John Kish admits he’s been a “car nut” since he was a teenager. But he never was nuts about winter in Pennsylvania. So in 2015, it made all the sense in the world for him to relocate to Fort Myers, Florida, where he purchased Pam’s Motor City Tire and Auto Center.
“My desire was to always move to Florida, and I had been looking for a long time until the right business came along,” Kish explains. “And it did with Pam’s Motor City. It mimicked my values: a local, family-owned and operated business with a good reputation.”
It was a dream come true for Kish, whose parents and brother live in the area. And it was a logical progression in his career. Kish started out wrenching at a gas station when he was in high school, and then worked as a shop foremen at several facilities. He went on to own two repair shops in Pennsylvania during the 1990s and 2000s. His first shop was a three-bay facility, and his second shop was a seven-bay facility. With 12 bays, Pam’s is his largest venture.
Room for Improvement
When Kish bought Pam’s Motor City in January 2015, he was a member of the Automotive Training Institute, which provides coaching and consulting services to repair shops. After his coach, Mike Bennett, saw some of the shop’s financial records, he told Kish the shop “has a ton of potential.”
“For instance, when I bought this place, they were still using bottled oil by the quart – the ones with the twist-off caps – and pouring it into a funnel,” Kish recalls. “I couldn’t believe it. They were buying antifreeze by the gallon. There were so many things.”
Among the changes Kish implemented, he installed oil tanks and hoses, and negotiated a supply agreement with Castrol, which cut his cost per quart by over 50%.
He also purchased a new alignment system, vehicle lifts and diagnostic tools, among other equipment.
Then there was the front office and waiting area, which was “just a mess.”
“We came in and changed all the furniture, put a nice TV in and brought a lot of home feel so it looked very appealing to everybody,” Kish explains. “Now you can come in, sit down and relax, and it looks like a place you would want to stay – instead of these foldout chairs and a hard plastic table sitting in the middle of the waiting room. It was very uninviting, and it made it really uncomfortable if you’re waiting for your car for a couple of hours. We did improvements all over the place.”
Kish kept the same staff in place, but he prides himself on the culture and the work environment he created. He pays them “at least 20% higher than other technicians in this area,” he says. If there’s a piece of equipment that a technician needs to make his job easier, Kish will buy it.
When the technicians are on break, there’s an air-conditioned lunch room with a TV, oven, refrigerator, tables and chairs. And if they need more than just a lunch break, employees have the flexibility to schedule time off whenever they need it.
The techs also can choose how they’re compensated – whether it’s flat rate or hourly – and change it anytime they want.
“Some of the guys do very well with the flat rate. They’re able to make quite a nice living. A couple of the guys would rather be hourly, and that’s fine by me too.”
Kish works side-by-side with his technicians every day, and there’s a strong sense of camaraderie on the shop floor. “We all have a good time,” Kish adds. “We all get along.”
If someone doesn’t feel comfortable doing a particular job, Kish will jump in and help, or he’ll take over. For example, when there was an Isuzu NPR in the bay recently, “nobody wanted to touch it” because there was an issue with the truck’s variable-geometry turbocharger (VGT).
“It’s very hard to get information on [the Isuzu VGT]. So I worked on it for five hours until I diagnosed a faulty turbo. I won’t let my guys bury themselves in a job if they don’t feel like they can come out of it and make any money.”
Customers and Neighbors
Kish’s approach to customer service is simple: Treat customers like they’re your neighbors – because some of them are. Fort Myers is a tightly knit community, and Kish has made a lot of contacts through his membership in the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.
“If I run into you at a supermarket, I want to be able to shake your hand. I want to know your name,” Kish says. “I see [customers] all the time – at Costco, Publix supermarket, wherever – and I like them to know that I’m not just their go-to auto repair guy, but their friend as well. And I love that feeling.”
Likewise, all of his technicians “will come in and talk to a customer in a second, if need be.”
“Every one of my guys is respectable,” Kish explains. “They can talk to a customer as easy as I can. It’s very simple and easygoing. They’re not walking around with their shirt hanging out, looking like they just rolled out of a grease bath. They’re very presentable.”
Motor City’s bread and butter is general maintenance and repair, but the shop also has two bays dedicated to classic-car restoration. Kish only takes on a couple projects at a time, so there’s usually a waiting list for restoration work. In general, Kish does very little advertising, but the restoration work, in particular, sells itself.
“The minute I do one, that guy tells someone else and I put him on a waiting list, and it goes from there,” he says. “ … They’re very easy sells. In fact, they’re just so happy somebody is willing to do it for them.”
The changes Kish has implemented have been bearing fruit. Since he bought the shop in January 2015, sales have grown from around $1.3 million when he took over to more than $1.6 million in 2018. “Every year we’ve improved it,” Kish adds.
Kish credits his affiliation with the Automotive Distribution Network for playing a role in the shop’s success. Motor City offers the Part Plus 24-month/24,000-mile warranty, and Kish speaks highly of the group’s product lines and service.
“Whenever there’s an issue – which is not often – they take care of me,” Kish says.
Southwest Florida is growing, and Kish has been mulling the idea of adding a second location. He is considering the possibility of expanding in “a booming area” that’s about a half-hour drive from the shop. Currently, there aren’t many shops in that area, and the few that are around there are small operations, he says. “They don’t look like high-end or quality shops, as I would call them. They’re more like the Burger King of auto repair shops. I’d rather be the Ruth’s Chris Steak House.”