Today, Brian Moak owns and operates three HEART Certified Auto Care locations, but hopes to eventually see 100 locations around the country. For Moak, this has been his path since he was young. He grew up in the Chicago suburbs and spent his childhood watching his father operate Duxler Complete Auto Care, a local auto service shop.
The elder Moak didn’t want his son to follow him in the business, but for the younger Moak, there was no turning back. In 2009, when Brian was 27, he bought the original Duxler shop, which had been in operation since 1924. He soon renamed his company HEART Certified Auto Care — noting that the HEART stands for “Helping Everyone Achieve Reliable Transportation.” Even as the business expanded to its three locations today, the business still operates by this motto.
“That truly is our mission,” Moak said. “We really want to help everyone we can in the best way possible.”
Currently, the three locations on the North Shore of Chicago are within a 10-mile radius, but that has meant that Moak can maintain a close relationship with employees and customers alike.
“The whole premise I’ve envisioned is that we could create a company where employees own their jobs,” Moak said. “Our business is built around a culture of positivity. Every single employee is focused on giving the customer the best possible experience.”
It has paid off so far. Moak said HEART maintains a 95-percent customer retention rate and a 99-percent satisfaction rate. Online reviews back up those claims — customers trust HEART. And employees really like working at HEART, too — the average tenure for the staff members is 13 years.
“I should also add that I think we have two customers: there are the ones who come in the front door, and then there are those who come in the back door,” Moak explained. “It is up to me, in both cases, to provide a service to them.”
Maintaining family-owned and operated shops in close proximity to one another has ensured Moak can be involved with each one.
“This allows me to stay connected with the team,” he said.
The type of culture Moak has created is one that ensures employees can come in with almost no automotive knowledge but grow as their skills increase. In other words, HEART isn’t a place to work while you are trying to find something better.
“No, not all,” Moak emphasized. “We are that something better.”
Fast Service Beyond the Quick Lube
HEART aims to service upward of 96 percent of vehicles in the same day. This means the shop offers both quick lube services along with other services and heavier mechanical work, as well. HEART stands behind its service and offers a warranty of two years or 24,000 miles of coverage for parts and service.
In addition to offering free loaner cars so customers aren’t reduced to taking the bus, HEART provides digital inspections — the Virtual Inspection Program (VIP) — so customers can see what work was done. Technicians can create an inspection report and even photograph any problems, which can be sent to the customer. VIP even includes a summary of tests that were run and what repairs were recommended to the customer.
“We strive to be quick and provide service we stand behind,” Moak noted. “That is what we think really separates us from everyone else.”
Taking it to the Next Level
While Brian Moak may have started small with just a single shop, he has spent his life thinking big. He continues to operate his three shops, but his plan going forward is one that is built around franchises.
“We started slow, so as not to trip over our own feet,” Moak said. “It is easy to expand too fast, but I wanted to make sure we had the business down perfectly.”
Now, after nearly a decade of running the business, Moak is seeking to take HEART to a much larger stage. The plan is to award five franchises in the first year and no more.
“They get me unconditionally,” he explained. “This will allow me to give my undivided attention. This is the strategy that I want to put together.”
The plan is to find five individuals who have the same goals and commitments to quality that HEART has become known for, and grow it from there. Moak made it clear that he is flexible to a point on where these first five franchises will be opened.
“The first five will be in the Midwest, as I still want to be accessible to them,” he clarified.
Then, over the next 10 years, the goal is to grow HEART Certified Auto Care to 100 locations around the country. Moak said that he understands there are cultural differences that come with the different regions of the country, and for that reason, said the 100 shops will be located in key pockets that fit best with the corporate strategy and identity.
“I see the regional differences,” Moak said. “My belief is, we are not all things to all people around the country, and I understand this quite well. For this reason, it is critical we look to franchisees in certain areas that have demographics that adhere to our goals. We will need to find those people, and we need to be in the right pockets around the country to achieve those goals.”
No matter where those first five or the next 95 franchises spring up, Moak emphasized each one will offer the same comprehensive services that his three shops provide. The goal will be to become a one-stop shop for customers who need fast, convenient automotive services.
Balancing Work and Life
With a potential coast-to-coast expansion in the plans, one thing Moak doesn’t plan on doing is sitting behind a desk and letting the business take over his life. For him, the strategy to go the franchisor route is actually to help maintain a positive work-life balance.
“I’m a single father, and it is important for me to manage the drop off at school in the morning and still be there to do the afternoon pickup,” he added. “I’m also available to meet with teachers and spend time with family.”
Moak has managed, while limiting his work life to an average of 35 hours a week, to create an organization that averages around $9 million a year in sales. He notes it has only been possible by having the right team.
“My stepping back actually allowed a lot of the growth to occur, and it happened because I have a great team of people I can trust,” Moak said. “I created a system that doesn’t need the owner there at all times. I’m doing this to support the family. It is part of a family tradition, is part of the culture I grew up with and is in my blood.
“Family is what matters to me. That family now includes my employees and their families. Really, I see HEART as a people business. We are a hospitality business that just happens to fix cars.”