Grow Your Business by Giving Back

Dec. 1, 2014
From curing cancer to repairing broken families: A look inside two shop-founded programs that are are changing the face of the industry

Independent repair shops have a clear advantage over their chain and corporate counterparts, says Charlie Marcotte, owner of American Pride Automotive in Virginia. They have the opportunity to be intimately involved in their communities, he says. They can make a real impact, forge meaningful relationships.

And that’s the advantage indy shops should employ to overcome their biggest disadvantage: a general lack of marketing dollars and brand awareness.

“This industry has a very bad reputation for a reason; it’s earned it,” Marcotte says. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t change it with each customer, each day. It’s not about being a successful business that does well; it’s about being a business that does good.

“You need to be able to show that you’re not just in an area to make money. You’re a part of that community. You’re no different than the people who walk in the door. That’s the connection you need to make.”

Marcotte is one example of a shop owner doing just that. Laura Frank and Leigh Anne Best, both shop owners in Ohio, are another. All three have taken up causes that, while helping their respective businesses prosper, have morphed into two national programs aimed at tackling issues that impact millions of Americans every day.

No business is too small to make an enormous impact, Marcotte says, and there are “so many in this industry doing just that. It’s time that became what we’re known for.”

Brakes for Breasts

Laura Frank and Leigh Anne Best’s quest to prevent cancer—one brake job at a time

Everyone has their own version of this story, Laura Frank says. Hers is about her mom. 

She can remember how hard those two words hit her: ovarian cancer. She can remember that feeling—that physical ache of shock, anger, anxiety, fear—rush over her body. She can remember her speechlessness at the news.

Most of all, though, she can remember her mother’s fervent reaction.

“She said she wanted to do something to change this; she wasn’t going down without a fight,” Frank says. 

The cancer was at an advanced stage, and the fight her mom referred to was big picture. And it’s a fight that Frank, co-owner of Auto Repair Technology with her husband, Gerry, in Brookpark, Ohio, has turned into a passion project.

Along with fellow Ohio shop owner Leigh-Anne Best of Mighty Auto Pro in Medina, Frank launched Brakes for Breasts in 2009, and has grown it into a nationwide fundraising campaign that includes 139 independent shops in 29 states. To date, the program has raised nearly $300,000, money that goes directly to research for the development of a breast cancer vaccine at the Cleveland Clinic—a tip-of-the-iceberg scientific breakthrough that eventually could lead to preventing numerous forms of cancer, including the one that led to Frank’s mother’s death earlier this year.

“She passed away in January, and I’m going to keep fighting,” Frank says. “We’re a part of something much bigger now. 

“People look at big issues and problems and think, ‘Well, how can I make a difference?’ You can. We are. When you have a business, you have visibility, and with that visibility comes a responsibility to make a difference.”     

Fighting for a Cause

Frank first met Best at a marketing convention. Both women headed up that department for their respective businesses. They’ve been close friends ever since.

Both shops have always been deeply involved in their communities, doing everything from local food drives to sponsoring youth athletic teams. 

Then, in September of 2011, Best had an idea.

“We had always done this ‘Brakes for Kids’ program, where we gave away a percentage of the sale on brake jobs to a local children’s organization,” Best says. “Only so many shops could get involved in it, though. [Frank and I] were trying to think of something we could do on a larger scale with a larger impact.”

The conversation circled back to Frank’s mom and cancer. It was early September; October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

“That’s when ‘Brakes for Breasts’ popped in our heads,” Best says. “With so little time to get ready, Laura looked at me like, ‘Can we do this?’ I just said, ‘Absolutely!’”

The first event included five shops in Ohio and raised $10,000 for a research scientist at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Vincent Tuohy, who was gaining notoriety for the development of a breast cancer vaccine.

“With no time to plan, throwing it all together last minute, we were thrilled with what we did,” Best says. “That got us thinking: Imagine what we could do putting all our heart and soul into this thing for the whole year.”

Part of the Solution

The campaign itself is relatively simple in its execution. 

A participating shop works with its local vendor as a sponsor for the program, and gets free brake pads and shoes donated for that month. (As a trade-off, Best suggests offering to purchase all other parts from that vendor for those jobs.) Then, the shop offers customers free pads and shoes on brake jobs for the month, only charging for additional parts and labor. The shop then writes a check covering 10 percent of that sale to the Cleveland Clinic Breast Cancer Vaccine Fund, and mails it back to Frank and Best, who personally deliver the checks.

After the initial run in 2011, Frank and Best used their connections in 20 Groups, training companies (Frank’s husband is a coach), vendors and other industry organizations to grow the campaign’s reach. 

The two wanted to make it a “turnkey” program, and created templates for all the marketing materials (direct mailers, emails, posters and wall stickers for the shops). They found a vendor in Arizona that agreed to do all of the printing for shops in
the program.

In 2012, a group of 27 shops in 16 states raised $32,848.84. Sixty-six shops in 27 states raised $66,499.29 in 2013.

Then, this year, it reached an entirely new level with 139 shops in 29 states. Brakes for Breasts is expected to raise more than $150,000 in 2014. 

The impact these funds have had on Tuohy’s research has been “tremendous,” he says. 

“Most scientists have really obscure work … where no one knows what they’re doing,” he says. “But I have this whole community of people behind me. I never expected anything like this.”

Tuohy says he runs a very “tight” lab, and the money he receives goes a very long way.

For Best and Frank, the program’s success has been unfathomable, they say. They’re grateful for the “chance to be a part of something like Dr. Tuohy’s research,” Best says, and for all of the attention the campaign has brought to their businesses.

More than anything, though, Franks says she hopes it can provide an example of what small businesses are capable of accomplishing.

“I would’ve never imagined it,” she says, “but we can all fight for things that make a difference to us. … For me, it’s a way to honor my mom, and everyone can do the same thing. Everyone can make a difference.”

The Cancer Vaccine

Dr. Vincent Tuohy of the Cleveland Clinic likes to compare his work in cancer research to the work of the typical repair shop: For years, the focus has been on “repair,” finding a fix after the disease has already taken hold. His focus, though, is on “prevention.”

Tuohy has created a vaccine that could prevent breast cancer. It has been 100 percent effective in animal testing, and he has been given the greenlight to start human trials in the spring. 

“There’s a perfect fit psychologically between the two,” Tuohy said of his research and the work of the shops that support it. “They’ve really embraced it, and embraced me … and I can’t say enough about the support I’ve received.”

The hope, Tuohy says, is that once the vaccine is proved effective in preventing breast cancer, it can then be applied to other forms of the disease. 

Family Service Day

Charlie Marcotte’s nationwide effort to repair broken families

Charlie Marcotte was 11 years old the first time he had that feeling. 

Staring out his front window, he watched his mom leave for work—on foot, as the family car sat in disrepair in the driveway. 

“I remember it bothering him so much,” says his sister Suzanne Hawley, who’s a year older. “He wanted to help, he wanted to do something, but he was only a kid.”

He grew up as the third-born of the four Marcotte children in a single-parent home. Marcotte says many of his earliest and most glaring memories are of the sacrifices his mother made for the family.

“You feel helpless,” says Marcotte, now 47 and the owner of the three-location, $3.2 million-a-year American Pride Automotive in Virginia. “I think back to those times, and we didn’t have transportation, and it was probably a really simple fix. How many other people can we make that simple fix for and get them back on track?”

And that’s where the concept for Family Service Day was born.

What started as a single-day event to help open Marcotte’s second facility has morphed into a standalone nonprofit organization, one that, through a new partnership with CARQUEST’s TechNet network of shops, will expand nationally in 2015.

“It’s amazing the way this has evolved,” he says. “This has become who we are [as a company]. This is what people know us for, and I’m incredibly proud of that.”

Standing Out

Marcotte was looking for a way to advertise his second American Pride location in 2009 in Williamsburg, roughly 12 miles from his original facility in Yorktown. 

“I was part of a networking group with some other business owners, and they said it’s a big threat to stretch yourself too thin and I needed to be able to really establish myself in the area,” Marcotte says. “They told me to get out in the community, because I couldn’t afford to advertise on a large scale.”

After some researching, he came up with a simple concept: He’d work with a local charity to identify single-parent families who could truly benefit from vehicle repairs. He then would hold a grand opening for the shop, performing free repairs on those vehicles.

He partnered with his vendors to get the parts and materials donated for the work, and went out to other area businesses, organizations and politicians to see if they’d be interested in participating. 

The 5,000-square-foot shop performed 25 jobs that day, while holding a community block-party style of event. 

“It was more successful than I would’ve expected, and really got the business going in that area,” he says. “We were profitable within three months of opening the doors, and I know that played a huge role. Suddenly, people had this instant way of knowing us—and for a good reason.”

‘Not a Charity; It’s a Celebration’

Marcotte went from that first event to making it an annual program at each of his facilities. By the time his third location sprouted up a couple years later, each facility held an event, now called Family Service Day, twice a year—once in the spring, once in the fall.

They’ve done 21 to date.

“We had so many people coming up and telling us their stories about how they grew up in similar situations as I did,” he says. “My team—most of my staff are from single-family homes. I can just tell the pride they get in doing this, the same as me.

“And people started wondering if we could extend this further. I had people saying we should make it a national program.”

That’s when Marcotte called on Hawley to take charge of the program. Hawley, who has a marketing and event-organizing background, helped found the official organization, and now serves as its executive director. She helped orchestrate the Carquest partnership and line up sponsors like Dunkin Donuts and The Home Depot. 

Local businesses donate food. Marcotte has had mayors come in to help change oil. Some people donate money for parts, while others offer to cook or provide food. The Home Depot has set up craft tables for kids.

“It’s really a big celebration,” Marcotte says. “We like to think of it that way: It’s not a charity; it’s a celebration.”

Family Service Day held a handful of events through TechNet across the country in 2014 as a sort of trial run for the national program. Hawley is hoping to see all of TechNet’s roughly 5,400 shops hold a nationwide Family Service Day in the coming years.

“It’s funny where you find yourself, and when you think back to where you started from, you realize you got places without the end in mind,” he says. “That’s how Family Service Day has evolved.” 

Independent Impact

As part of the the program’s beta testing, Family Service Day held a May event with five Boulder, Colo.–area TechNet shops. 

Each shop picked a local charity, which set them up with “guests” who needed vehicle repairs for the event. The shops and their respective staffs spent a Saturday repairing the vehicles (each doing between 15–25). They had a cook-out, gave out goodie bags and had a craft area set up for children.

It was a natural fit for the shops, as each is already heavily involved in community efforts, says Jud Haglin, whose Haglin Automotive was one of the shops to participate. 

Haglin and two other participating owners shared their thoughts on community marketing:

“A great way to get involved is to start small—reach out to an organization near you and test the waters for how you can help. Maybe it’s just fixing one car at a time, or hosting a whole day like [Family Service Day]. You want to find a way to bring people together, and build from there.”

Jack Dionigi

The Auto Repair Place

“For us, it always creates such a great sense of ‘team’ in the shop. Our team really felt good about [Family Service Day] and what we’re able to do for people. It’s rewarding, and makes all of us more appreciative.”

Judy Haglin

Haglin Automotive

“For any shop, it’s about finding something you’re passionate about and finding a way to give back and help those people. There are so many great causes in every market, and there are so many opportunities for businesses to get involved. Even if it’s in a small way, each shop can do something to make a difference.”

Lisa Pellman

Pellman’s Automotive Service

About the Author

Bryce Evans

Bryce Evans is the vice president of content at 10 Missions Media, overseeing an award-winning team that produces FenderBender, Ratchet+Wrench and NOLN.

Sponsored Recommendations

Find the right shop management system to boost your efficiency

Find the right shop management system to aid in efficient scheduling, communication and payment processing

Craft a strategic marketing plan

Develop strategies and communicate them to your staff to keep you on track

Establish and track your KPIs: Technician Productivity

WHAT IT IS: Technician productivity refers to the time a technician is available to work measured against the actual time spent working on positive cash flow repair orders. Tracking...

Empower your technicians with the right tools for efficient repairs

Foster a highly motivated and efficient team to get vehicles out the door faster