North Valley auto shop concept reaches females, families

Eric Renninger and Kristen Steward, at the Honest-1 headquarters in Scottsdale Airpark. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

About five years ago Cave Creek residents and working parents of four children, Kristen and Tracy Steward sought out a new direction and means to support their family.

The dream to own and operate a franchise became a reality when the Steward’s found Honest-1 Auto Care, a family friendly auto shop at the Paradise Valley Mall, 12621 N. Paradise Village Parkway West.

There are no tires stacked up in the corner, bottles of oil displayed next to the cash register, or grease-covered auto technician attempting to sell you the latest and greatest air filter.

The “new approach” to auto-services caught the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Steward.

The two parents, then an elementary teacher and a United Healthcare employee, took the leap to begin running their own franchise.

“Honest-1 caught our eye because of the family aspect to it,” said Mrs. Steward in a Feb. 13 interview at Honest-1’s corporate office in the Scottsdale Airpark.

“They’re also kind of changing the face of the way people look at auto care — we liked that.”

With 63 shops nationwide, and another 35 in development, it seems others are liking what Honest-1 offers as well.

Recent accolades include recently being ranked No. 1 in its category, and number 241 overall, on the Entrepreneur magazine 500 list, and was featured on Franchise Time’s list of top-40 fastest growing companies, making it the only automotive on the list of 40 fastest growing franchise brands.

“It’s completely devoid of those traditional automotive things,” said Honest-1 Executive Vice President, Eric Renninger. “It’s a very inviting environment.”

While the Paradise Valley shop is smaller than others, most of the franchises nationwide will offer a child play area, refreshment bar, leather chairs and TVs. Honest-1 also offers shuttle service to provide convenience to busy families.

“We’re very family focused, as an organization internally and what we try to portray to our customers,” said Mr. Renninger.

The Paradise Valley location sees over 400 customers a month, said Mrs. Steward, and sees the average customer three to four times a year.

“That customer retention — that’s unique in the automotive industry,” said Mr. Renninger. “Because most of our competition is transaction based, you come in and they don’t care if they ever see you again.”

Mrs. Steward says it’s the little things — like a little bag of cookies waiting for you when you get your car back — that their shop tries to do to make a difference.

“Stuff that just makes a difference to say ‘hey, you’re not just a number to us,’” she said.

Offering more than typical just oil changes and tire rotations, Honest-1 technicians work to educate their customers on what their car needs.

“We’re more into educating our customer vs trying to sell something,” said Mr. Renninger. “We’d rather educate you about what your manufacturer said about your car or what your current condition is, and let you make those decisions based upon your life and your cash flow.”

The education continues into after-hours where shops will offer educational classes with new drivers or with women.

“It might be a moms-night-out kind of thing, but at the shop,” said Mr. Renninger. “Our master tech will educate you about just the basics.”

Mr. and Mrs. Steward are looking to purchase a second franchise and increase the mark they’re leaving on their community.

“If you own a business you have the opportunity to give back to your community in no ways that you can do individually,” she said. Honest-1 has previously sold pink wiper blades for breast cancer awareness and held school drives.

“The more you touch a community the more you’re thought of being a value, especially in an industry that is questioned a lot of times,” she said. “The more you’re out and you’re doing things that are of value, like helping people, then your business becomes of value too.”

Their family-focused style of business has been with the company since the beginning in the early 2000s, explained Mr. Renninger, and has earned them a 60 percent female customer base. Honest-1 started in Portland, Ore., in 2003; and has been under new ownership for about seven years now.

“In the franchise alone, there’s not a lot of competition between owners, and I think that speaks to family aspect in a sense,” Mrs. Steward said of the relationship shop-owners have with one another.

When one owner needs advice or assistant, there is always communication and collaboration between each other, she said.

“We succeed or fail as a group, not independently,” Mr. Renninger said.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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