Bringing a car in for a tune-up or oil change is hardly on anyone’s list of favorite things to do — in fact, in a June 2014 AutoMD survey, women preferred going to the dentist over taking their car in to get repaired. Change Lane, a Minneapolis–based startup, aims to take the pain out of car maintenance.
The company essentially will bring mechanics, or “technicians” as Changelane calls them, to car owners. The idea came to co-founder and CEO David Harig after a friend asked at a 2013 New Year’s Eve party why people had to go elsewhere for car services, saying it was a pain and there always was the anticipation of aggressive up-selling or price gauging on additional repairs that may or may not be necessary — most car owners wouldn’t know.
“I thought, ‘oh my god, you are so right.’ It just clicked,” Harig said, noting that “smartphones are everywhere and people want on-demand services. This is not a niche problem, there are 285 million cars [in the U.S.]; this is for everyone.”
Changlane has raised $1.1 million in venture capital so far. Harig based the initial concept for the company on a peer-to-peer model like Uber, whereby a customer would use an app to request an oil change and a qualified local mechanic would show up at their home — with a trailer truck on which the services would be performed.
But after launching in September with a prototype rig brought to a small community festival, he found people saying they would love to have this service at work. “Several employers come up to us and said, ‘oh my god, you have to bring Changelane [to our office],” Harig said. “We didn’t see that coming.”
Acknowledging that building repair trucks and driving them to individuals is harder to scale than bringing the service to where people were naturally gathered, he changed Changelane’s business model and is now starting with corporate clients rather than individual consumers.
The company signed its first client in October and will begin servicing its 130 employees’ cars after the first of the year, Harig said, adding that the client bought oil changes for half of its employees as a corporate perk.
Changelane will perform basic manufacturer-recommended maintenance services: oil changes, fluid flushes, wiper blades, tire rotations, as well as diagnostic checks, not any heavy repairs or “frivolous services that no manufacturer ever recommends in the manual, like fuel economy mileage boosters, fuel flush systems, that menu of up-sell opportunities,” Harig said. Pricing will be based on the type of vehicle and service needed with a target to fall within 20% of what the current industry is charging per service.
Harig told Street Fight that several other large corporations have asked for the same thing, but the company is too new to handle the volume and size and for now will work with smaller employers. “That’s where there’s the volume opportunity, offices, then schools, apartment buildings, the list goes on.”
Long-term, the company plans to eventually branch beyond at-office and at-home service and open large repair shops, megacenters, for more detailed repair work to cover the major repairs and breakdowns that go beyond routine maintenance. That also includes users calling Changelane for a tow and replacement car instead of AAA if broken down on the side of the road.
“The next best thing after having the service center come to you would be to have a replacement car put in your hands for anything you need and your car whisked off to a magical service cloud where you could watch and track those repairs through the app,” Harig said. “We want Changelane to be a brand promise that car maintenance and service do not need to interrupt your life again. When your car breaks down, they’ll be no inconvenience. It’s a simple but lofty goal.”
Overall, Harig sees Changelane working in much the same way that a small-business incubator works: providing a platform for independent technicians who can’t afford to buy a garage or who don’t want to take on the loans, regulations and marketing and do what they love. “To a certain degree what we are effectively doing is bringing auto service back to when it was great, when it was small independent shops.”
What’s changed is how technology is affecting the industry.
First, instead of making a call for an appointment or driving to a garage, car owners will be able to use a mobile device to schedule a maintenance service via an app or text. Second, technology “gives owners the upper hand,” a glimpse in real time what a car needs as specified by the manufacture, by what a car asks for directly with service codes, Harig said.
“We can serve up that trusted data in real time: ‘This is what Chrysler says you need right now: one, two, three, nothing more or less, and here’s the price for each.” Harig explained. “It also fulfills the brand promise. We [will be able to] do any repair for any car for anybody at any time. It creates new opportunities for mechanics to go independent and be mini entrepreneurs in their own right. That’s were we see it going. The mobile store segues into more.”
Donna Airoldi is a contributor to Street Fight.