- February 26, 2014
Eric Sewell, the vice president of operations for Honest1 Auto Care, said his auto repair corporation strives to be different.
"Because the auto industry has a nefarious reputation," Sewell said at Honest1's newest location in Lakewood Ranch.
Things do seem to operate a little differently at Honest1.
"My wife, Sharon, owns a franchise in Ormond Beach," Sewell said. "We started classes for women. They have wine and cheese and they can watch a video, such as how brakes work. We try to do education."
The idea is to make women feel a bit more comfortable when they are talking to mechanics. Sewell said he expects 60% of the new shop's customers to be women.
Just the look of the new building is sleek, with absolutely no clutter, either outside or in the lobby. Sewell said automotive is not a popular business to receive approvals from county commissions or city councils.
"We have to show them we are closer to retain in the way we look," Sewell said. "You won't find any grungy tires in the back or any products in our lobbies."
The waiting area in the Lakewood Ranch store, which is located at 2603 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., is family friendly with a kids area and a beverage bar. Sewell smiled and said Honest1's bathrooms receive rave reviews.
Then, of course, is the name.
Sewell understands the public might be cynical.
"There was a lot of discussion when our name came out 15 years ago," Sewell said of Honest1. "That's part of what we wanted to do and we wanted to live up to it.
"We know we have a bulls-eye on the back of our shirt. But we are proud of it."
He said Honest1 is discriminating on how can purchase a franchise and all the mechanics must be nationally certified. He said transparency is a goal in everything they do and is the reason behind the glass that separates the waiting room from the mechanics. Those having repairs done can watch the work.
Honest1 opened its Lakewood Ranch shop — its 75th overall nationally — Jan. 20. Sewell said the shop already had been servicing cars a week before because people were coming to the door with mechanical problems. On Jan. 20, cars lined up outside the shop and it has been busy since.
"This is an underserved market" he said. "There are not a lot of auto repair shops. We've watched the area grow up and traffic here, obviously, is heavy. The demographics are right for us. We don't want to be in an area with all brand new cars. There are a lot of families here."
The Lakewood Ranch shop is operated by the corporation, which has its headquarters in St. Petersburg, and is one of just two shops not franchised. Sewell said it allows the facility to test new ideas and software. He said the software available in Lakewood Ranch allowed customers to receive digital inspections, photos and other information that they can review before making a decision about a repair.
Sewell noted Honest1 doesn't allow high-pressure sales from its staff and keeps personnel in the field to visit all of the shops to make sure the corporation's philosophy is being carried it. Those supervisors also check sales receipts to make sure prices are aligned with company policy. They also read online reviews of each shop.
The Lakewood Ranch shop, which will have 10 employees, is 5,500 feet and its repairs will carry a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty.
"That's not prorated," Sewell said. "If something goes wrong, we fix it free of charge."