Budget Brake & Muffler Franchisee - Art Houchen

Date: JUN 16th, 2010

Topic: Spotlight on a Franchisee

My name is Art Houchen and I’m a franchisee for Budget Brake and Muffler with a location in Kelowna.   

In 1990, I was transferred from Kelowna to Vancouver as a branch manager for another company.  I began thinking about franchising within a year of moving to Vancouver.  For the amount of hours you put into a job working for someone else, you might as well be working for yourself.  Entrepreneurship didn’t hold any fear for me because I believed (and still do) that if you are willing to work hard, you’ll do alright.  The only thing I’d ever lacked was money.  I’d probably have looked into a small business ten years earlier if I’d had enough starting capital.

On the other hand, that decade gave me invaluable management experience.  I learned a style of leadership that was firm and fair while still being hands-on-all elements I would eventually rely upon as a franchisee.
My franchise opportunity finally arrived in 1993.  That summer, I noticed a newspaper ad in the Vancouver Sun, placed by Budget Brake and Muffler.  They had a franchise available in Kelowna and was looking for interested franchisee candidates.  I called them right away and scheduled an appointment.

The initial interviews went very well.  My management experience and past knowledge of both retail and the automotive industry were major factors in getting me accepted as a franchisee.  I also brought a personal interest in cars and that helped, too.  Of course, having 100 percent support from my wife and sons meant everything.  I was officially approved as a franchisee in July 1994.

Unlike my previous career moves, I had to start this one on my own-both my sons had to complete their school year in Vancouver, so they stayed there with their mom through the spring.   That was a really hard time for me.

However, I was fortunate to take over a business with three very talented, experienced mechanics already on staff.  Right away I became the ‘fourth man’, doing as much repair work as any of them (it’s still that way, actually).  When I began, this Budget Brake and Muffler location was strictly brakes, exhaust and suspension (typical of Budget franchises at the time), but I quickly realized that I could do more.  With the guidance and support of the Head Office I set about converting my franchise to a full-service repair business, and through that a very loyal client base.

Over the next few years we continued to prosper.  By 2001, I was able to build a whole new shop.  My old location wasn’t bad, but it had only five bays and was on a side road with limited public exposure.  My new location has eight bays, meaning we can service eight cars or trucks simultaneously.  The bays are also larger, meaning I can service big vehicles, such as motorhomes and large trucks and vans.  Best of all, my new location is right along the highway, giving me maximum exposure to motorists.

By the fall of 2005, Budget Brake and Muffler wanted to expand to Vernon, BC; a city about 30-minutes’ drive from Kelowna.  I took several trips there with the then owner of the franchise system, Warren Swanson, and the then Vice-President, Lane Vance,  to survey the area.  After many months of continually scouting the area for locations we finally found the right one, which just happened to be operated by a competitor of Budget’s.  Through Budget I bought the business, and Budget bought the property.

On March 1,2006, I took over the Vernon location.  I successfully ran this location for 21 months.  I found that although operating a Budget Brake and Muffler on a part-time basis (I worked the Vernon shop only one day a week, and relied on a manager for the other five) is profitable, it is more so when you work the business on a more full time basis.  Therefore, Budget helped me find a buyer for the franchise and I sold it in December of 2008.

Through my association with Budget Brake and Muffler I have had the opportunity to operate a successful business, and also be partners in the Budget Realty Company, as well as part owner of my own building.

Both of my sons, Leigh and Shawn are very involved in the business. Leigh is my counterman and Shawn works as a mechanic on the floor.  My wife, Iris, is also involved doing the books and answering the phones when things get busy.  This truly is a family business and we are proud of our association with Budget Brake and Muffler.