If there’s one lesson Madison Wixon has learned about building a successful business, it’s that even when you do it by yourself, you don’t necessarily do it FOR yourself.
Growing up the child of entrepreneurs in the Show Me State, Wixon says she learned from an early age that business success often comes by doing things yourself. What she and her partner Tucker Scoles, owners of Hometown Auto Repair, a TechNet repair facility in Liberty, MO, have learned is that personal success is often found in doing things for others.
“Doing well by doing good,” may be a cliché, but for Wixon and Scoles, professional and personal growth have gone hand in hand.
“Tucker and I both grew up in families of entrepreneurs,” Wixon says. “We were raised to do our own things and we both knew that’s what we wanted to do. Tuck had a grandfather who ran the only shop in a tiny little town up north, and he kind of grew up there with him. He raced dirt bikes along the way and learned about fixing all sorts of engines.
“I got into cars and car repairs because I was young and dumb and kept buying pieces of crap. I had other things to spend my money on, so I just started figuring out how to fix them on my own. I had enough knowledge enough to become a service advisor at the shop where we worked together 10 years ago,” she says.
Eventually, Wixon says, priorities changed. “We had a son and I shifted over to a stay-at-home mom type position. At that point, we realized we didn’t want to rely on another business to make our money, and so about five years ago we just decided to pull the trigger and go for it. We found a great building in town that was a jobber repair shop originally connected to a Western Auto store, but eventually it became several other chain and independent repair facilities.
Today, the auto parts store next door is branded Advance Auto Parts. Wixon says there are many obvious benefits to their location. “Obviously, it’s convenient – parts delivery is immediate – but it’s more than that. Thanks to Advance’s customer service and how much they have supported us through the years, we joined TechNet through them, and we have a good working relationship with them too, which has just been top tier.”
Wixon adds she appreciates having access to TechNet’s nationwide warranty. “Being able to give your customers that kind of satisfaction and taking care of them in that way, while still being small and local was our initial attraction,” she says. “The thing that I really fell in love with as we grew with the organization is that it’s a wonderful network of other small local shop owners, some like us, some that are bigger, that we can connect with. Every time we’ve been able to attend a TechNet networking event, I pull away learning something new from somebody like me who has been through a similar situation beforehand because of TechNet.”
In addition, she says having access to business resources like Tekmetric, MotoLogic and MotoVisuals have been tremendously beneficial. Likewise, the professional support Hometown Auto receives has helped the team in
“They’ve helped us bump up our labor rates and know our own worth and get into good shop programs and just help us navigate customers,” Wixon says. “It’s been phenomenal.”
Of course, being directly next to an auto parts store does require patience with many of those customers, who come from all around the Kansas City metro area.
“We often get a lot of the diagnostic headaches and a lot of the big things that people can’t inherently do at home, so we lose out on many of the preventive maintenance services that people want to take care of. And we won’t use customer supplied parts, even if they just walk in from next door. I easily explain our pricing by clarifying our 36-month, 36,000-mile nationwide warranty on everything I do. I remind them that if they supply their own parts there will be no warranty, and that’s not the quality I like to see go out of my door.”
It is a four-bay shop with three lifts. “We pulled together our financing however we could and just went in on it. Tucker is the technical legal owner. I’ve been there doing the paperwork since day one. I brought our son into the shop for the first several months.”
In addition to the family owners, Hometown Auto has a third integral member of the team, Mike Kennedy. “Mike is a great technician who worked with us at our last shop and today lets us work on just about everything our customers bring in. In fact, Tuck’s one of the few guys in town who will touch carburetors and other old technology. We get a lot of the stuff that a lot of other shops won’t touch.”
Those untouchable vehicles include older diesel engines (“We’re known as one of the excellent diesel shops in the area, and we get a lot of word-of-mouth referrals back and forth through there, too,” Wixon says), as well as motorcycles. “Not only are we certified to service bikes, including Harley-Davidsons, we’re all licensed and qualified to test ride all of them.”
Wixon says the shop has a reputation for solving problems for its customers. “We have a reputation for being able to fill that spot of the things that many other shops don’t really care to work on anymore. We think somebody needs to be keeping these things on the road or else we’re just going to lose them.”
Hometown Auto has plans to open a secondary location that will focus on performance and modifications for off-road vehicles, race cars and motorcycles. The only problem, Wixon says, is staffing and coverage. “We’re so small that we can only dedicate so much time to these goals right now.”
In addition, she says, the shop is still recovering from the stresses of the global pandemic. “Early in 2020, a major intersection got torn down right by our shop. Then Covid hit, so our whole side of town was just a ghost town. Suddenly, things just exploded out of nowhere, and we had to put all our customers on a wait list that was as long as 3-4 weeks. Today, our daily volume ranges from 3 to 12 vehicles, depending on the repair.”
Some of the shop’s biggest challenges tend to come from diagnostic roadblocks caused by the OEMs. “Tucker is a wiz with repairs – both diesel and gas – but we simply can’t do some of the newer vehicles because we’re locked out of the computers. It’s gotten to the point where we won’t work on certain engines.”
Hometown Automotive’s customer base includes private customers, as well as several local service company fleets and a local used car dealer.
“We’ve been approached by used car dealers in the past, but we weren’t interested in that kind of work. However, one dealer approached us with a different attitude that we appreciated. He does an oil change on every car before it goes on the lot; if the brakes are 50% or worse, he does pads and rotors on each of them. He listens to our recommendations on parts and really cares about giving a quality product to his customers like we do,” Wixon explains.
In addition, she says, because he’s on a constant search for vehicles, he keeps an eye out for cars Hometown can add to its own fleet of loaner cars, a service the shop has offered since its first year of operation.
“We’re big on maintaining a clean shop and clean techs,” Wixon says. “Once we get people in the door, I feel like that really helps. I have a handful of rocking chairs in the waiting room that are color matched to fit our style, our orange, black and white aesthetic.”
The whole theme with Hometown Auto, she explains, is to make it feel like your brother owns the most reliable garage in town. “You can trust us, rely on us, and not get sold things you don’t need. We strive to be straightforward and honest with people, establishing good relationships.”
The shop relies almost exclusively on word of mouth to market its services, promoting quality first and seeking customers who prefer excellence over price. “I’m not the cheapest shop out there, but I can guarantee you I’m one of the best and I’m going to make sure you’re taken care of,” Wixon says she tells prospects.
“Being taken care of” includes serving the community through a variety of charitable activities.
“We like to give back where we can, trying to help and do something good,” says Wixon. “We just know there’s a lot of people who aren’t set up perfectly and we want to give where we can to help them. Because of our interest in motorcycles, we started by taking part in a huge charity motorcycle ride to the Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina to support fallen law enforcement officers. It went so well, and our customers were so supportive that we expanded it to include them.
“I use Facebook and Instagram as a cool shop marketing opportunity to post updates and support local riders who joined us,” she says. “We got great engagement, and it really helped our motorcycle clientele see that we know what we’re doing, too.”
Giving back is satisfying, but isn’t all about fun and games, Wixon says.
“The world’s rough. We’re kind of that house you can come to and make sure your belly’s full, and you’re taken care of before you leave. We are big into outdoors and hunting specifically, and before we even opened the shop, Tucker and I would always take time off for deer season, with a goal of helping to fill the freezers of people in our community.”
Once they did open Hometown Auto, the couple recognized these trips’ value and were determined to continue.
“We always shut down for a week in November,” Wixon says. “Of course, we let our customers know ahead of time, giving them as much prior notice as we can, because this is such an important thing to us, and we’ll be gone.”
Both the motorcycle trips and the hunting expeditions require Wixon and Scoles to shut their doors for several potentially profitable days at a time. Taking this time off may seem to be counterintuitive to growing a thriving business, but Wixon says it’s an integral part of her business success.
“I’ll admit, we felt really bad about taking the time off for a while, until we started to get really good feedback,” Wixon says. “Most of our customers are really, excited to see it happen, which is cool. They remind us that we need to take care of ourselves, too.”
In fact, she says, while caring for others is important, caring for yourself is critical to today’s shop owner.
“Being able to do things for yourself is critical,” she says. “You can’t get swept up just in the business you have. It’s vitally important to find time for yourself, even when you’re slammed and even when you’re such a small shop. A lot of people think, ‘I’m too busy. I can’t get away. I just don’t have time for that.’ The truth is, maybe especially when you’re small, you MUST do it. It’s so important!”
Wixon says she has been approached by several people in her area who have asked for advice on starting their own business and her mentorship starts with emphasizing the need to take care of yourself.
“That’s one of the biggest hot buttons I press for them. I tell them, ‘Yes, it’s going to be crazy and you’re going to get lost in it, but you must find time to make sure you can still take care of yourself. You can’t lose yourself in it because then your work will falter, you’ll get burnout, you’ll have all sorts of issues,’” she advises.
Refreshment and renewal isn’t a selfish intention, Madison Wixon points out.
“Every time we’ve left, our business has been better. Every time we’ve gotten back, the number of customers, the number of appointments and our productivity has increased,” she says. It’s so essential to make sure you can do that for yourself and your customers.”