Ross Colket, LANSDALE, PA, Named 2022 Auto Value & Bumper to Bumper Technician of the Year
As president of the Mid-Atlantic Auto Care Alliance, Ross Colket is familiar with being recognized as a leader in the industry. But Colket, the owner of Colket Automotive Technical Services, a Bumper to Bumper Certified Service Center in Lansdale, PA, says fame isn’t enough – it’s a three-part combination of relationships, confidence and education that is his secret to success.
For Colket, recently named the 2022 Auto Value & Bumper to Bumper Technician of the Year, his selection as one of the 11 national finalists was a real opportunity for him to use all of those traits to support his shop and the entire automotive industry.
“It was a very respectful, first-class experience,” Colket says of the Technician of the Year program (read complete coverage of the event in ShopOwner’s October 2022 issue). “I wasn’t able to attend the final announcement in Las Vegas because I had been in an accident in September and my jaw was wired shut. I wouldn’t have been able to make a speech if I had been there!”
Colket says the Technician of the Year result was satisfying because, even though he had confidence in his own pedigree, “at the same time, there are 10 other guys who are tops in their regions. In essence, you’re up against the best of the best.”
But before we discuss the present and the future, it’s important to take a step back and look at Colket’s past. Where he comes from has definitely influenced where he’s going, he says.
“From a little kid, I was always fascinated with cars. My father, who was vice president of the family brick manufacturing business was a mechanical engineer, so anytime there was something small enough for me to take apart, he would bring it home. I had a corner of the kitchen where I would take stuff apart to see how it worked. As I was growing up as a kid, I was constantly tinkering with my bicycles, and then later on getting into dirt bikes and dune buggies,” he says.
Colket joined the third-generation family business, but soon realized that building bricks wasn’t nearly as enticing as driving on them.
“I went to work for an independent repair shop and basically apprenticed under the owner,” Colket recalls. “Originally, I went in to drive a tow truck but he asked if I was interested in working in the shop. I was always good electrically, whereas he was good mechanically. So, he would give me a lot of the electrical problems, and he would show me the nuances of mechanical.”
Following his introduction to the repair world, Colket signed on at a local Saturn dealership in 1995. “I was very fortunate because when I started at Saturn, I was the third person hired. Then the second person left, which put me as an assistant shop foreman when I was 26. Saturn exploded at that point. When I was there, we got up to eight technicians total, including myself.”
Colket says he was supervising techs who were twice his age. He had to learn to be a leader on the job and was able to advance his own technical knowledge at the same time.
“I got all the factory training and it got to the point where I’d pick up a ticket, and I’d know what was wrong with the car before I even touched it. So, in 2000, I went to Volvo.”
Colket says it was at this point that his commitment to training became concrete. In Pennsylvania, emissions regulations require certain services be performed by certified technicians. “There was a local shop owner who ran state inspection emissions classes out of his shop,” he says. “I had taken my ASE L1 Advanced Engine Performance certification test and missed it twice by only a couple of questions. It was at that point that I realized, I should take the class. That was the first time besides training with Saturn, that I had really gotten generalized in-depth information. It turned on a light bulb for me.”
Colket says that, while his interview for the Volvo position went well, he wasn’t offered the job on the spot. However, by the time he got home a job offer was waiting on his answering machine.
“What I later found out, is that the service manager who interviewed me was a brother-in-law of that shop owner who taught that in-depth 48-hour emissions class,” Colket says. “As soon as I had left, he called his brother-in-law. My teacher told him, ‘If you can get him, you better get him.’”
After another two years at the Volvo dealership, Colket says he got to a point where he felt he had more to offer than just fixing cars. “I liked interacting with people, so, it was at that point that I knew I needed to make a move.”
In 2002, his path led him to Automotive Training Center in Exton, PA.
“As part of teaching there, you had to complete a program for being an instructor. My world opened up, in terms of the information that I had access to,” Colket says. “I worked my way up through brakes and suspension, air conditioning, etc.; my main focus became advanced electrical engine performance and advanced engine performance.”
Colket continued his role as an industry trainer, simultaneously opening his own shop in 2007. One of his students and another instructor joined him, allowing him to continue his work outside the shop.
“In 2009, because of the economy, many shops had pulled back on the training. I did too, and focused on the shop a hundred percent at that point,” he says.
Colket recalls the challenges of working in his first shop, a four-bay facility that was two bays wide and two bays deep.
“You had to plan how you were placing the cars appropriately, and parking was limited, but it was a great foothold,” he says. “I was able to get my name out there. My landlord at that shop was Bob Trier, well-known in the local community, and he was very good about talking me up to customers.
In 2015, I moved to my second location, a single-door shop with a central aisle. It was a more professional building with more parking, but still presented vehicle movement challenges,” says Colket.
In April of 2021, Colket and his team moved to his current location, a former three-bay tractor-trailer shop that is 70-feet deep. By adding three doors to the back of the shop, he was able to create six bays, with a Hunter alignment rack in one bay, two 10,000-pound lifts, and a 12,000-pound and a 16,000-pound lift. This allows Colket to offer full-service for light- and medium-duty vehicles, including gasoline, diesel, hybrid and electric platforms.
Colket say fully electric vehicles offer normal maintenance opportunities including tires, brakes and suspension parts. “As far as module failures and similar service, we really haven’t run into much of that yet,” he explains. “With hybrid vehicles, we’re definitely seeing battery packs. And, vehicles like the Prius have been out for so long, we’re doing tune-ups on the engines, including coolant flushes and normal repairs that you would see on a gasoline engine, as well as undercar and brake work.
Colket says ADAS work has been a key part of his shop’s service offerings since 2019, but says it’s primarily a business-to-business service with a network of local collision repair shops. “Believe it or not, from 2019 till now, that accounts for one-third of our gross sales.”
Commercial service, in general, has been a key to Colket’s success since 2015. “It was then that I realized I needed to get away from strictly retail repairs. I refer to it as the retail rollercoaster, and I realized that I needed to stabilize my income,” says Colket. “So, in 2015, I made a concerted effort to go after fleet repairs. A fleet vehicle is where they make their money – they don’t care how much it costs; they care when it’s done.”
Meeting the needs of such a demanding commercial customer base requires a consistent supplier of parts and Colket has relied on Eastern Auto Parts Warehouse, a Bumper to Bumper warehouse in Lansdale.
“They have great supply; their delivery times are quick and their pricing is good,” Colket says. “But, what really impresses me is the inventory level. They run a shuttle from the local store to Langhorne every hour on the hour. The longest I ever have to wait for a part, even if it’s coming from Langhorne, is an hour and a half.”
Colket says Eastern Auto Parts is very supportive of his business and he reciprocates. “If they have a shop that’s thinking about becoming a Certified Service Center, I know the program so well, that a lot of times they’ll have the shops call me to get information in regard to it.”
His reputation as president of the Auto Care Alliance may help legitimize his recommendations, but Colket says, like other shops, he still must work hard to reach potential employees and customers.
“I’ve had a sign out in front of the shop for nine months because I always like to keep somebody in the pipeline if I can, just in case something happens. Other shops regularly ask me if I know of anybody who is looking to change shops – that’s tough to answer, because of course like everyone else, I want first pick.”
Colket says the struggle is real. “I do think it’s a generational thing. The average age of a mechanic right now is somewhere around 55 years old and, let’s be honest – it’s very scary. If you can keep mechanics in your shop, it’s going to be a great thing. It’s going to help drive the labor prices way up where they should be, because people need to get their cars fixed.
“I’m fortunate, my guys are very loyal to me,” he says. “We have all of the latest technology in the shop, and as I said, we’re known in the area for our technological skill. We’ll get other shops that call us. With our Google reviews, one of the things that we get is we’ll get people who bring vehicles to us that they haven’t been able to get fixed in other places. We’re fixing vehicles that dealers can’t fix. Honestly, it’s great for the reputation. I make sure in those situations where we’ve got such a home run to spend a little time talking with them, and ask for a good review on Google.
Colket says he’s fortunate, that with his two female service writers in the front office, and the six techs in the shop, they can run the shop on a day-to-day basis. “They don’t need me,” he acknowledges. “This allows me time to work on the business, not work in it.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “There are times I definitely go out in the shop, especially if there’s a problem car. If it’s on a deep diagnostic level, I will go out. But, [for] regular repairs and stuff, I’m in my office.”
Colket says his instructor background and a regular in-house training regimen ensures that his techs are prepared for whatever they may face. “It’s good for them because they feel more comfortable with it. They’ll ask questions that they might not necessarily have asked in a public setting. We’ll sit down, throw up a table and a projector screen in the shop after work, I’ll buy pizza, and we’ll just go through it and have a nice little informal training session.”
His commitment to training helped him during the testing portion of the Technician of the Year competition, he says.
“Eastern Auto Parts runs the contest in our area every year – you have to turn in your training and your certifications that you completed during that year to be considered. I had renewed all of my ASEs this year and I had done quite a bit of electrical vehicle training, about 60 hours’ worth,” Colket says.
“Moving forward,” he says, “I want to work with Eastern to promote the program. And, I’d honestly like to work with Auto Value and Bumper to Bumper to promote it on their end, as well. I think more technicians should try for this. The worst that’s going to happen by doing so is it’s going to make you a better technician.”
In addition, Colket acknowledges the benefit the title brings to his shop’s reputation.
“Yes. I do want to utilize it to help promote the shop. To be a national Technician of the Year, I think that says something. For me, being a shop owner, I’m managing people, I’m working with customers, I’m helping troubleshoot vehicles, I’m building the business. I have my hands in so many different facets of it that I have every bit of confidence in my team that they can handle the shop without me. But, by the same token, to set the path and lead by example says everything. I really enjoy all the different facets of it.
“And this is such a good program,” he says. “I want other technicians to be able to experience it, as well.”