Specialization, go for it attitude, help chain grow
by penni crabtree staff writter

For a time it seemed as though the Walby brothers. would defy destiny.
Sure, they grew up car crazy teenagers in Detroit, the automobile mecca of the world. But unlike most of their high school friends, the Walbys didn't have a relative on the assembly line who could land them a job at one of the big Detroit auto plants.
So Patrick Walby became a sales manager for a department store and moved to San Diego, and Philip Walby landed a job with a major accounting firm. But then came fate, cruising behind the wheel of a big automobile.

"It seemed like we were going to miss that track," said Phil Walby, owner and chief financial officer of Brake Depot, a San Diego based chain of brake repair and service centers. "We went off and got educations; we jumped around a bit. But then where do we finally land? Automotive."
It's a fate the Walby brothers and their partner, John Dacey, embrace with enthusiasm. Since opening the first Brake Depot service center in 1991, the chain has grown to 26 sites in San Diego, Orange, County and Charlotte, N.C. This year, the partners expect to gross $7.6 million in sales.
The Walby brothers credit a commitment to specialization, as well as the eclectic blend of talents and personalities among the three partners, for the company's success.
"Adam Smith said it all in his book 'Wealth of Nations' specialize and you make more money," said Philip Walby, who describes himself as the practical numbers cruncher among the partners. "We don't do anything but brakes, but we do them very well."
Specialization also allows the company to educate customers, said Patrick Walby. each Brake Depot store has a large display in the customer service area that shows a car's brake system, from brake pads to calipers, that allows Brake Depot staff members to walk customers through the repair process.
Staff members also inspect the car with the customer, so they can examine worn parts and see how the brake system works. This commitment to consumer education helps customers make decisions and be comfortable with those decisions, said Patrick Walby, one of the brake brothers.
"We're in an industry where people think, 'Oh, I'm going to get ripped off,'" said Patrick Walby, "Dispelling that notion has been the starting point for us."
Barbara Hutchinson, a tax law researcher and recent client, appreciates the Brake Depot philosophy.
Hutchinson said she took her Lincoln Continental to two other auto repair chain store, a Lincoln dealership, and a local garage to try to solve a persistent brake noise problem. Each had a different diagnosis, and estimates that ranged as high as $1,500. After spending several hundred dollars without solving the problem, Hutchinson went to Brake Depot.
The company correctly diagnosed a worn air valve that was connected to the emergency brake, and made the repair.
"Nothing is more frightening then to feel something is wrong with the brakes on a car," said Hutchinson. "It was the best service I've had in my life, and money well spent."
Although Brake Depot's service strategy is specialization, the partners' varied abilities and diverse personalities have directed the company's growth. It was Dacey, a longtime family friend the Walbys describe as fearless and intuitive, who first hooked up with Patrick Walby described as the creative on.
On a trip to Detroit to visit his family, Patrick Walby stopped by to see Dacey, who was a partner in another brake repair company. Dacey, dissatisfied with his partners in the three store chain, asked Walby what he thought about trying the concept in San Diego.
Walby was intrigued, and on his return to San Diego checked the Yellow Pages. He called Dacey on morning and told him there weren't any brake repair specialty shops in San Diego, and suggested he come to visit and take a look for himself.
Dacey called back later that day and told Walby to pick him up at the San Diego airport that night. The two scouted for locations and within two days had signed a lease. The first Brake Depot opened in January 1991. Four months later, Phil Walby resigned his accounting job and moved to San Diego to go inot partnership with his brother and Dacey.
The combination proved formidable. Dacey had experience in the business, combined with common sense and w willingness to risk all. Pat Walby was creative and had a marketing savvy,, with a dare devil streak of his own. Brother Phllip, the computer whiz supplied a steady, practical influence.
"We all have a firm grasp on the fact that none of us has done this themselves," said Philip Walby
"For instance, I have too much education, and education can stymie risk taking, I always have 102 reasons not to do something. John and Pat always want to jump in. So my role is to look at it and say, 'OK, if you're going to jump, jump this way instead of that way.'"
In the past five years, the parters have done some serious but calculated jumping. Using Patrick Walby's home as collateral on a loan, the partners opened eight stores in the first year. In 1993, they expanded to Orange County, and last year opened six stores in Charlotte, N.C.
Such growth has not been without its pains, including Dacey's move to Charlotte last year to guide the company's Southern expansion.
Despite Dacey's physical absence, the partners keep in daily contact by telephone, bouncing ideas off each other and planning their next expansion. This year, the partners are negotiating with investors to open 10 Brake Depot in Phoezix and 10 in Las Vegas.
"I'd like to open 1,500 Brake Depot stores across the U.S." said Pat Walby, with a wide grin. "for me, it's like playing a grown up version of Monopoly and Risk, and so fr we're winning."
Philip Walby smiles his slow, steady smile.
"I take it a little differently,"he said. "An important thing for me is family, I'm working with my brother, and John, who is like a brother, and we're achieving some personal goals. And, yes, we're also achieving some success."
Philip Walby and Patrick Walby have also been acknowledged by JD Power and Associate for their quality business