he signs posted around Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas warn visitors of extreme conditions they may experience in the park. Climate, terrain and wildlife are hazards to be considered and hikers are cautioned to know their limits and proceed prudently.
For Danielle Vila and Sean McGuigan, owners of Red Rock Repair, a TechNet repair facility in Las Vegas, NV, it’s the obstacles in business you overcome that define your character.
“My husband and I lived in San Francisco and, back in 2004, he was paralyzed in a dirt bike accident,” explains Danielle. “He was the consummate gearhead, and had worked at the counter at his local Grand Auto Parts store in high school, but was an electrician when he ended up in the wheelchair. I was working as a hairdresser in the city when we decided we were tired of the rat race in San Francisco. We decided we would move somewhere warmer.”
That’s how they ended up in the Las Vegas area, where she opened her own business. Danielle says she quickly tired of being in a hair salon, however.
“My business was doing well, but I got burned out. I had a background working for and with various well-known hair stylists and legal professionals and, from the age of 18, I learned how to conduct myself and how to communicate effectively and professionally,” she says. “I learned how to connect with people and learned the value of what I do and what people do in service.”
Vila says her brief time as a self-employed salon professional gave her the confidence that she could do anything she wanted. “I’d gotten my feet wet in the business ownership world, and I enjoyed it. We started looking at businesses and the only thing that Sean was really interested in was an automotive shop. My theory was to buy a business that was already successful so that we wouldn’t have to put any effort into building it – we just had to grow it.”
Remember that part about “confidence?” Perhaps “hubris” is a better word, Vila admits. The couple asked themselves those five deadly words – “How Hard Could It Be?” – and in 2018 jumped into buying an established shop in an auto care plaza in Summerlin.
At the time, Summerlin was the largest master planned residential community in the United States, but Danielle says little attention was paid to plans to help businesses succeed.
It’s very popular in Las Vegas, she explains, to create auto care plazas, with a number of different independent shops anchored by national tire, muffler and oil change franchises. In Danielle and Sean’s case, the 20-year old plaza housed Euro-specific, Asian-specific and domestic-only repair facilities, along with an SUV and Truck repair shop. The reality of the shops’ business models were less apparent, Danielle says.
“The former owner was ready to retire – he was 80, had been in the business 60 years and had this shop for 15 years. We had never been in the business before, but everything lined up and made sense. We really got the business for a song,” she says.
Danielle says her business intuition led her to put her trust in statistics.
“I remember reading that 50 or 60 percent of businesses fail the first year and then it goes up the second year and it goes up again the third year. But, if you can make it past the third year, you’re doing okay. I was confident because this business had already made it for 15 years. We would be well over that hump,” she recalls thinking. “Good Lord, was I wrong.”
As it turns out, she says, the shop’s books were not as pristine as she had been led to believe, the customer base was not as loyal as she thought and the shop’s working environment was much more dysfunctional than could be imagined.
“When we jokingly asked, ‘how hard could it be,’ we found out pretty quickly,” she says. “Truly, it was harrowing. And, when you put that in the context of Sean being paralyzed in a dirt bike accident, this was far more traumatizing for both of us.
“It cost us more than I think Sean and I are even willing to admit in a publication. From day one, we tried to do the best that we could. We both knew as long as you’re honest and you do the right thing and you do what’s best for the customer, you will be okay And that served us well,” Danielle says. “We learned pretty quickly from customers who had not always had a great experience with the old owner, but still continued to come because it was a familiar face.
Salvation came in the form of a chance encounter with automotive business coach, Darrin Barney, president of Elite Worldwide. “I don’t say this lightly or to be dramatic, Darren saved us in many, many ways. It was terrifying and it was so stressful. But, by consistently talking to him every week and learning how to correct the mistakes that we were making, we started to get our feet under us,” Danielle explains.
After two years of learning to turn their business around, Danielle and Sean decided it was time to take another leap of faith. “The original shop name was SUV’s Trucks-R-Us, which we didn’t love, so we decided to call ourselves Red Rock Repair. Darrin was terrified for us, because typically changing your business name is the kiss of death. Couple that with the fact that we officially changed our name in March of 2020 – right before the pandemic – and you can understand why he was so concerned,” she says. “It was awful for a number of reasons, but by the end of that year, we experienced 33% growth and we had learned a lot. Looking back on it, there was just a number of things that all fell into place for us that really helped grow our business.”
Danielle explains that her husband’s incredible diagnostic and technical skills have been complemented by the addition of another skilled technician, as well as a service advisor who shares her business ethics. “The most important thing is to hire people who have the same set of ethics that we do. And, then, secondary to that, are their abilities. My goal when we first started working with Darrin, was to never have to put an ad up but instead to have a stack of resumes of people who want to work for me. We have a great team,” she says.
“We currently have two techs. Logan, our lead technician, is an ASE Master tech who has been wrenching since he was about 16 years old. The amount of knowledge and experience he has is bananas – he’s what this industry calls a superstar. And, I don’t know many people hold themselves to the same kind of ethical and honesty standards that he does,” she says.
“Our other technician, Jeff, is ASE certified, working on his Master certification. He’s fantastic as well,” Danielle adds.
“Earlier this year, I’d had an ad posted for a service advisor. Josh walked in and announced ‘I want to work for you.’ He’s amazing – he’s incredibly gifted at what he does, and he’s just eager to learn and eager to help us build and grow. Plus, his values align with ours. Today, we have a much better grasp on what we’re doing here, especially on the technician side and the service advisor side, and understanding how this is such an ecosystem. And, if one thing is off in the ecosystem, it’s like a domino effect. The challenge is how do we create a place for people to enjoy coming into work, where they feel respected and valued in conjunction with being able to keep our doors open and pay our bills?”
Keeping that team great can be a challenge, Danielle admits, especially considering the pace of technology change.
“How do I find education for my guys? Of course, they can go to the dealerships when the dealers are offering education at your vendors, but is that real education? Something that we’ve been kicking around is to bring educators here to our shop and inviting technicians from the city to attend training sessions for free. These technicians will see that we’re interested in helping the industry by investing in everybody, even if they don’t work for us. But, the benefit for us is that they’ll get to know us, they’ll see our shop, they’ll see who we are and become familiar with us.”
Danielle says her development as a TechNet shop has come about with her desire to expand the value of what her shop does. That’s important to the customer demographics they serve. “Our average repair order is $1,500 and $2,000, in a full range of repairs,” she says. We just sold $10,000 of repairs and maintenance on a 2016 F-150. And, it’s like it’s not an engine; it’s 30 hours of work. That’s partly because we work really hard to make sure that we build confidence and trust within the customer and the experience.”
With that level of expectation, Red Rock Repair has had to deliver.
“When we bought the shop, it offered a 12/12 warranty, which might have been okay, but customers were calling about failures because of low-quality parts that were being sourced. As soon as we took over, the most important change was to use the best parts possible because that’s what we would do in our own vehicle,” she says. “Our main supplier is definitely Worldpac and for a couple of reasons. Number one, because so many of their parts and products are OEM-quality or OEM original. To expect someone to spend $10,000 on repairs with us and only offer a 12-month warranty didn’t sit well with any of us. But, I really had no idea what else is out there.”
James Lee, their local Worldpac rep, quickly gave her peace of mind. “He told us about TechNet’s 24/24 national warranty, and it just made sense. A warranty that we could offer to our customers that covered them across the country, boggled my mind. Because Vegas is such a transient place, people are driving through and people are moving in and moving out every day. The opportunity to give that customer the peace of mind is great.”
Danielle says she began learning more about the benefits of being a TechNet shop when she learned about the 36/36 warranty. “What we can offer to customers now is invaluable. The support that we have received from Worldpac especially, and TechNet, has absolutely helped us grow our business the way that we have. To know that TechNet is even considering how they reimburse shops based upon their location tells me how much they actually care about us, which means they care about my customers. The opportunities that they provide for education and training are amazing. And, we’ve had so many customers who utilize the towing coverage – it’s nice to know that there is a business out there that backs us if the customer’s not here in town.”
Danielle says that while she and Sean have been able to overhaul the shop’s reputation since they took over, they’ve been somewhat restricted by a restrictive shop layout. “Admittedly, it requires a bit of choreography if a vehicle is on the rack closest to the bay door and something is in front of it on the other rack and we can’t get it out.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion about what to do about the layout, but we feel there’s some magic in being in this location. Our immediate goals are to remodel the space to give us room for more technicians and services,” Danielle says.
“It’s amazing how similar we are to a hair salon – you have to maximize every square foot and every square foot has to produce some money. We’ve really had to tune our business in a way that helps us maximize every opportunity,” she explains.
Maximizing opportunity MUST come with maximizing empathy, Danielle says, and improving the customer’s experience from what they were expecting. “I want to start doing car clinics, focusing especially on new drivers and women, helping to educate them on basic maintenance and what this automotive experience should be like. And, while that’s a service to the community, I think it’s more important to know it’s needed. There’s nothing harder than calling a customer who never had somebody to teach them why they now need a new engine because they went so long without oil changes.”
She says that, at its core, is the mission of Red Rock Repair to do right by the customer and employees.
“We live and breathe by, basically, the Golden Rule: treat people how you would like to be treated,” says Danielle. “And, sometimes it’s harder than others, but the most important thing is that when we close the door and we turn off the lights at the end of the day, we know we did the best for every person who walked through the door, including my employees, our delivery people, and our customers.”