2012, Matt Curry, former owner of Curry’s Auto Service shops in Virginia and 2009 Top Shop finalist, founded The Hybrid Shop to solve an emerging problem in the growing hybrid automobile market.
“The only solution for hybrid vehicle owners experiencing poor vehicle performance is to go to the dealer and have the battery replaced,” says Curry. He adds that the cost of a new battery can run anywhere as high as $4,000. “That’s the only solution that a dealer offers.”
Curry, in partnership with Automotive Repair & Design (AR&D), an engineering firm that manufactures equipment for hybrid vehicle service and diagnostics, established The Hybrid Shop to offer customers another option — battery conditioning.
“I call it the “Save The World, Save Your Wallet” campaign,” says Curry. “We’re saving customers thousands of dollars with battery conditioning versus replacing the battery. And, we’re using less resources.”
Battery conditioning extends the life of a hybrid vehicle battery by repairing the original cells in the battery to 95% of their original capacity. This practice costs customers a third to half the cost of a new battery, quotes Curry.
Not only does it save customers money, it offers tire dealers an additional source of income, says Curry.
“Tire margins are shrinking,” notes Curry. “Tires are lasting longer and the market is more competitive with the Internet. What we offer tire dealers is a high margin product and a comprehensive package with training, technical support, diagnostic equipment, and manufacturing, operational and sales support.
“It’s about car count,” continues Curry. “And, our average margin per car is $2,000. If you can increase your car count and average 75% gross profit per car, it’s going to set you up for a very secure feature.”
Mark Anderton, owner of First Landing Autocare in Virgina, has benefited from early adoption. He is currently the only Hybrid Shop in the southeast.
“I’ve had a car come to us from Raleigh, N.C.,” recalls Anderton. “That’s probably a five hour trip. We had another car that came from Charlottesville, Va., which is basically on the other side of the state.”
Hybrid Shops are given exclusive rights to a region. “We want them to expand and open other shops,” says Curry.
However, once more dealers adopt, geography will be a limiting factor. Success becomes a matter of how profitable you can be in your local market.
“Thirty percent of our dealers are already looking to expand,” says Curry.
Martin Kruszelnicki, owner of Santa Monica Hybrid in Santa Monica, Calif., is one of those Hybrid Shop franchisees.
“Santa Monica Hybrid is servicing two to three batteries a week and we haven’t even had our official Hybrid Shop opening yet,” said Kruszelnicki. “The market here is huge. Once we’re officially open, we won’t be able to service all of it. So, we’re planning to have five new locations in the next two years.”
Hybrid vehicle population is one piece of criteria that qualifies a tire dealer. Their partnership with AR&D provides potential Hybrid Shop franchisees with in-depth data about the hybrid vehicle population in a given area. When AR&D pulls the data, they are looking for approximately 3,000 hybrid vehicles in a 10-15 mile radius.
The Hybrid Shop monitors online reviews and local presence of applicants. They value shops with a strong local brand known for being organized, honest and reputable. Generally speaking, The Hybrid Shop is looking to work with medium-sized to large shops, six bays or more.
The investment in hybrid training and technology is not cheap: The Hybrid Shop charges a $60,000 franchising fee. On top of that, The Hybrid Shop charges a royalty on every battery conditioning.
The franchise fee covers a four-day training session with AR&D that teaches technicians how to diagnose, service, maintain and repair everything on a hybrid. It also includes ongoing operational marketing, technical and sales support, press releases and marketing materials, an additional course with the Society of Automotive Engineers that results in a certificate of competency and the equipment to condition batteries.
Although the franchise fee is costly, First Landing’s Mark Anderton is certain that the investment will pay off.
“At this moment, we’re 30% of the way there,” says Santa Monica Hybrid Kruszelnicki. “I have no doubt that in a few months, we’re going to be on the positive.”
The biggest challenge, Anderton and Kruszelnicki admit, is advertising the services. Hybrid vehicle owners rely heavily on the dealership they bought it from for service and repair.
However, The Hybrid Shop’s “Save The World, Save Your Wallet” campaign is a unique value that resonates with hybrid owners.
“When we do a battery conditioning on a car, customers immediately notice the pep back in their car, the performance and the gas mileage,” says Curry. “It’s immediate gratification.”
For more information on The Hybrid Shop, visit www.TheHybridShop.com.