AAAA Board Member, author, and head of Blue Toro, Janelle Gonzalez, has always been a forward-thinking entrepreneur

Born and bred in Sydney’s inner west, Blue Toro Chief Executive Officer Janelle Gonzalez didn’t know what career direction she wanted to take until later in life, but in hindsight, says her entrepreneurial drive has always been on-show.
“I fell into it during uni. I have a degree in art history and criticism and opened a gallery with a bunch of uni friends. I was in charge of promotions – so I guess the marketing and entrepreneur side started then,” Janelle said.
While now deeply entrenched in the automotive world, Janelle had a preference for aeroplanes and motorcycles over cars in her formative years.
“We actually didn’t have a car growing up,” she said.
“I preferred fighter jets thanks to Top Gun and Harley Davidsons thanks to Michael Hutchence. It was through my husband’s drag racing that I later developed an interest in loud engines.”
Janelle’s working life began part-time at KFC at her local Newtown restaurant, while her first “real job” was as a Marketing Coordinator for a labour hire company.
“Most of my career before starting Blue Toro centred around building technology for banks and marketing companies. I worked across marketing, product management and product development,” she explains.
“My favourite role was developing a solution for non-financial transactions to be processed through EFTPOS, such as gift cards, loyalty programs, and telco top-ups.
“The technology was white labelled by a number of banks locally and globally and was later used to develop the Mediclear (Medicare) payment system for GPs. The role took me to many cool places around the world.
“I then went on to work for the world’s largest database marketing company as Head of Product Asia Pacific and worked on some really cool marketing technology projects for Apple and some international retailers and banks.
“I later realised that the bulk of my roles were as an ‘intrapreneur’ – that is, someone who is building businesses within big businesses. It was only natural that I would eventually start my own business.”
Janelle – who is also the author of ‘The Car Survival Guide’ – created Blue Toro in 2013 with her husband, Elvio, who had started his own mobile mechanic business after working for 20 years with some of the largest automotive companies.

“I had helped him kick off the business in 2009 and in 2013 said, ‘why don’t we franchise.’ That was the start of Blue Toro Mobile Mechanics, which grew to a 50 site franchise over five years, offering talented employed technicians to be able to start and run their own successful business under the guidance of a system,” Janelle said.
“We grew very quickly and then experienced a fair bit of market disruption with the parliamentary enquiry into franchising and then changes to the franchise code of conduct in 2019, and of course two years of COVID.
“Over the last few years our business model has evolved into a subscription partnership model that provides business, marketing, and software solutions to independent workshops across the country.
“We now support both workshops and mobile operators with the same systems, with both a light and heavy vehicle division, providing workshops with the benchmarks and tools to better run their business.
“They know they’re great technicians and great with customers; but they also know that running a business is a whole different skillset. No one teaches trades how to run a business, that’s where we come in and I definitely think the path we have taken from franchise to subscription was the best move for us.
“What we provide is fairly unique in the market and complements a lot of other services. We know workshops are time poor, so we get in there and help them get everything setup, taking very little time from them. In some cases, they outsource some of the services directly to us, taking things off their hands that they’d rather not do, like marketing.”
So what’s next for Blue Toro?
“We’re now on a mission to digitise workshops by helping them implement best practice workshop management systems, including marketing automation, booking management, financials and pricing,” Janelle said.
“Providing the best practice know how will allow them to best compete with the larger brands, enabling them to earn the profit they deserve, and create a greater level of work life balance for them and their families.
“There’s a tonne of opportunity and work to do here. I see us continuing to develop services that will support workshops to thrive in a market that is becoming increasingly complex to navigate.
“When it comes to what challenges await us, keeping up with ongoing change is definitely key. Change in the market and your business is inevitable and a good thing – the challenge is staying focused on what you’re good at and who your ideal client is; and not chasing bright shiny objects.
“It is also challenging keeping your stakeholders up to date as your business or offering evolves – clients, suppliers, website, and so on – it is a bit like painting the harbour bridge; by the time you get to the end, it is time to start again.”

In building the business, Janelle had a pretty famous mentor along the way.
“Spending a week with Virgin Unite and Richard Branson in South Africa in 2019 is definitely something that made a big difference to our business,” Janelle said.
“I was fortunate to spend a week with a group of amazing entrepreneurs, including three days on safari at Branson’s private lodge in Kruger National Park.
“Three days with Richard Branson helped open my thinking on what could be possible. It reinforced my strength and passion for marketing technology and helped me to realise we had a greater opportunity and more to give by building a Software as a Service (SaaS) based business to help existing independent workshops.”
Of course, no business can say it hasn’t made any mistakes, and Blue Toro is no exception.
“Company owned sites is something we got wrong – we put on 10 in one year to fill market gaps where we didn’t have franchise coverage and the biggest mistake was thinking each site could be managed like another franchise,” Janelle explains.
“There are many nuances in mindset, coaching, needs and targets of an employee versus franchise model. We learnt from many mistakes along the way and in the end we realised it just wasn’t what got us excited every day, and decided to go down the subscription route instead, helping existing businesses.”
Blue Toro has been a member of the Australian Auto Aftermarket Association (AAAA) for some time.
“The key reason Blue Toro is a member of the AAAA is to support its Government advocacy efforts,” Janelle said.
“What most people don’t see is the work behind the scenes to protect and support our industry from external threats, especially the reactive Government legislative changes both state and national that happen on a frequent basis. It is great to know that as an industry we have an Association that has our back.”

Janelle is also an active board member of the AAAA and describes her tenure on the board as a privilege.
“I’m not sure what I expected when I joined but what I’ve found is a group of people who are very committed to ensuring the industry is the best it can be. I’ve certainly learnt a lot and had a great time. It is a real privilege and something I get a lot out of,” Janelle said.
“I am looking forward to tackling some of the big ticket items like skills shortages and emission targets and I am really proud of the fact that the Association is not afraid to face the big issues head on.
“There are no simple solutions, and many players. Being able to break the issues down and rally the right people is what the Association does best.
“Another key focus is on member value and ensuring the AAAA continues to assess pragmatic ways we can support members directly in their business. This year we’re diving deeper into our core value proposition and making sure we understand what it is members want from the Association and how we can best support that.”
Away from work, Janelle enjoys spending time with her family, made up of her husband, their two “cheeky” boys, and English Staffy, Lola; as well as traveling, hiking, cricket, and champagne.
“It was even better to do them all at the same time which I was fortunate to do in the Caribbean at the cricket world cup in 2007,” she smiled.
“In 2019 I completed the Kokoda track with my brother, with the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain next on my list. I’ve been to 37 countries and love experiencing different cultures and of course different wine regions around the world. I’m also a fan of adrenaline activities – skydiving, bungy, basically anything that gives you butterflies.”

To learn more about Blue Toro, visit www.bluetoro.com.au