Small Business Spotlight of the Week: ThriftyWrench.com Amanda | December 7th, 2011

There are lot of benefits to owning your own car.  Like not having to haul groceries a mile and then drag them up the stairs to your third floor walk up.  Or not having to limp around town on a sprained ankle. And having the independence to go where you want to go, when you want to go there, not arrive to work 40 minutes late because the train was delayed. Yeah, I’m having a really great week, why do you ask? One of the benefits of owning a car is definitely not finding a mechanic when something goes wrong.

Until ThriftyWrench.com came along.  Car repair services can sign up to have their name available on the site.  Users then provide car information (make, year, problem, etc.) and businesses will submit estimates to the person who posted their car’s problem. After comparing estimates, users can then go with the garage that gives them the best price, but still skip the step of calling or meeting with people.  Though ThriftyWrench is currently only available in western Wisconsin and the Minneapolis-St.Paul area, their ultimate goal is to have garages represented from all over the United States.

Co-founder, Jon, took some time to share these words with me:

How would you explain what you do to somebody’s grandmother?

Tough economic times have convinced many Americans to hold on to their cars longer. As a result the odometer on the average car has risen to 105,000 miles and many are in need of more expensive repairs and maintenance. If you don’t have a mechanic you can trust the mind boggling complexity of cars today makes it hard for you know if you’re being overcharged.  ThriftyWrench.com is a free online referral service that solves this problem by connecting you with up to three reputable local repair shops so you can compare real car repair estimates. Our experience has shown that comparing estimates can save you up to 30% on almost any car repair.

What are some industry specific challenges you faced?  

In the automotive repair industry there are over 80,000 repair shops. Creating a system to identify the shops that offer you the best service at a fair price has been challenging. We’ve spend countless hours screening and surveying repair shops in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area to make sure you are working with the best. To make our service even better, in the coming months we will be adding a repair shop review section where you will be able to see real ratings from verified customers to make this process even easier for you.

What was your biggest learning curve/experience?

Coming into this industry as a consumer my biggest learning curve has been identifying the places where some repair shops choose to cut corners or unfairly pad their profits. It was amazing to learn the how many different ways shops take money out of your pocket. A few of the most common we saw were pushing unnecessary repairs or maintenance, using inferior parts, and exaggerating the time it takes to make a repair. We were able to avoid shops that were using these practices by talking to honest auto repair experts that have decades of experience in the industry.

What made you use crowdSPRING? 

We chose to use crowdSPRING because we wanted a diversity of design ideas from the creative community. The initial designs we received were good, but the real advantage to using crowdSPRING was being able to work with the creatives to perfect a handful of designs. Then we used the voting tool to get input from friends and family to choose the design that best represented us. We used crowdSPRING twice and received a professional looking logo and well designed website.

What’s the craziest story you have from starting your own business?  

In our discussions with ThriftyWrench.com users and repair shops we hear some pretty crazy stories. One of the most memorable for me is from a repair shop owner that had a customer come in after having her car worked on at the local dealership shortly after her warranty expired. She arrived right when the dealership opened at 8 a.m. and waited around until her car was done two hours later. When she received her bill at the service counter she noticed they had charged for four hours of work. She thought it must be a mistake since she had been sitting there the entire time and it had only been two hours. At a rate of over hundred dollars an hour she made sure to bring it to the attention of the service advisor at the front counter. She was informed that the amount of time it actually took to fix her car was irrelevant. The dealership charged the “book” rate, which in her case was four hours. Needless to say she took her car elsewhere after that experience. Unfortunately, this story is not unique and has happened at a number of dealerships and repair shops around the country. For me it was crazy to learn that this method of overcharging you is a common business practice for some in this industry.

If you could go back, would you do anything differently? If so, what and why?

That’s a tough question to answer. As a new entrepreneur, building ThriftyWrench.com has been incredible learning experience for me. I’m a big believer in the concept that experience is the best teacher. Looking back are there things I could have done better? Of course, but I think it more important to learn from your mistakes and use them to make you stronger.

How do you see your company growing in the future?

ThriftyWrench.com is just beginning to blossom as a company. We just finished our beta testing last month with overwhelming positive feedback from our users. We are now working on building a strong network of reputable repair shops to serve the Minneapolis-St.Paul metro area. In the coming years, using the model we are perfecting in Minneapolis-St.Paul, we look forward to helping consumers across the country save money on car repairs.

Advice to those looking to start their own company.  

The six words of advice I’d give anyone are “Determination is more important than talent.” A number of aspiring entrepreneurs I’ve talked to have given up on their dreams because they don’t think they are smart enough or talented enough. I’m proud to say that I’ve had many people that were smarter and more talented work for me, but very few who were more determined to succeed.

ThriftyWrench’s call for a new website design received 88 entries.

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