Warren Tracy’s Busted
Knuckle is a total gas
By T. Foster Jones
TRY TO PICTURE the swoosh before the
shoe, the apple before the, well, Apple.
This is the story of a business that began as
a logo. There was no building. There was no
merchandise. Heck, there was no idea of what
kind of merchandise there would be if there
was merchandise. Just a logo, a name and a
man with an entrepreneurial dream.
The man is Costco member Warren
Tracy. The logo is a wrench-wielding hand
with a bandage on the index finger. The name
is The Busted Knuckle Garage. And the
dream? To run a business he could call his
own. In sort of a “design it and they will
come” approach, he created a successful business, backwards.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, just
as Tracy did. Let’s dial back 13 or so years, to
the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a place
accessible only by foot, by raft or on the back of
a mule. It’s hardly the place you would expect
automotive inspiration to strike. Yet it did, and,
as long as we’re using automotive terms, the
inspiration that struck Tracy came in reverse.
In 1996, Tracy had been living on and
working as manager of the Phantom Ranch
guest ranch for about 10 years. A self-described “gear head,” who had started twisting wrenches as a teen, he woke up one night
with a vision. He made a quick sketch of an
injured hand holding a wrench and then
went back to sleep.
For someone with an entrepreneurial itch,
someone who understood the power of
branding from his experience marketing Phantom Ranch, the doodle presented something of a conundrum.
What did it represent? It haunted him,
nagged at him. He eventually trademarked it, but a year later the logo was still
dangling there, its meaning just out of reach.
It was in 1997 that Tracy, whose career
path has also included mortgage banking,
delivering yachts and operating a bicycle shop,
met a man making faux-antique distressed
wooden signs. He decided to commission
some featuring his design, along with the
name “The Busted Knuckle Garage,” and
posted an ad in an auto magazine.
“We sold 100 the first month,” Tracy says.
Encouraged, Tracy struck a deal shortly
thereafter with an herbologist, a regular ranch
patron. She had developed a muscle-easing
salve she was looking to sell, something that
Member: The Busted Knuckle Garage
Owner: Warren G. Tracy
Address: 697 Sixth St., Suite 100,
Prescott, AZ 86301
Phone: (928) 708-0897
Motto: “Repair & Despair Under One Roof”
Comment about Costco: “From a bus-
iness person’s perspective, I am always
amazed at how Costco can
continue to offer the assur-
ance of a predictably
great shopping experi-
ence while at the same
time the store always
has a suggested ‘newness’
about it. That”s quite a
trick, and says a lot about
the merchandise mix.”
Tracy thought would be perfect for an aching
mechanic. They marketed it under the Busted
Knuckle brand, and “it just took off,” Tracy
says. “We knew we were on to something.”
What the logo was and what the logo
meant were beginning to come together.
Tracy quit his job at Phantom Ranch. He
mortgaged his house, ran his credit cards to
the limit. He sold the cars and motorcycles he
had built and collected. He marketed more
skin-care products. The logo made its appearance on signs and T-shirts and hats. Tracy
began attending car shows and automotive
supply stores across the country, hawking the
brand and the growing line of products.
Combining the marketing and small-business lessons he’d learned from his various
occupations, over the past 10 years Tracy has
built The Busted Knuckle Garage into a lifestyle brand that sells more than 250 different
items—from clothing, garage and home décor
and gifts to collectibles and car-care products—to fellow wrench twisters.
Through direct sales at the Busted Knuckle
Web site ( www.bustedknucklegarage.com), automotive catalogs and national chain stores, Tracy,
who finally opened an actual brick-and-mortar
retail location in 2005 in Prescott, Arizona, has
created something unique.
While the logo and the brand became a
business for Tracy, they represent myriad
things to his customers, resonating with everyone from hard-core mechanics to wannabes.
He built the business around what the logo
meant, rather than the other way around.
And in a final twist, guys aren’t the only
ones buying Busted Knuckle products. Tracy
says that 70 percent of retail sales come from
women buying gifts for men.
“Who is my market?” he asks. He’s still at
a loss to explain. “We let customers define it, as
it relates to their experience.” C