By Liz Harman
Patrick Walby and Philip Walby's livelihood is repairing
brakes. But the growth of their chain of Brake Depot stores
shows no signs of slowing down.
Since going into business five years ago, the brake
brothers, (Patrick Walby and Philip Walby) along with
partner John Dacey, have opened 15 locations in San Diego
County and five in Orange County. Last August, they opened
five more shops in Charlotte, N.C.
This year, the company projects revenues of $5.2 million.
Eventually, the trio would like to have as many of 1,500
locations nationally, making Brake Depot do for brakes what
Midas has done for mufflers.
Orange County Business
According to Patrick Walby, he estimates, Brake Depot
commands 10 percent of the San Diego market, the largest
share of any brake installer here.
Word of mouth and advertising in the inexpensive
publications like the PennySaver developed that market.
Now, the brothers hope it will expand even further with
television commercials scheduled for airing in a few weeks.
"there's no reason we can't have 20 percent of the brake
market within five years," said Philip Walby, the firm's
chief financial officer.
With sophisticated technologies like computer chips and
antilock brakes, "cars are getting more complicated," said
Patrick Walby, CEO and older of the brake brothers.
"Our concept was to take one segment of the market, train
our people really well and be better at it than anyone
else." Brake Depot is the product of its founders'
backgrounds. The Patrick Walby, Philip Walby and Dacey are
from Detroit, where an interest in the automotive industry
"gets in your blood" Patrick Walby said.
Learned Work Ethic
Philip and Patrick Walby grew up in a family of 10
children. Their father owned a hardware store and both sons
learned the value of hard work and entrepreneurship at an
early age. The reward for a day's work was $2 from the cash
register at the end of the day. Once, however the two boys
worked together, instead of separately as they usually did.
Play, not work, was that day's activity. At the end of the
day, their father took 2 cents out of the cash register,
telling them it was all their work had been worth.
"Something like that sticks with you your whole life,"
Patrick Walby said.
John Dacey was a crackerjack brake repair man who was
dating one of Patrick Walby 's sisters, they did not get
married, when the idea for Brake Depot arose.
After learning the basics of customer service, inventory
tracking and the like from his father, Patrick Walby went
to work for the home improvement department of Montgomery
Ward, working his way up to management without benefit of
Later, Patrick Walby sold cabinets to builders and
contractors for an Oregon based company that transferred
him to San Diego. He eventually started his own company
after falling in love with san Diego's beauty and sunny
Philip Walby took an alternate route, getting an MBA from
Michigan State University and working for the Big Six
accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand. Getting the business
off the ground in 1991 was done the old fashioned was,
using sweat equity as Patrick Walby calls it.
Money was tight, with only savings and a second home
mortgage to finance the business.
They found a run down shop in Downtown San Diego and
repainted and refurbished it. The lease was a steal,
Patrick Walby said, at only $1,500 a month.
Within a year, they had opened their second location.
Originally, the business was called Brake World, but that
trade name belonged to someone else and was soon changed to
AS the business grew, Dacey left the area to open a group
of stores in fast growing North Carolina.
Today, as the company seeks further expansion, they are
looking at other financing alternatives, such as a joint
venture with outside partners or a private stock placement.
One idea, however, that isn't likely to happen tomorrow is
franchising the company name.
The value of franchising is having a well established name
like McDonald, said Patrick Walby.
"The value of our name isn't quite there yet."
While the company has had plenty of success, the founders
have learned from their mistakes.
"We've done everything wrong, once," said Philip Walby.
One mistake they wished they'd picked up on sooner was not
listening more to customers. It was only after a few years
that they started calling up customers after the work on
their car was done to gauge satisfaction.
"Our biggest mistake was not getting onto that right away,"
said Philip Walby.
"We've changed from when we first started," added Patrick
For example, the company formerly used less expensive
foreign parts, thinking what the customer wanted most was a
Now the parts are all made in America and top of the line,
Patrick Walby said. Listening to customers "we learned they
just want the job done right the first time so they don't
have to think about it again.
To ensure customer satisfaction, Brake Depot also uses a
host of other cutting edge concepts.
Mechanics at Brake Depot spend two weeks training within
the company. They also spend a week training at Wagner
Brake Products in St. Lous, where Brake Depot purchases all
"Our mechanics are doing brake jobs every two to three
hours, instead of every two or three days," said Patrick
They learn "all the tricks" and are able to do a brake job
quicker and better than their competitors, he said.
Brake Depot offers a "lifetime guarantee" including parts
an labor, for as long as a customer owns his vehicle and
brings it in for a check up every 12,000 miles.
That way, said Philip Walby, mechanics can detect general
wear an tear, preventing damage that can cost hundreds to
At the same time, Patrick Walby says they keep their prices
low often 10 to 20 percent lower than other shops by
ordering parts directly from the factory, instead of using
All calls to store locations are routed through its
headquarters. That way, when the stor in Miramar is too
busy, a customer from that area can be sent to a nearby
shop in Kearny Mesa instead.
Brake Depot has also developed a special data base program.
It allows clerks to quickly punch a few keys on a computer
to determine what parts are needed and in stock, instead of
having customers wait while a clerk plods through the pone
book sized equipment books customer are used to seeing.
The brake brothers say the mix of their backgrounds
entrepreneurship plus education has been a big factor in
the company's success.
Too much education can make a potential entrepreneur
hesitant to go forward, said Philip Walby, in reference to
his brother and Dacey who came up with the idea for Brake
The more education you have, "the more reasons you have for
believing an idea could fail" he said.
The Brake Brothers have also believe in supporting the
public. Patrick Walby was nominated 'Man of the Year' by
The Leukemia Society
. The Brake
Brothers have also been acknowledged for the work they
have done with the Military as seen in the Military Press