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First the facts, then the frustration: Meineke started in 1971 in Houston, TX, Midas in 1956 in Macon, GA. Both businesses became franchise operations very early, focusing on muffler repair and replacement.   Since the mid-90s, both have marketed themselves as full service automotive repair facilities, expanding their offerings to include oil changes, brakes, shocks, batteries, the whole greasy checklist.

Meineke is named for its founder, Sam Meineke. We don’t know whether the reference to the mythical Greek king was foremost in the mind of Nate Sherman, Midas’s founder, or the “Muffler Installation Dealers’ Associated Service” that it stood for at one point, but today the acronymic meaning is cited rarely as the company battles public misperception that they are niche muffler market players.

Early on, Meineke differentiated itself from Midas on price, even including “Discount” in it’s official name, but they’ve steered away from that strategy as they’ve moved towards the full-service operation and indeed seem to have lost any desire to differentiate themselves at all (see below.)

Where Are They Now?

Meineke has around a thousand franchises, Midas over twice that amount. Meineke’s parent company, Driven Brands, also owns Econo Lube and Maaco; Midas’s corporate siblings include Big O Tires and SpeeDee Oil Change.

Afterthoughts

Midas had a huge head start in this space and Meineke can be commended for staring at their receding backsides and deciding to join the race at all. But that’s about all we can commend them for. This is an also-ran that seems perfectly happy with second place.

Let us concede for the moment that this is an industry of tight margins where any success at all depends on operational efficiency, quality training of high-turnover staff, and innovative up-sells to customers wary when their $20 oil change somehow grows to include a CV joint replacement and wheel realignment. (Yeah, she signed off on it, but only because the guy in coveralls made it sound like the right rear tire was going to fall off on the way home if she didn’t.)

midas-logoWe also recognize that brand loyalty counts for little in this sector. While it is true that a close personal relationship with your mechanic counts for a huge amount, in general, positive feelings don’t extend too far into these particular brands.   Your local Meineke guy could be superb but if you break down on the road you are probably as likely to go to Midas if they can get you in sooner. In fact, the associations you have with either of these brands tend to transfer to the other.

And that’s the heart of the lesson here – there is little to no differentiation. It’s not clear where the blame ultimately lies, but we are going to place it on Meineke, because around here we expect more from an also-ran. We want to see a spark of innovation, some fight, in our underdogs. We want to see them come snarling out of the gate, splashing spit left and right, closing ground fast, nipping at heels, chomping an exposed ankle. The front-runner is tiring, he’s big and fat, bring him down, Underdog, bring him down!

But all the evidence here points to a complacent organization satisfied to draft in the slipstream of the pace car, truly driving nothing (despite the name of that corporate parent), mainly focused on finding plum light industrial corner lots to lease while they bank the vig off their franchisees.

Get to work, Meineke! Here are two ideas, off the top of our heads: 1) Get a visual rebranding, stat. The yellow and black color scheme, the gently tilted logotype, the whole friggin’ website, truth be told – explicitly echo Midas’s. If that corporate branding was not consciously designed to mimic Midas’s, the guys who designed it were unconscious at the time. 2) Get a slogan. Okay, it doesn’t count for that much, but there’s room to innovate here, if nowhere else in this commoditized business. Midas has had “Trust the Midas Touch” for generations. Attack that! How about pointing out that King Midas, after inadvertently transforming his food – not to mention his daughter, whoops – into gold asked Dionysus to rescind the stupid superpower he thought he wanted.   Slogan: “Even King Midas Hated the Midas Touch.”

See Also: Monro, Pep Boys

Posted by Ray Agostinelli

Working and writing in Boulder, CO

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