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Yvan Lacroix is the president of Répare-brise Inc., a mobile detailing company based in Quebec, Canada, he co-founded with his wife Sylvie in 2003. They started franchising in 2005 and soon began expanding their business and their menu.
Today the couple own eight shops, 30 mobile units and will open three more in Algeria. Lacroix recently spoke with Professional Carwashing & Detailing about how he and his wife built Répare-brise Inc. into a successful franchise and their secret to staying profitable in an economic downturn.
Professional Carwashing & Detailing: How did you get involved in the industry?
Yvan Lacroix: In 2006 we opened our first reconditioning facility, and that’s when we added detailing into the mix to complete the package. Previous to that we were strictly mobile, and dealing for the most part with dealers. I had been part of the industry on and off since the early 80s, but this time came at it with a very different approach.
Unfortunately, the detailing industry has been like the ugly duckling of the auto industry. Anyone can buy a shop vac and bucket and call themselves a detailer. For us detailing is the glue that ties all our services together, without detailing you can’t produce the results the consumer is looking for, we offer one-stop shopping for all their reconditioning needs.
PC&D: What is the advantage of franchising?
YL: Franchising has the benefit of having independent business owners who are much more involved in the success of the business. Another important aspect is uniformity; every town has a detail shop, but like anything there are no standards. With a franchise you have a certain level of competence to become a franchisee, you have standards to meet, and the customer can expect there experience to be equal in all locations.
Franchising has also allowed me to feed my passion for research and development while my franchisees and customers reap the benefits. If I had to supervise all our mobile techs and shops I would not be able to advance our technologies.
Many of the products we use have been developed by us, as well as some of the tools. We have our own windshield repair system, glass polishing system, headlight system, and smart paint repair system. We have developed a line of detailing products that respond to our needs and mission of being as environmentally responsible as possible, the most impact has been with our waterless wash.
PC&D: What is involved with franchising?
YL: A lot of paperwork and a love of babysitting. Anyone can start a franchise, but to keep it active and interesting for the customers and franchisees, there needs to be a high level of support and innovation. Franchisees can call on me at any time of the day or night with a need or problem. Having franchisees in Northern Africa has certainly extended my work day due to the time difference!
PC&D: You mentioned that some of your locations were expanded. What was the process?
YL: The process begins with identifying the need, and the reasons for expanding. Once the goals are set (along with a five-year plan) the real estate hunt begins. Once you have found the spot, then the work stops and the labor begins, i.e. the leasehold improvements, landscaping, signage, publicity, and the physical move.
PC&D: How have you kept all locations in business during the recession?
YL: That’s easy: Superior service, realistic pricing, and planning. We provide a service to our customers that many are simply not able to do. By grouping all the customers’ needs under one roof, we become the logical choice.
As for pricing, we have never competed on price, in fact we are often higher priced than most of our competition, and contrary to popular belief, customers look for quality not price. Many of our competitors in different fields of activity, but more predominantly in detailing, have simply priced themselves out of business. By lowering prices, they have cut out their profits from the equation and in the goal to stay afloat they cut corners, lowering quality, and losing customers. Planning and R&D has allowed us to stay ahead of the competition and keep or improve our service levels while lowering our operating costs.
PC&D: What advice do you have for others looking to expand?
YL: Go back to school! Many detailers are exceptional technicians but exceptionally poor business people. They need to concentrate their efforts on learning and developing business skills. A mediocre detailer with a great business background will do much better that an exceptional detailer with mediocre business skills. The other is to listen to your customers and identify their needs and do what you can to fulfill those needs.