Game Changers With Sarah Harris: Blue Toro Named Motor Industry Disruptor

Combining her extensive business-building skills with her husband’s mechanical prowess has enabled Blue Toro founders Janelle and Elvio Gonzalez to revolutionise Australia’s automotive repair industry.

Here’s Janelle’s interview with Sarah Harris, originally posted as a video on The Carousel.
Sarah: Janelle, welcome to Game Changers.

Janelle: Thank you Sarah!

Sarah: Now, for many years you spent your weekdays at a desk, but on weekends in the pitlanes. How so?

Janelle: My background is in product and marketing, in senior roles for very big corporates internationally, and I’ve been building big businesses for a long time. My husband is a mechanic and we met in high school, and he’s just passionate about cars and building performance cars and racing performance cars for 30 odds years. And for most of that time I’ve been along his side at the race track, in the pit crews. So, combining my skills building businesses and his skills in automotive we’ve been able to combine forces to build our own automotive business.

Sarah: I suppose with one foot in each camp, in terms of your background and also your husband’s mechanical know-how, you launched Blue Toro Mobile Mechanics. Why did you do that?

Janelle: I just see there’s a huge change needed in the industry and a huge opportunity. And I see that I’m my own target market. Most vehicle purchases are done by women…

Sarah: 70% or something?

Janelle: 70%! And that’s not different to any other purchase in a household. Women tend to hold the purse strings. Yet, the industry is obviously male-dominated, and it’s led from the ground-up in terms of most of the people, most of the men in the industry have got an automotive background or a mechanical background. But I’m coming at it from a completely different perspective. My background is marketing and it’s tech, but at the same time I understand the mechanics, my husband’s one and I’ve been at the race track for 26 years now, so I’m surrounded by mechanics and jeez they’re hard done by. My husband, for example, he’s worked at many of the big brands and he’s very good at what he does, he’s very good with customers – but he was often reprimanded and he’s reprimanded because he didn’t sell enough batteries this week. Or he didn’t meet his sales target for this week. So he’d be pulled into the office and reprimanded, and he’s response was ‘The customer didn’t need it’. So he left the big brands for that reason, and now I talk to mechanics every day who want to leave for the same reason, because they’re ethically challenged. So there’s a huge change that needs to happen within the industry.

Sarah: So you certainly saw a need in the market or a gap in the market.

Janelle: I think the strength is having a female perspective in the industry for the first time, I think that’s really important and a lot of the role that I see we have is empowering not just women. Women is a big focus, but a lot of people say the same story – men and women that they feel like they’re in a position of being disempowered.

Sarah: Well, in fact 80% of Australian car owners say that they feel like they’ve been ripped off by a mechanic at some point.

Janelle: And the fact is they probably have. And there is another stat that says mechanics are in the bottom three least trusted professions in the world. So people don’t trust mechanics, they feel like they’re being ripped off. But the reality is it’s not the mechanics, it’s the industry itself. So mechanics, they’re the poorest paid trade in Australia. Our mechanics earn less than the average Australian and they earn the same as an unskilled laborer. And my view is that the industry is doing that to dangle the incentive carrots to them, so they’re almost forced to upsell a bunch of things that none of us need just to feed their family.

Sarah: So what makes your business different?

Janelle: So we are obviously mobile, and we’re a full-service mobile workshops, so we’ve got that convenience thing down pat. But the key difference is that our mechanics own their own business, so they’re incentivized to build the long-term customer relationships. We don’t have he employee churn and burn, and we don’t have the hidden commissions and the upsells that the employee networks have.

Sarah: So who does Blue Toro cater for?

Janelle: Time-poor individuals who don’t have time to maintain their car and are looking for a trusted personal mechanic to come to them.

Sarah: And your business is growing very quickly.

Janelle: Yes, in fact we’ve grown 50% over the last 4 months, doubled our fleet this year, but we’re doubling and tripling year on year in the last 4 years. And again it comes back to we’ve just got a simple business model that suits a huge demand in the market.

Sarah: So 24 vans in the moment.

Janelle: 24 vans, they’ll be 32 by October and we’ll double that again next year.

Sarah: At a time when there’s so much distrust in the industry it’s quite amazing that Blue Toro is currently the fastest growing automotive business in the country. How did you achieve that?

Janelle: We built a business based on what customers want. They want transparency, they want control over their vehicle. They want to feel like they’ve got the information they need and ultimately they want to feel like they’ve got their own personal mechanic that trusts that relationship. When you go to a hair dresser or any other trade where you build that loyalty, build that trust, they want that relationship, so that’s what we offer.

Sarah: Well, the customer gets transparency, they get spoken to like an actual human being and not a child. What about mechanics, how do they benefit from your business?

Janelle: Our mechanics all own their own business, so we are a franchised group, so that means the profits stays in their pocket, not in somebody else’s. But we don’t have hidden commissions, we don’t have upsells, our business model is very, very different to the rest of the industry.

Sarah: Like most industries, transportation, the automotive industry is facing some pretty big changes.

Janelle: Huge, the biggest changes we’ve seen since the invention of the car. So we’re seeing for the first time a decline in car sales and decline in car ownership. So car sharing is a big thing now. Online car sales is huge at the moment, and predicted to grow even further. Because people don’t want to deal with a mechanic, they don’t want to go through the dealership, they don’t want to deal with a used car salesman. So they’re buying their cars online. But the biggest changes we’re seeing is the business model itself. So if you think about Apple and Google and their business models being based on content, so your mobile phone’s a commodity, it’s the content and the usage of that which is how the industry is running that space.

Sarah: So how do you then think Blue Toro relevant with all these changes happening?

Janelle: It’s about staying ahead of the curve and I think, you know, the automotive industry is very used to ‘Oh, we’ve always done it this way’. It’s a very old industry and we’ve always done it this way and we just need to sell more cars. But we need to look at things very differently, we need to look at the business model and you know, I’m coming at it from a marketing, tech space. So my head’s going a million miles an hour with the things we need to do, but we need to stay ahead of that game and look at how the industry as a whole is changing and make sure we’re a part of that.

Sarah: And I love as well that you have written a book: The Car Survival Guide. You’re really interested in empowering people when it comes to their choices about cars, aren’t you?

Janelle: Yeah, people don’t want to read my book but they do want the answers out of the book. It’s about dispelling the myths and answering those frequent questions that we all have that potentially we feel too stupid to ask, or we just don’t know where to get that information.

Sarah: So education is empowerment.

Janelle: Absolutely. So knowing the right questions to ask is fundamental.

Sarah: Janelle, thank you so much for joining us on Game Changers today.

Janelle: Thank you for having me!

To watch Janelle’s interview with Sarah, head to The Carousel.

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