Hi! I'm looking to open a new automotive repair shop and I could use some help assessing a specific opportunity from the experts here. To put this in perspective, I would be a new owner without prior repair shop experience, however, I understand repair work and have done almost all of my own work on my personal vehicles for nearly 30 years. The scope of work I have personally performed included transmissions swaps, suspension, brakes, ignition systems, fuel systems, computer diagnostics and so on. My formal training is in science and management and I've been in corporate positions for 20+ years. I also have experience running my own real estate rental business. I've always been interested in auto repair and I believe this business would be a very good fit for my aptitude, skills and experience. I would plan to operate as the business owner and bring in skilled staff to handle repairs and customer engagement under my leadership.
Here is the scenario I could use help with. I found a 10,000 sq. ft. building which is split up between 6 existing bays (3 front and 3 rear), office space and retail area. The section with the bays has about 5000 sq. ft. , about 1000 sq. ft. of office space and another 4,000 sq. ft. of retail area. The property has not been used for auto repair in a long time but could be converted back very quickly along with opportunity to do something interesting in the retail area. I have many potential ideas for the property. I am running into two primary challenges in evaluating the opportunity. The first is the competitive landscape and the second is how quickly I could ramp up the business along with how much business I would likely do from the location after ramp up.
The property is located on a main road with 20-40k total vehicles/day depending on the day of week. About a mile up the road, in a cluster, there are 6 name brand auto dealerships. On the same road, within just a few miles from the site, there are three tire shops, one local and two name brand, along with a Midas and another local 6 bay garage. Think of this as 5 competitors, each with 6 bays plus the new car dealers. There are a handful of smaller local shops with 1-2 bays locally as well. Also, there is a State DMV location, with inspection services in the same zone. The overall geographic area is in a town that contains a Wal-Mart, Lowes, BJ's and a Costco plus restaurants, etc.. These stores are all within 10 minutes from the potential new location. The next closest big retail areas are 30 minutes north or 40 minutes south of the target area described. The demographics of the area skew affluent and population density is moderate - this is not a big city - however people are drawn in from at least a 30 minute drive time radius due to the shopping and other resources.
I have a few ideas to differentiate my business from the rest in the area although on Google, it appears that most of the competing businesses have decent reviews overall. My shop would do all types of repairs including the heavier stuff and the bays are very tall so we could potentially accommodate trucks too.
So, my questions are:
Is this an opportunity worth considering given the competitive landscape? If I were to open a shop, how quickly should I expect business to ramp up? I am really looking for solid feedback from folks with deep experience in this industry to help me evaluate if this is a business proposition worthy of consideration at this location.
By Joe Marconi
A few years ago, some friends and I were having dinner at a local restaurant. There were six of us enjoying the food and having a great time. A few minutes after our waiter served us our coffee and dessert, the owner of the restaurant walked over to us, introduced himself and said, “I have people waiting for this table; how much longer do you think you’ll be?” Shocked by his comment, I hesitated for a second, looked up at him and said, “No worries, we’re done.” With just a few simple words, the owner of the restaurant wiped out the pleasant experience we were all having.
As we were finishing up, we couldn’t help noticing the stares from our waiter and the owner. Their eyes were laser-focused on us. They made it obvious that they wanted our table. We didn’t say anything to our waiter, or the owner. But we told each other, “We’ll think twice about coming back to this restaurant.” None of us ever did go back to that restaurant. And I heard similar complaints from other friends about that restaurant. About a year later, that restaurant closed its doors for the last time.
As a business owner, I fully understand what each table means in terms of profit. The tables at a restaurant are no different than the service bays in our business. The more people you can process through the restaurant, the more profitable the restaurant is. The more cars we can process through our service bays, the more profitable we are.
While I don’t fault the owner of the restaurant for recognizing the need to be profitable, I do fault the owner for not understanding a basic rule in achieving success in business. And that is: You build a business one customer at a time and by developing strong, long-term relationships with those customers. And to maintain that success, a business must continuously cultivate those relationships.
The owner of this restaurant didn’t get it. All of us had dined at his establishment before. The owner didn’t see us as an opportunity to strengthen the relationships. He saw the opposite. By asking for our table, he put the emphasis on his next sale and eliminated any chance of us returning again. Losing customers, and not understanding why, is the kiss of death for any small business.
What the owner determined important was profit per table, per person. The process to get people fed and done became the primary objective, when it should have been ensuring its customers were enjoying a nice meal and having a great time. It was a mistake that eventually led to his failure. Never think that customer quantity ever outweighs the quality of the customer experience. Making a memorable experience is the essence of great customer service.
If we dig a little deeper, we find another mistake made by the restaurant owner: believing that the customer experience was over when the meal was over. The meal was prepared, it was served and we consumed it. Then, at some point during the end of that process, we became an obstacle to his next sale. He failed to comprehend that the sale is not over when the meal is over, and that everything that occurs right up to the moment when a customer drives away from his parking lot will have an influence on whether that customer will return in the future.
The lesson for us is simple: Never lose sight of the importance of creating a customer. Establish a culture in your company that cultivates long-term relationships. Build a process that always strives for world-class customer service during the entire customer experience—and especially at car delivery.
Never think that when the technician completes the repair, your job is done. The customer experience continues right up until the time the customer is picking up their car. The time you spend with the customer after the repair is done is as important as making the sale.
Value each customer. Work on those relationships. Don’t worry about short term profit gain. Remember: building long-term relationships, builds long-term profit.
By the way, that restaurant has recently opened up again. My friends and I went there for dinner last Friday night. We noticed that the new owner was walking around greeting everyone. He eventually made his way to our table, introduced himself and said, “Can I get anyone anything? It’s great to see you here tonight and hope to see you again soon. Thank you.”
Now, you tell me: Do you think we’ll go back?
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on February 1st, 2019
View full article
Twas the Night before Christmas (Mechanic style) Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the service bay, Not an engine was stirring, just old Santa’s sleigh. All the air hoses were hung, by the compressor with care, The mechanics had the day off, I’m the only one there. I was just an apprentice, but wanted to show St. Nick just what I knew, My boss was all for it, said it was OK if I turned a few screws. With visions of being a full time mechanic, dancing in my head I was going to give it my best shot; I’ll fix this old sled. I gave the key a twist,and listened in dismay, That little red hot rod needed service, in such a bad way Then from under the hood there arose such a clatter, That even St. Nick had to ask, “So, what’s the matter?” I flew from the driver’s seat and raised the hood in a flash, Nearly stumbling off my feet, from my quick little dash. The under hood light, glimmered onto the engine below, The fan belt had broken, and a spark plug blew out a hole. It’s something I can handle; I learned this stuff in school, I’ll have this fixed up in no time; it only takes a few tools, I started it up and all eight cylinders were firing away Just a few minor adjustments and he could be on his way That’s when I noticed, his sled was packed full of all sorts of toys… He hadn’t finished his deliveries, to all the girls… and boys. He was dressed all in red, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot Anxious he was, to finish his trip as soon as he could, With my wrenches a flyin’, he knew that he would. It was up to me, to get it fixed this very night, He still had a long way to go, before it was daylight. His eyes, how they twinkled, his dimples, how merry His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry. And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow. I knew it was Christmas Eve, so I couldn’t say no, He had a broad face and a round little belly That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself. His sled was like new, after the job was all done, Now that it’s fixed, he could get back to his run. He reached into his huge bag, and pulled a box out with a jerk, Said he knew just how to thank me, for all of my hard work, I ripped open the present, and Oh, what a sight! Snap On wrenches and sockets! Boy was he right! As he pulled from the parking lot, he held the throttle to the floor, Just to show off, he passed by the shop, once more, This guy Santa, he’s a little strange, at any rate, He had a name for every cylinder, in his little V8. I could hear him shout, so loud and clear, Naming off each cylinder, as if they could hear. "Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen! I heard the tires screech, as he caught second gear, Off to deliver those presents, some far, some near. Then, I heard him exclaim, just before he drove out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
View full article
Geek With Attitude Now I realize I'm only a mechanic, and not an Ivy League scholar, and I may not qualify as the next inductee into MENSA, but I’m still a pretty smart guy. Oh, I may not know all there is to know about every single make and model out there, but I have enough background and technical ability to solve just about anything that goes wrong with the modern car. But, for some people the mere thought that a mechanic might actually have a few brain cells just baffles them to no end. A few weeks ago I got a call from a guy, who (to the best of my dim witted abilities could tell), was having a problem with his truck. He told me that he pulled all the fuses, and was still having a battery drain issue he couldn't find. He even took it to another shop and wasn't happy with their results, so he was going to give me a chance at it based on a friend’s recommendation. “Bring it in tomorrow, and I'll get it checked out for you,” I told him. The next day a 98 Nissan pickup with 150,000 miles on the odometer was waiting for me. After getting the owner’s information, I went over what he wanted me to do. Little did I know this guy had all the answers already. Not only the answers, but several ideas as to what was causing his problem. This particular guy was a full-fledged computer geek with more than a little attitude to go along with it. Not only did he think he was dead right about everything, but that every mechanic out there was nothing more than a knuckle dragging grease monkey with the IQ of a walnut. The more he told me about the problem the more I knew I was in for a long afternoon. Seems everything that was ever wrong with the car from the day he bought it was leading up to the moment the battery went dead. But, of course, it's not dead now... that takes a month before it would happen. “A month?” I asked. Oh, he had an answer for that too. It all started with the front crankshaft seal. The seal was leaking, and it leaked all over the alternator, so he had the seal changed along with a new alternator and battery. (Both the alternator and the battery came from one of those cheapo depot places; imagine where the seal came from.) A month went by before the car wouldn't start again. The seal was leaking too, but not nearly as bad. “Hmm,” I said, sitting at the service counter thinking this whole thing through, “You say it takes a month before it won't start? Are you driving it much?” “Yes,” he said, “Every day.” This didn't add up, something else is wrong with the car. As I tried to explain to him that if a car is driven every day, and starts perfectly fine, but then all of a sudden it goes “click-click” it tells me there is something else wrong, and it's probably not a battery drain issue. “Leave it with me, and I'll check it out,” I told him, Apparently, Mr. Geekdumb doesn't have a clue how a car works, other than where to put the gas and which way the key turns. Not that I’d hold that against him, a lot of people don't know a thing about their transportation. It's just that most people don't try to sound like they do, especially while standing in front of somebody that just might. Once I had the truck in the shop it turned out to be a classic problem; the battery bolts were tightened down as far as they could go, but I could easily pull the cables off the battery without any effort at all. The charge output and parasitic draw tests showed no signs of any problems. As for the seal leak. Well, if you've been around cars with high miles and poor maintenance you've probably seen this before. The PCV valve was clogged. Without that, no ventilation for the lower end, and of course, a back pressure builds up and that pressure has to go somewhere... usually out a seal, and the front seal is one of the usual places for it to go. Explaining all this to the computer nerd turned out to be a whole lot tougher than I thought possible. How one person can act and think that they are so smart, but can't see the logic behind the explanation is beyond me. The more I tried to explain, the more this guy asked even more bizarre questions. I gave him the run down on the battery clamp issues, “Yes, a loose battery clamp can make the car not start. Sometimes you'll get one quick turn of the starter then nothing, not even a dome light. Other times you'll get a “click” which is what your car sounds like. This can also stop or restrict the alternator charge output from entering the battery.” “So, that’s why my dash lights don’t work?” he asked. “There's no relationship between the charge output and the dash lights. That's a separate problem. Most likely the rheostat,” I said. “Well, what about the switch on my dome light, it doesn't work. I’m positive that is due to the front seal and the PVC you mentioned.” “Sir, it's a PCV not PVC, “Positive Crankcase Ventilation” is what it stands for, and no, it has nothing to do with your dome light.” “So I have two PCV’s in the car?” “No, just one.” “So where's the PVC?” “That would be in your house most likely. Most homes have PVC plastic piping.” “So, now you're telling me I don't have two PCV’s?” “I never said you had two.” This went on, and on. My frustration level was getting to my MAX level, and I'm about to tell this guy just where he can put his PCV and his PVC. But, after lengthy deliberations he eventually decided to have me at least fix something...one thing…change the battery clamps. He had the solution for the dash lights, dome light, PCV, and the front seal. I apparently don't understand, or fail to comprehend how all his other problems are related to the dead battery. He showed up later that day to pay for the clamp replacement, and it wasn't hard to tell this guy had an ego driven “micro” chip on his shoulder. He wasn't about to have some lowlife mechanic explain the physics of the internal combustion engine to such an astute individual as himself. His parting comments as he walked out the door said it all. “I work on highly technical and advanced systems on home and business computers that are far above the complexities of anything you’ll ever see. I'm better off fixing my own car, because I have a degree, and my intelligence level is far superior than any mechanic.” Really? That's the best you got? Better luck insulting me next time, fella…leaving is probably the smartest thing you’ve done so far… don’t let the door hit ya on the way out.
View full article