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CarCareKiosk.com reaches out to the world’s mechanical misfits

When it comes to auto maintenance and repairs, there are masterful savants and hopeless know-nothings – people who can assemble an engine blindfolded and those who have a hard time unlatching the hood with eyes wide open.

While some semi-aware ’tweeners might have a passing knowledge of what’s going on in that mysterious catacomb of metal, plastic, and coursing fluid under their hood, the mechanical dunces of the world no doubt dominate the landscape, and they represent a huge market that’s just begging to be served – hopefully in the gentlest, most non-embarrassing manner possible.

That’s where Hans Angermeier comes in.

The founder and managing member of Milwaukee’s Flatsix, which does business as CarCareKiosk.com, Angermeier is not exactly a mechanical whiz himself, which ironically is what got him into the car maintenance business in the first place.

“What’s the first thing you do [when you have car trouble]? Are you more likely to check your owner’s manual or are you more likely to Google it?” – Hans Angermeier

His business originated from a fairly simple concept: Create a website that can serve as the YouTube of basic car maintenance – a place where people who don’t know how to replace an air filter or change a headlight bulb can find easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructional videos that walk them through the process. The videos are produced on a vehicle-specific basis, so if you own a 2011 Mitsubishi Eclipse, you simply type that into the search field and then select the videos you want, which include instruction on everything from replacing wiper blades and wiper fluid to checking and replacing engine fuses.

“I got this idea when I had a pickup truck, and it had a broken headlight,” said Angermeier. “I went to change it, and I had a lot of trouble with it. I’m not very mechanically inclined myself, but it’s not a difficult job, and I thought, ‘Well, I should be able to do it. I looked at the owner’s manual, and it was much harder than I anticipated, and I ended up breaking a lot of stuff.”

After sweating through that fairly simple task, Angermeier had what he called his “a-ha moment,” but it was years before his germ of an idea had a chance to take root.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this would have been a lot easier if someone could have told me how to do it before I tried to do it myself,’” said Angermeier. “And that was really before you had YouTube and you could just Google something and see a video for it. And so that idea stuck with me.”

Angermeier said his original idea was to create videos and put together a service kiosk that he could sell to auto parts stores. But when the first iPhone came out, Angermeier began to see the value of a car maintenance service that people could take with them wherever they went.

“At that point I thought, okay, we could just create a website, make sure the videos could play on a mobile device, and maybe I could go after the physical kiosk later in the game, but let’s get a toehold with the website.”

A growth phase

At this point, to say that Angermeier has gotten a toehold in the industry might be an understatement. The ambitious start up is just one of eight Wisconsin companies to be certified earlier this year for Qualified New Business Venture tax credits. An initiative of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the QNBV program is designed to help spur investment in promising start ups by making investors in the designated companies eligible for 25% tax credits.

Flatsix, which plans to monetize its site through the licensing of its videos and through advertising (it recently inked a deal with battery behemoth Johnson Controls), also continues to grow at an impressive pace. Right now, CarCareKiosk.com is still in its beta testing phase, but it already maintains a library of more than 8,000 videos – a number that’s increasing by the day.

“We do try to leverage our content as best we can, but at the end of the day, we can’t show a video for something if we don’t have a video for it, so we’re constantly producing new videos,” said Angermeier. “We’re out there filming new videos anywhere from three to five days a week, and we’re probably adding between 100 to 200 videos a week to our site.”

Recession-proof?

While it’s clear that CarCareKiosk.com could fill a user niche, Angermeier is hoping that it will also be a natural fit for advertisers who may be more accustomed to courting a small group of hardcore auto enthusiasts.

“If you look at our videos, most of the videos involve changing some type of part on the car, so we think it’s just a natural place for some of these parts companies to reach out to new users who may not be getting Car & Driver or Motor Trend or watching car-related shows on TV, or may not have any opinion one way or another on a specific type or brand,” said Angermeier. “It gives these parts companies a great venue to kind of build on their user base, so that’s really the direction we’re moving.”

The business might also prove to be recession-resistant, given people’s tendency to hang onto things longer when times are tough.

“The other thing we have that’s kind of in our favor is, I think we are a little bit of a countercyclical business in the sense that if you go back to the mid-2000s or really all of the 2000s up until 2007 or 2008, a lot of people utilized the three-year ownership rule for cars, meaning they took out a loan or had a three-year lease on the car,” said Angermeier. “So they’d get a new car every three years, and that’s really over now, the three-year ownership cycle.”

Indeed, Angermeier points to a report by Polk, an automotive market intelligence firm, which noted that the average age of cars and light trucks in the U.S. increased last year to 10.8 years.

“That’s a record, and that kind of speaks to the fact that cars are being well made, but I think that also speaks to a demographic shift that’s kind of continued since the crash in ’08. People are hanging onto their cars a bit longer, and they’re saying, ‘What should I be doing to keep this thing around a few more years so I can get as much out of it as possible?’”

The Google generation

Flatsix has received two rounds of funding so far, the first coming in April 2010. While Angermeier isn’t an expert mechanic, he does have experience in investment banking, which put him in touch with angel investors and helped facilitate the process. He feels that he’s also gotten a leg up from the WEDC, and was impressed with the agency’s attention to detail when they met to discuss his eligibility for the QNBV certification.

“I never actually had a sit-down meeting with anyone from any organization in the state before, and so I was a little apprehensive going in, because I really had no idea what to expect,” said Angermeier. “And the WEDC’s team was fantastic. They blew me away with regard to how knowledgeable they were, both about my business and about my industry, which is kind of unusual. … They had a good grip on the market potential.”

Angermeier is convinced that that potential is nearly limitless, given the prevalence of smart phones and the Internet and, perhaps more importantly, the rise of a generation that grew up with both the Web and mobile devices.

While people have traditionally been forced to dive into their glove compartments when they have car troubles, today’s drivers are rapidly adjusting to a new world. In short, says Angermeier, owner’s manuals are quickly going the way of the buggy whip, and that portends good things for his company:

“What’s the first thing you do [when you have car trouble]? Are you more likely to check your owner’s manual or are you more likely to Google it? I would wager that depending on your age, you’re more likely to Google it. Even if you’re sitting in the front seat of your car and the owner’s manual is 6 inches away from your hand, you’re more likely to pull out your phone and Google it.”

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