Building a Homegrown Empire
For Hamburg, Mich., local Sarah Brown, a drop-in at The Hamburg Garage is a true visit to her local repair shop—an outpost just up the road where she knows the team and they know her.
She can chat with the shop’s advisor about the town’s big plan to buy the local golf course over a cup of coffee, or send out a few emails from the lobby’s high-top tables while she waits, and connect with a tech about the work done before heading out.
Later, when she hears a strange sound under the hood 40 miles from home, a call to the Hamburg shop will help get her squared away with an emergency appointment at the nearby Farmington Garage. The Farmington team’s already been briefed, reviewed her vehicle history and is ready to hop in where the Hamburg team left off by the time she arrives—a stressful scenario turned seamless with the creation of The Detroit Garage, a Michigan-based family of auto repair shops that’s been years in the making.
“That [scenario] sounds idealistic, but it happens all the time and service like that is 100 percent what we set out to achieve,” says director of sales and marketing Caitlin Monson.
But the creation of a full-fledged repair group wasn’t always the goal. The Detroit Garage was actually created through the brainstorming of a complete marketing makeover.
Ratchet+Wrench checked in with The Detroit Garage team to learn how they’ve rolled out a fresh marketing model that’s paving the way for future growth, and consulted with marketing pros for insights on the key elements for success when evolving your brand.
Rethink the Road Ahead
Back in 2017, Andy Massoll was at a crossroads.
He’d recently bought out his business partner, was now the owner of three Michigan repair shops, and was already eyeing a brighter future.
Massoll was considering ventures into detailing work and fleet services as well as the launch of additional shops, but wasn’t sure how he’d market the new entities. At the time the only unifying element between his three independent shops was APQ Auto, a limited liability company (LLC) name only used on formal paperwork and tax forms.
That’s when Monson posed a few critical questions. “I started asking what is APQ? What does it stand for? You’ve got these three shops, but what do you want to do with them? Where are you trying to take the business and how does that line up with the way you’re running things now?”
It was a pivotal moment to take stock and consider how the old and new could merge when it came to marketing the bigger picture, she says.
Concept a Clear Vision
After months of discussion and brainstorming, Monson made a pitch to change the formal company name and build it into a full-fledged brand that could act as an umbrella uniting Massoll’s existing shops and any future businesses that took shape down the line.
The parent company could help market each shop, and each shop could maintain its unique identity, but also offer customers the support of a larger operation to cover any of its own service gaps. Potential fleet sales would have the power of multiple shops to back the service and Massoll could add new entities to the business as he went.
“The idea became ‘let’s create a brand that’s recognizable and harnesses the power of a fully connected network but leaves space for hometown connection and individuality because ‘true hometown repair’ had always been part of the motto,” says Monson.
Later that year, a part-time Monson came on board in full, an executive team was created to manage marketing, sales, and coordination between the newly unified shops, and APQ Auto formally became The Detroit Garage.
The Detroit Garage name itself was also strategically picked—not just for its local pride, but for its potential as an easily adaptable formula.
“The goal wasn’t exactly to go out and build an empire, but the name does drive home that local connection we were looking for in a way that we could easily replicate and potentially even expand with to a city like Nashville or Denver,” says Monson. “Right now we’re focused on the Detroit market, but it gives us space to stretch into new markets. We’re not boxed in.”
Since introducing The Detroit Garage umbrella, the company has officially launched fleet and detailing businesses and four new repair shops with no signs of slowing down.
Build On What Works
More Than a Name
While streamlining the company’s marketing efforts Monson has been careful to protect each shop’s true differentiator: community connection.
“The concept sounds formulaic, but the key is allowing each shop to maintain its local identity as a hometown asset,” she says.
The each shop is involved with its local Chamber of Commerce and helps support hometown groups and events like high school sports teams and community farmers markets, but “we found at those first shops—The Farmington Garage and The Hamburg Garage—driving home that local tie right in the name really solidified that community identity, so we’ve emulated across the board,” Monson says.
Since launching The Detroit Garage concept, each of the company’s shops has followed the format, first with the launch of The Livonia Garage in 2018, then The Plymouth Garage in 2019, and most recently with The Canton Garage in 2020.
“If it’s working well, why mess with it?” she says. The same goes for the group’s logos.
A Visual Impact
Before The Detroit Garage model took shape, Massoll had recently rebranded The Farmington and Hamburg Garages and had new logos made in the process. Each featured a black shield bearing the look of an antique coat of arms with two joint pistons beneath each shop’s name and a distinct pop of red.
“When we began building the parent company concept and thought about how we might brand new shops, my thought process was ‘what are the things that are already most recognizable?” she says. “For me it was the shield and the color scheme, so that’s what I carried through.”
Each new repair shop under The Detroit Garage uses the same logo design, but the style has been adapted and tweaked for the fleet and detailing businesses as well as The Detroit Garage itself to keep consistency but create a subtle hint at the differences between each entity. The piston design takes a prominent role in the Dryve Assured and Detroit Garage Details logos, while the shield in The Detroit Garage logo was pared back to emphasize The Detroit Garage name.
“With these slight changes we were able to give each business its own brand identity, while leaving enough similarities so that promotion for one is really a benefit for them all,” she says. “If someone is seeing The Livonia Garage logo or The Canton Garage logo, that’s creating a level of familiarity and brand association for the entire group.”
One notable exception? Curt’s Service.
The Oak Park shop, which was launched in 1981 and is still co-owned and run by Massoll’s father, has not been rebranded to match The Detroit Garage’s naming convention or color scheme. The Curt’s logo features the shop’s name in royal blue punctuated by a wrench, and its physical and digital branding feature a blue color palette as well.
The reason? A rebrand to match the company’s other shops would eliminate its community tie. Through its 40 years in business, the shop has built its reputation in the Oak Park community and Massoll’s father continues to be a large part of the shop’s identity and success. A rebrand of the shop could ultimately hurt its identity in the community.
“A rebrand wasn’t even discussed for Curt’s Service,” says Monson. “It might look good on paper for The Detroit Garage as a parent company, but on the individual level it would go against everything we’re trying to achieve with those community connections, and ultimately that’s what the umbrella model helps with—keeping these unique businesses connected.”
Set a Clear Path For Promotion
With the creation of The Detroit Garage model, Monson has created clear organization when it comes to where and how the parent company is presented and marketed in coordination with each individual shop.
Monson created a Detroit Garage website to serve as a digital homebase for the repair shop family, but each shop has its own individual URL as well.
The Detroit Garage site greets visitors with “We Are The Detroit Garage. Welcome to Our Auto Family,” while renderings and links to each shop helps demonstrate the company’s scope. Visitors can also read reviews aggregated from each shop’s website, giving visitors a look at the customer experience across the board, and options to find a location or make an appointment right from the homepage drives further traffic back to each shop’s individual site.
Each shop’s individual website has been formatted to match The Detroit Garage’s, but is customized with its own logo and an image of the shop. Each shop site also features a gallery of photos, an image of its local team, and shop-specific contact information and customer reviews.
“We want to make sure every shop maintains that individual hometown feel online, especially on social media,” says Monson. “Each shop has its own Facebook page where the team can post company news, but it’s also a place they can show their personality, and share updates from their team and connect with the community.”
Just as Monson has been careful to create individual identities for each shop online, she’s made sure The Detroit Garage family is represented in each shop’s physical location.
Each shop’s local name and logo is promoted on its signage inside and out, and direct mailers sent from each shop feature the photos of its unique location and local team, but the staff across all Detroit Garage outposts sport the parent company’s merch.
“We’re not shying away from that parent company identity. If we’re promoting the power of that repair family connection online, we need to keep that presence consistent in person as well,” says Monson. “All of our guys wear Detroit Garage hats, uniforms, buttons, T shirts, it’s on our business cards.
It’s also reflected in the way we’re communicating with customers and potential clients. Andy isn’t introducing himself as the owner of an individual shop. He’ll say he’s the owner of The Detroit Garage family, and when you talk to a member of The Farmington Garage team, they’ll say they work at The Farmington Garage but they work for The Detroit Garage. It’s a mindset shift in how you convey that relationship to your customer base.”--------------
Bring Your Brand to Life
Monson has also curated a streamlined look at each Detroit Garage shop to complement and reinforce the company’s branding efforts and set a standard for the customer experience.
She likens the model to a boutique restaurant group; each eatery might have its own menu and reflect its own style but diners are likely to appreciate a common feel, aesthetic, and amenities. Each Detroit Garage shop has been renovated or remodeled with an “a more polished, urban look.” Monson says.
“We wanted to carry through that marriage of retro and new school elements that we’ve worked into the branding, and logos, and official colors,” she says.
Pops of the same red-orange used in each shop’s logo are incorporated in everything from outdoor awnings and garage doors to customer lounge bar stools, and pallet and faux-brick walls and whitewash siding have all become mainstays.
“No two shops look exactly the same, we’re working with the unique characteristics of each space, but in the same way anyone visiting the websites will see a throughline across each shop, a visit to the shops themselves should feel familiar.”
Monson has also set some non-negotiable customer amenities to set expectations for what visitors can expect to encounter at each shop (including Wi-Fi, plenty of outlets, a coffee bar, snacks, refreshments, candy, and more). At The Canton Garage, one of the company’s newest locations, walls were ripped down and a month of renovation was done to create a customer lobby that could meet Detroit Garage standards.
“Now that we’ve set those customer expectations, a space really needs to fit the bill before we put our name on it. A customer should be able to visit any location and relax for a full day if needed “
The company’s signature shop look, like it’s naming convention has also been strategized for easy adaptation and expansion.
“That streamlined look was designed to be classic, something we won’t have to update in the next five or 10 years, so we’ve been able to boil this down into a science we can carry out at each new location as we grow.”