Honesty is the Best KPI

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 | May 2019

Honesty is the Best KPI | Honest Wrenches | May 2019

For Travis Troy and Honest Wrenches, Transparency Yields Success


Travis Troy’s fist hits the table.

“I like to be around a bunch of mad people,” he says with a laugh.

“I love this stuff. I like to open ‘em up and make ‘em smile.”

Troy sat down with MWACA Magazine shortly after the publication announcement of at the VISION Hi-Tech Training and Expo in Overland Park, Kansas. As shop owners milled around the ground floor bar of the Sheraton Overland Park Hotel and Convention Center, striding to and from a litany of classes, meetings, and the expo floor, Troy’s eyes grew bright as he described his story.

“I am not content,” he says, smiling. “I don’t stop; I don’t sleep.”

Troy is the owner of Honest Wrenches, a four-bay repair shop at the crux of Interstates 35 and 80 north of Des Moines, Iowa. To Troy, opportunity is everywhere and everything is an opportunity.

People, most of all.

“Our core values formed the name,” he says.

“If we’re honest with every customer, we knew we’d be successful.”

But when everything looks like an opportunity, it can be hard to know how to spend your time—especially at the beginning.

“It can be a very lucrative business,” he says, “but if you don’t do things well, it can bury you.”

Born to Run

Troy met his business partner, Josh Mullins, at Des Moines Area Community College, in nearby Ankeny. They began working on cars together and felt they were truly a step ahead of most of their fellow students.

“Every class was eight weeks long,” Troy says “and the last two weeks we were always helping everybody. It’s not natural, but we had a passion. We’d do the extra work when no one else would.”

That was spring 2011. Troy and Mullins decided to go into business for themselves, and Honest Wrenches opened its doors on May 1, 2011.

“We were still in college!” Troy says. “We were in class from 8 until 11 in the morning. Then we’d run to the shop, open the windows, and make it look open. We did that until we graduated, and we also had our full-time jobs.”

Troy and Mullins continued to work full-time jobs for three more years. In 2014, however, they quit. After three years of business, it was time to give Honest Wrenches their full attention.

From Pit to Profit

Every day, Troy asks his employees what business they’re in.

“It’s not the car business,” he says.

“We’re in the people business, and people drive cars. The car doesn’t call us—people do. The car won’t come if the people aren’t first. So, which business are we in?”

Like any shop owner, Troy knows the bad days come. Early in his career, he describes trying to keep all the balls in the air at once:

Sales. Red ball.

Marketing. Yellow ball.

Overhead. Green ball.

Car count. Orange ball.

Sanity. Big fat black ball.

In his own words, Honest Wrenches was a ball pit at first.

“I’ve learned to step away and let the balls drop,” he says.

“I became frustrated, until I realized that it’s not my employees’ fault—I need to look in the mirror and blame myself. As a shop owner, you get really overwhelmed because you want to fix everything right away, and that’s impossible. You have to figure out the problems, get a game plan to achieve them, make a path way, and give yourself deadlines. And then follow up.”

Troy hosts two weekly team meetings—one based on the service advisors, and one functioning as a more general shop meeting. In both settings, Troy and his team review the previous week, discuss the struggles and opportunities, and then review the processes.

“We tweak,” Troy says, raising his hands above the table to grasp two invisible dials. 

“You have big dials at first, but over time those dials get smaller and smaller and smaller until you’re only fine-tuning things from day to day, week to week. Because now the big stuff”—slam!—“is behind you.”

The Future Ahead

Today, Troy cites roughly $1.5 million as his shop’s annual revenue. He has a solid team around him and is excited for what’s ahead.

As with his customers, Troy believes honesty and transparency are how to find—and keep—the best technicians.

“Technicians should work in a shop where their owners care,” he says.

“I tell employees if you’re not happy here, that’s OK—I will help you. I know other owners. It allows them to be more open about their personal and professional lives, and my techs deserve that. They all deserve to make more money.

“I’ve got a passion for success, and if I can make the people around me successful, I will become successful. If you don’t have people, you don’t have money.”

Troy cites the industry’s increasingly helpful community (especially among independent shops) as another cornerstone of his success.

“Somebody in MWACA helped me one day and it changed my life for the better. I only have that to give back. I can have the worst day ever, and if I’m helping another shop owner, that’s the best thing I can do,” he says.” If we can make this industry better—there’s enough for everybody—I’ve done my due diligence.”

Troy isn’t certain what’s next for Honest Wrenches; he’s considered expansion. But more space means more balls in the air once more.

“I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants kind of guy,” he says. “I make sure I’m prepared. I’ll have a life event or a lightbulb that goes off, and it’s just”—slam!—“we’re doing it.

“Then you start making a plan.”