Shop Profile - Maclane’s Automotive, Downingtown, PA

Shop Profile – Maclane’s Automotive, Downingtown, PA

Maclane Reeser has built his shops to overcome obstacles by focusing on opportunities.

The best way to successfully open a second shop, say some experts, involves planning, preparation and patience.

Or, you could do what Maclane Reeser, owner of Maclane’s Automotive – a two-shop Bumper To Bumper Certified Service Center operation in Southeastern Pennsylvania – did. Jump right in with both feet and make things happen.

“We have two stores here in Downingtown, and I jokingly say that we got our second store accidentally. In 2020, when automotive repair boomed during Covid, we ran out of bay space at our first (and then only) three-bay store. We were booked three weeks out, which was insane,” says Reeser. “I started looking for a solution which was, at the time, just more bay space. Then we began to realize that wouldn’t be enough.”

Originally opened in 2016, the shop was serving a greater variety of customers than it had been, Reeser recalls, and needed bigger, more versatile equipment. 

“We were trying to be self-sufficient, but we didn’t have our own alignment machine, so we had to rely on another shop to handle our alignments. This forced our customers to leave us and just wasn’t a good solution.”

Reeser says his first idea was to use available space directly behind his shop. “It would’ve been so convenient to be within walking distance, a hundred yards, but after six months of effort, it didn’t unfold the way I hoped it would,” he says. “The second location with extra bays came available on the other side of town but the logistics of moving parts store-to-store just became a nightmare. So we built a lobby out and put a bathroom in and opened the second store in July 2022. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but it simply became too difficult to operate with two miles between building one and building two as the same store.” 

Reeser admits it can be somewhat confusing to customers (as well as to his main parts supplier, Eastern Auto Parts) to remember which location is which, but the opportunities are greater than the challenges. Good thing that facing – and overcoming – challenges is something Reeser has always been up for.

“I graduated from Universal Technical Institute in Exton, PA and went to the Volkswagen Academy,” he says. “I got a job immediately out of school at Garnet Volkswagen’s service center in Chadd’s Ford, PA. I got my ASE Master certification while I was there at 21 or 22; I got my Volkswagen master certification when I was 23.” Though Reeser was recognized as one of the top VW technicians multiple times at his young age, he says he felt his career might have already plateaued.

“Once I reached all those milestones, I started thinking what’s next?” he says. “The mindset that I have, is if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Then in February of 2016, I got a phone call to possibly buy someone’s business in Downingtown. I just stood across the street and stared at it for an hour…it wasn’t even really operating. It was open two hours a day, had half of an employee and an owner who, unfortunately, was very unhealthy.”

Reeser says he recognized it as a great opportunity, even though he had no clue how to run a shop himself. So he said yes.

“By May 1st I had bought the business. I just started checking boxes of the commonsense stuff I knew I needed: a credit card machine and bank accounts, a map of Downingtown… I just hit the ground running,” he recalls. 

“I originally thought I could work at the dealership and run this business on the side,” Reeser says. “I didn’t realize that if I’m trying to do it at a high level, being as professional as possible, it would take a lot more effort than just showing up on nights and weekends. So three days into this endeavor I knew I had to quit my job. I put my two weeks in, continued to pull late nights fixing up the new shop, then finally mopped my bay for the last time, pulled my toolbox out of there and never looked back. I had my first customer in July and man, that was frightening. Did I make money? Did I lose money? What am I even doing here?”

That first car, Reeser recalls, wasn’t even a modern Volkswagen – it was an ’87 Lincoln Town Car. He framed the first dollar made from that RO #1 and has it hanging on the wall in shop one as a reminder to himself and his team that “the job requirements aren’t always what you think they will be.”

“At the dealership, I was obviously very involved with the back of house, but I was never really part of the up-front operation,” he says. But as someone who “makes friends wherever he goes,” the “people” aspect of running the business came naturally to Reeser. 

“The real challenge was to determine the identity of the business. Turns out, it was simple: I’m your expert. I’m going to take care of you. I’m happy to help,” he says.

But posting your mission statement and trusting in yourself aren’t necessarily the same thing, Reeser admits. “You try not to be fearful of it, but inherently you’re going to be scared. I was going down a path I’d never traveled before. I didn’t know what I was doing. Yes, failure is a reality in a lot of cases – the statistics are real, but I wasn’t going to let failure be an option.”

Reeser hired his first employee a few months later and together they began the journey. “I learned that people are sometimes the greatest and the worst part of the business,” he says. “The car is really the easy part. I’m learning that the more successful I am with people, customers and staff, the more successful I’ll be. The car’s just a thing – it’s either fixed or broken.” 

Customer interactions have helped him identify pain points and business growth opportunities along the way; for example, the need to make both locations more uniform.

Reeser says he heard from a customer a year or so ago, who called store one and got an estimate, then called store two and got a wildly different price for the same job. “We don’t usually give estimates over the phone, but at that time, perhaps we were just saying yes to everything. The difference in quotes came down to a parts choice. It confused the customer, but it gave us an opportunity to really talk about how to create a similar experience through the stores. I want somebody to go to a Maclane’s Automotive and, no matter where it is, have the same experience. The quality of the inspection on the car, the way it’s documented, the experience when you meet with the people should all be the same.”

The key, says Reeser, isn’t to focus solely on the beautiful shop. “We’re an experience-based company…the beautiful people and building relationships are going to make that happen, to reach the level of success that I’m looking for.”

Reeser acknowledges that the two stores will never be identical because his shops have different footprints and histories. 

“Still, when you get in there, it should be inviting. How can we help you? We don’t want to be the shop that’s just like the other guys. We want that customer to come in and feel good that they’re here.’ 

He still considers Maclane’s Automotive to be a Volkswagen specialist, but not exclusively. “We say if it fits in the building, we’ll figure it out. We already have a lot of specialized tools, but if we don’t have the equipment, we’re going to figure it out, and buy what we need as we grow.”

Reeser has six techs of varying skill levels and certification and two service advisors between the two stores. “I’ll jump in if I’m needed in the bays,” he explains.

Maclane’s Automotive has been named the winner of the Chester County Daily Local News’ Reader’s Choice Award as Best Service Center in the county for four years running. In addition, Reeser himself has been recognized as one of the Auto Value and Bumper to Bumper Technician of the Year finalists twice in the past 5 years. Gaining this status in such a short time is incredible, even to himself, Reeser admits.

“We’re a Bumper to Bumper Confidence Plus Certified Service Center, with Eastern Auto Parts Warehouse as our primary parts supplier,” Reeser says.

The fact that his local parts supplier is, indeed, local, is a huge advantage for the two locations, he acknowledges.

“Our Parts Warehouse is right here in Downingtown, so I can call and order a part and have it within about 6 minutes.

Reeser says a long relationship often starts in unexpected ways. 

“When I started my business in 2016, I knew nothing about the wholesale parts business,” he says. ”I had been a tech: parts just showed up where and when I needed them. Obviously, I recognized some of the names of suppliers, but one day someone from Eastern walked in and sold me on their parts, their pricing and their promises. As soon as the day came when I met the criteria to be a Confidence Plus Certified Shop, I was in.

Both stores carry the Confidence Plus certification and Reeser says it’s a welcome sign to customers.

“There’s a lot of benefits that come from that certification, but for me, it’s a little bit of an insurance policy with the warranty. My clients are taken care of and I’m protected as well.”

Reeser is proud of the experience and ASE certifications many of his techs carry. “I bring a lot of Volkswagen experience. We have a Mercedes-Benz and Volvo-trained specialist on our team. We have another tech who owned his own shop for 30 years, who brings a lot of experience as a diagnostician. I am striving to keep both of my stores ASE Blue Seal-certified – I think it’s one of the things that makes my shop different from the guy next door.  While it may look like we’re both ‘just fixing cars,’ I can point to this national certification brand to help the customer feel confident that we have higher quality standards.” 

Reeser encourages all of his technicians to attain and retain any certification they can, believing this is a way for tech to accelerate their personal success.

He says maintaining a positive work environment, building a great culture and covering costs of specialty tools and training are only some of the ways he builds employee retention – after all, he’s been in their shoes.

He still considers himself a “yes man,” in every positive connotation of the word. 

“I’m here to help them if they ever need me. Let’s figure out how to do it together. What’s the old saying, ‘People don’t quit jobs; people quit managers.’ I think a big part of our retention is the fact that they know I care. They’re not just a number. They have a name and a wife and kids in this company.”

Reeser admits he sometimes does a double take. 

“It can be a sobering thought to look around at those people and realize that it’s not just the guys in the bay – it’s the people they’re connected to who are part of our extended family,” he says. “How did we get here? How much responsibility do I have? My company is not that big, but we are in a growth trajectory… what does three or four stores look like for me?”

Clearly, the question of “how the heck did we get here” can be answered with passion, empathy and service to his community – and that will serve to drive expansion as well. He has an initiative to fix up cars and donate them to deserving community members. No firm timeline for more stores is in place but Reeser feels he’ll know when it’s right.

“I’ve built two stores sort of from the ground up and I want to say I’ve learned my lessons,” he explains. “I didn’t know what I was doing and I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I don’t regret any of it.

“The amount of growth I’ve had as a person, the partners I’ve met, the experiences I’ve put myself through, the mistakes that I’ve made to really realize how things work, it’s been good,” Reeser says. “I’m kind of glad I did it this way.”

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