Honest Wrenches Owners Travis Troy (right) and Josh Mullins (second from right) and their technicians, from left, Brian Rush, Larry Kenworthy, and Mike Guthrie, use extensive inspections for thorough service and maintenance.Travis Troy (pictured) founded Honest Wrenches with classmate Josh Mullins after hearing of bad experiences by customers at some other shops.Technician Brian Rush performs a running compression test using a lab scope & pressure transducer.

Des Moines shop built on trust

Iowa’s Honest Wrenches was founded in response to bad repair experiences

Des Moines, Iowa —With few customers daring to venture out, a recent sub-zero cold snap brought a lull in business for Honest Wrenches, the shop owned by Travis Troy and Josh Mullins. That was the bad news. But the good news was the shop, which uses the tagline, “We keep the wheels rolling,” passed a test of sorts, with none of its customers experiencing a breakdown.

“That shows we did our job, so they didn’t have to worry about a breakdown,” Troy said. That hardy reliability begins with an extensive inspection, which the shop converted to digital in August using tablet computers and software from Bolt On Technology. That change also grew its ARO from about $550 to $750.    

“We have the ‘300 percent rule’: 100 percent of every vehicle that comes through the door gets an inspection 100 percent of the time, with a complete estimate presented to the customer 100 percent of the time. So if they’re not doing those things, and all of the sudden they get the digital inspection and start doing all of that stuff, they can easily double their ARO.”

The checklist’s color-coded items, combined with photos, make selling jobs much easier, Troy said.

“Customers don’t like to see their vehicle in the yellow or red, because that’s their lifeline — that’s what gets them from ‘A to B,’ and to their paycheck. They’re driving their kids in the vehicle. So when we send those over to the customer, and they see that, a very common response is, ‘Fix everything in the yellow and the red.’”

In Troy’s view, glossing over what a vehicle needs because a service writer is afraid of presenting the estimate to the customer is dishonest, as it’s not painting the true picture of a vehicle’s health.

“If it needs $4,000 worth of work and you think they will only buy $1,000, so that’s what you present to them, then you’re a crook. Every time that vehicle comes through the door, our job is to give them the complete health rating of their vehicle.”

Before the shop begins work, Troy contacts the customer, reviews the inspection with them, and goes over every bullet point with them, reviewing the photos and any concerns the technician may have expressed about what’s in the photo, such as a fluid leak.

“And then we let them know that in order to get their vehicle back safe and reliable, ‘This is what you need to do, and this is your total investment.’”

The checklist is one Troy built himself over eight months, bullet point by bullet point, instead of the typical method of using a template of another shop’s checklist.

“We have our own philosophy and our own views and values,” he said. The customization allowed him to add in bullet points for items the shop previously undersold, such as determining the last time the timing belt (replaced by OEM-recommended intervals) or spark plugs were changed (for which the shop settled on a 100,000-mile service interval as an average). “It makes you think about it.”

Troy, who is the face of the business and runs the front office, said he met Mullins, the service manager, while they were students at Des Moines Area Community College’s Automotive Technology program when they decided to go into business together in 2011 after hearing about customers being taken advantage of by some other shops.

A native of Dubuque, Troy was hungry for business and didn’t know many people, while Mullins had local connections and a clientele base. Combining their technician skills in school and at a backyard garage, their customer base grew until local officials caught wind of it, which earned them a cease-and-desist letter. After then operating out of a cramped 500-square-foot storage garage for a year, the duo moved into their current shop in 2012.

A member of several program distribution loyalty and shop identification programs, the shop recently upgraded its warranty to three years and 36,000 miles, and Troy said the shop encourages customers to stay on top of their car maintenance by setting up reminders through the My Garage application, a free service from DriverSide which notifies them when service is due or when there is an OEM recall.

The shop encourages ASE certification for its three technicians, and it pays for all management and technican training, which it gets from a number of sources, including ATI, Auto Value, The Buyosphere, CARQUEST’s TechNet, NAPA, the Vision Hi-Tech Training & Expo, and through the Des Moines chapter of ASA-Midwest, of which Troy is secretary.

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.