Looking back at where you started when you first opened your business to where your shop is now can be an eye-opening experience. You can reminisce on the good times and be glad you’re through the rough parts. You’re also able to understand what actions have worked the best for you and have helped you fine-tune your business practices to continue seeing the best results possible.
Rich Gregg, owner of Essential Automotive in Waterloo, Ontario, has come a long way from where he started when he opened his shop in 1999. He’s been in business for 23 years and says he’s learned a lot during his time as a business owner. From budgeting his finances to how to delegate to his team and even how to make his goals a reality, Gregg says change has been a good thing. The day-to-day operation of his shop looks quite different from when he first opened, and he couldn’t be more proud.
How your shop operates on a day-to-day basis makes an important impression, not only on customers but potential future employees as well. When customers walk in are they greeted by a staff member? Is there a set process for customers to know what is wrong with their car and what you’re going to do to fix it? These aspects of business are important – the easier you make it for your customers, the more likely they are to come back. You can also build a respectable reputation in your community.
When he opened his shop, Gregg was the only employee. His day consisted of him playing video games in between jobs and waiting on the next customer to call. If someone rang the shop, he would tell them to come right in. Instead of charging differing amounts per job based on what each situation needed, Gregg would charge his customers a flat rate of $45 per hour. His only concern? Being cheaper than the next guy. He made a total of $24,000 in nine months, which is what he now makes in four days.
Now, Gregg says Essential Auto is fully staffed with a team of seven – not including himself. The shop has four technicians, two service advisors and a manager. Customers can book an appointment online through the shop’s website or from a digital service reminder that runs through its booking calendar. Then, the work is distributed electronically to each technician on an iPad. The technician will submit a digital inspection for the service advisor to annotate. Once the annotations are finished it is sent to the customer through AutoVitals. “We keep a tight, organized workflow through the day and finish with a quality control test drive by the manager or myself if I’m at the shop,” Gregg says.
Gregg credits part of his success to joining DRIVE and learning how to run his business in the most efficient way possible. He says, “This has given me the courage to take big leaps forward and trust in my abilities to get the job done.” Gregg explains that, not only do the coaches help motivate and train him, but it allows him to network with other shop owners. He can workshop his ideas and hear how others have gotten through the issues he might be facing. “Being able to see how they have overcome obstacles is a huge help. I love being connected to such a large group.”
Marketing is one of the most important business practices a shop can partake in. If no one knows about your shop, how are you going to acquire customers? A good marketing plan can help you attract new customers and keep past customers returning to your doors. This plan typically includes print advertisements, online social media presence, branding on your website and even the signs in front of your physical shop.
As an owner, when you first open your shop, it can be difficult to craft what image you want your business to have. Defining your brand is a crucial part of success.
For the first 12 years of his career, Gregg relied solely on word of mouth. He had no other marketing tactics in play. Now? Marketing is one thing he doesn’t skimp on. “We have a $60,000 annual marketing budget that includes $800 a week for Google AdWords, Facebook and Instagram branding, as well as regular changes to the website.” In addition, Gregg explains, he has also hosted multiple Ladies Car Clinics and Automotive Minute Radio informational spots.
Your team can make or break your shop. When you have a full crew that loves their job and shows up ready to work, your operation is more likely to run smoothly. A good team can also help shape your public image. Customers will want to return if they were treated with respect and the work on their car was done honestly. On the other hand, having a non-committed team can have negative consequences. When technicians don’t do the work they’re supposed to or don’t give their full effort, your shop’s image can suffer. Your shop can go from a trustworthy company to a place people won’t step foot in.
It wasn’t until nine months after opening Essential Automotive that Gregg hired his first employee, James H. In the beginning, James worked as a technician but has climbed the ladder to be the shop manager, overseeing day-to-day operations. One year later, Gregg hired John who also still works for the company as service advisor. Having a dependable staff has allowed Gregg to be able to step away from the shop and focus on working on his business, rather than in it. As the owner, Gregg says he now only keeps an oversight on the business.
What were your plans when your shop first opened? Have you achieved them yet or did you create new goals? Being able to set and fulfill your goals is an important skill every business owner should possess. When you plan ahead, it is easier to grow your shop to the level you aspire to be at. Goals should be specific, timebound and measurable. You can have weekly, monthly and yearly goals you keep an eye on.
Setting goals was a valuable skill Gregg says he learned along the way. “I have learned that making goals is a must if you really want to experience the most out of life. Anything is possible if you develop a great plan and have the discipline to follow it.”
His current goals for the year include getting involved with DRIVE’s Top 20 group and implementing new strategies he’s learned from other successful shop owners. He also is interested in expanding to multiple locations in the future.
When you look back on your shop’s history you can really see how far you’ve come. Being able to see your successes and mistakes makes you stronger, allowing you to go out and give advice to new shop owners, ensuring continued success in your industry.