Rissy Sutherland doesn’t get to spend much time in her James Island home, but that’s how it goes when you’re chief operating officer of a fast-growing national franchise headquartered in Arizona.
Sutherland is the COO at Honest-1 Auto Care, an auto repair chain notable for waiting areas designed as Internet cafes, environmentally friendlier auto service options, and a focus on women, who are the majority of customers.
The company has two franchise locations in South Carolina, both in the Charleston area, and has been expanding at a rapid clip. It’s the latest in a long string of auto-care franchises Sutherland has been involved in since childhood.
“I grew up in the business,” she said. “I started out cleaning parts and organizing parts.”
Sutherland was raised in the small South Carolina town of Belton, near Anderson, the youngest of eight children — six boys, two girls — in a family that operated a string of Mr. Transmission franchises.
Sutherland continued working in the family business and went to Clemson University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and then, in 2001, a master’s in human resources development and training.
“I loved cars, and working on cars,” said Sutherland. “Now, I’m passionate about business.”
After Clemson she went to work for Moran Industries in Chicago, which had acquired the Mr. Transmission brand in 1990. There, Sutherland filled leadership roles, including vice president of operations and training, with responsibility for more than 200 auto-repair shops.
In 2008, she joined Honest-1 Auto Care as senior vice president of operations. The following year, the Phoenix Business Journal named Sutherland one of its “Top 40 people under 40.”
Sutherland declined to disclose her current age, other than to say she’s still under 40. In 2011, she was named chief operating officer.
“This is my eighth franchise, all of them automotive,” Sutherland said in an interview at the Honest-1 location in West Ashley.
Honest-1 is now the fastest-growing automotive franchise in the nation, she said. Entrepreneur magazine ranked Honest-1 as No. 328 on the 2015 Franchise 500 list, which ranks franchises across all business categories based on factors that include financial strength and stability, growth rate and size.
Entrepreneur’s rankings show Honest-1 growing to 41 locations in 2014, from 32 in 2013.
Before opening the first location, in Ladson, Rector was an inside sales representative at JW Aluminum. She has a master’s degree in organizational behavior from Charleston Southern University.
Her husband and business partner, Lloyd, is also the regional developer for Honest-1 franchises in South Carolina. Currently, there are none outside the Charleston area.
Like Sutherland, Lloyd grew up in the auto repair business, working in his grandfather’s shop.
“I worked there from the time I was 5 years old until my second year in college,” he said.
Lloyd’s memories of his grandfather’s shop recall a time when auto-repair businesses didn’t give much thought to customer amenities. Maybe there was a dirty waiting room and pot of stale coffee.
“We had some furniture from the junkyard,” said Lloyd.
In contrast, the Honest-1 shops have tiled floors, cafe tables with iPads for customers to use, complimentary drinks, clean bathrooms with baby-changing tables, and large windows. They also provide free shuttle service for customers.
“We (in the automotive business) used to have a mostly male customer base,” said Sutherland. “Today, it’s mostly females who are taking care of the auto services.”
Many are stay-at-home moms, she said, and they appreciate waiting areas with places children can play or watch a video while the car is being serviced. The Honest-1 chain also tries to stand out with its focus on environmentally friendly practices, which range from offering a biodegradable motor oil (for an additional cost) to a tree-planting partnership with an environmental group.
Rector and Lloyd decided to open an Honest-1 franchise after Lloyd lost his job as a quality engineer during the recession. Rector found Honest-1 through a franchise consultant, Lloyd said.
“As luck would have it, we made a good decision, he said. “We all have to have automotive care at some time.”
Sutherland said it’s a business more young people should consider.
“You have all these kids coming out of college with white-collar degrees but little knowledge about business, and they can’t get jobs,” she said. “We have jobs left and right, for people with the right attitude and aptitude.”
Reach David Slade at 937-5552