Shop Profile: Roy Foster’s Automotive, Reno, NV

Shop Profile: Roy Foster’s Automotive, Reno, NV

Roy Foster’s Automotive has been serving the greater Reno metro area since 1947.

It would be easy (and understandable) for Roy Foster to decide to spend the remainder of 2023 doing nothing but building trophy cases. After all, it’s been a pretty good year for the owner of Roy Foster’s Automotive, a NAPA Gold Certified Auto Care Center in Reno, NV.

Recently named 2023 NAPA Auto Care Center of the Year, 2023 AAPEX Shop of the Year AND 2023 AAA Best in Auto Repair recipient, he’d be forgiven for adding shelves to hold all the hardware bearing his name. But he doesn’t have time – or interest – for that.

“Yeah, it’s pretty humbling, and it’s quite an honor,” says Foster. “But, I would give most of the honor to my team. They really work hard to follow the processes we’ve set up in the business, and most of all, just really care about the customer’s overall experience and make sure to take care of the customer.”

Roy Foster’s Automotive has been a NAPA Auto Care Center for 29 years, but the shop’s history of serving Washoe County and the greater Reno metro area goes back even decades further. Two things have stayed consistent over the years – a commitment to the customers and the name on the marquee.

“The shop was founded by my father, also Roy Foster, in 1947,” he says. “So many shop owners have roots like mine – my dad began with a couple of service stations. My brothers and I ended up taking those over, and in 76 years we’ve moved to different locations but all within about a mile radius, so we’ve been the neighborhood shop for generations.”

Around 1990, Foster says, Chevron decided to remove all the service bays and put in convenience stores. At that point, the family decided to split the business into separate entities in Reno. 

“My brother still owns and operates the gas and convenience stores,” Foster says, “and frankly, I don’t envy him at all. As hard as it is for me to find technicians, I think it’s probably equally as hard for him to find people to do that job because it doesn’t pay as well. He gets good people, but they tend to move on up the ladder, whereas we can pay them more, and have a lot better employee retention.”

Foster says his success in staffing stems from treating his people right. “We’re a family-first company, and that’s paid dividends. Somebody’s kid has a soccer game or the wife’s ill or whatever it might be, we always try to accommodate those things because, in the big picture, missing somebody for an afternoon is really not that detrimental, but it goes a long way in improving our culture.”

Longevity is a point of pride, and Foster says many of his techs have been with him a long time, in some cases starting by sweeping floors in high school. His team of six technicians holds numerous ASE certifications to meet every repair need and provide flexibility for team scheduling. 

Three of his techs have well more than 15 years experience each, and three of his younger technicians have gone through the NAPA Apprentice Program, becoming ASE-certified technicians, well on their way to getting their master tech certifications. “They’re young guys, one 19, and the other two are 21,” Foster says. “The skillset they have and the productivity they have is second to none. It’s amazing to see how the apprentice program, coupled with being in a good shop with good mentors, has really produced some great fruits.”

Foster himself is a Master Tech and holds several other ASE certifications. While he keeps up on his training, he says his main contribution in the shop is as a mentor for his apprentice technicians.

“I was serving on the NAPA Auto Care Advisory Council in 2018-2019 when Pete McNeil and Jake Sorenson from McNeil Auto Care in Sandy, UT, introduced the concept of the NAPA apprentice program,” Foster says. “I was excited about it right away. Two of my apprentices are my sons – they’re third generation in the business, and they intend to be my succession plan, which is perfect. The cool part is that they’re paired with a mentor, and not always the same guy. If one guy’s stronger in one area, I may have the apprentice work with that guy as a mentor.

“There’s also hundreds of hours of online curriculum that they follow, as well. The apprentice program is really good about all the fundamentals – they get a really good foundation under them, and I just can’t say enough good about it.”

The program, Foster says, is a great way to break into the business “It’s hard to come into a shop not knowing anything. We provide the tools, we provide the learning, the path, and the whole time they’re making good money,” he explains.

In addition to the apprenticeship program, Foster is involved as a judge with SkillsUSA, the student-led partnership of education and industry. He recognizes the opportunity he has to find the cream of the crop of the next generation of technician, not only for himself but for his colleagues. 

“I’ve been there as a judge getting to know all the kids with recruiting in mind. Talking to each of these kids, I’m seeing their skillset. Now, the community is seeing the success that these guys are having. I have other kids and even moms reaching out to saying, ‘Hey, my son really needs some direction in his life – I think this would be a good fit.’ I’ve been able to refer many of these apprentices to other shops in our business development group. Not only is this helping out the other shops around us, we’re helping this young man or young woman get into the industry. Let’s face it  – I don’t have a technician shortage.” 

This opportunity doesn’t only exist in Reno, Foster reiterates. “They always want help and always use judges. Also, I’m on the board of our local community college and they’re always encouraging us to come in, talk to the kids, just get in front of them. The vehicle dealers already do a great job of getting into the community colleges so they tend to get the best kids out of there. But, then they stick them in a lube pit and they just burn them out and spit them out. There’s no path for progression for those kids a lot of times. Whereas, we as family businesses, independent shops, we want to build lifelong technicians and we have a different vision for them. The more we can get in front of them to change the perception of this industry, the better for all of us. When they start to see the tech side of the business, I think we can change a lot of minds.”

Foster believes that changing the industry’s perspective extends to customers, as well.

“With the customer experience, perception is everything. If the building is clean, the employees are clean and polite, have empathy for the clients and really listen to their problems and solve their problems, that goes a long way. And, as we do these things, they see how we take care of the facility, it translates how we’re going to take care of them and their vehicles,” he explains. “To contrast that, if everything’s greasy and the guys are rude, then it’s not going to be a good experience.”

Foster and his team engage the young Reno community for their own goals by sponsoring high school sports teams, hosting shop tours, offering clinics to educate young drivers and their parents. “We walk them through the facility, show them all the tools and equipment, explain what it is we do. We’ll show them how to change their oil or how to change their spare tire or jumpstart the car, use their owner’s manual to find out all sorts of valuable information.”

Community support extends outside the shop, too, including an interactive repair shop for little ones in the Discovery Children’s Museum in town. “Our business development group, with the help of NAPA Auto Care and other vendors, built a mini–NAPA Auto Care Center inside the museum. It has a large plastic car and there are tools, so they can take the lug nuts off, change tires, they can change the battery, they can go underneath on a creeper and change the exhaust – the kids love it. So, our business development group rents the museum for the entire day and we open it up to the public as NAPA Auto Care Day. Each of us shop owners communicates to our customers and to the media, and usually we have record attendance when we do that. Our goal there is twofold: exposing young kids to try to have a passion for automotive and reaching out to the community,” Foster explains.

Foster praises the continued support of his customer base. We have multi-generational customers – in many cases, they’re my dad’s customers’ kids’ kids’ kids. We just have generations of relationships and we really try to market toward, not to sound bad, but the moms and minivans. We love women customers. They come in and say, ‘Well, the van is making this noise, and it does it when it’s cold.’ And they’ll give you such a great description of the symptom.”

Foster says the familiar NAPA logo helps him with his marketing efforts, especially for new customer acquisition or those who may be traveling the iconic Eisenhower Interstate over the Donner Pass. “They may not know our reputation, but they see that the iconic NAPA logo, and they trust that. They know that there’s somebody standing behind what we’re doing,” he says.

It was that logo, Foster says, that originally gave him confidence, as well. 

“In 1994, NAPA came to me about a partnership with NAPA Auto Care. At the time, the biggest benefit I saw was being able to partner our local family name with a major brand and have access to the nationwide parts and labor warranty. I saw a lot of value in that. 

“My local NAPA store owner is Dave Finley and he was the driving force. He owns nine stores and is hugely invested not only in his own stores, but in us as a shop. He’s a member of our business development group and has got skin in the game. He provides a meeting room for us. I can’t say enough good things about the partnership we have, the friendship we have. It is truly a family affair,” explains Foster.

“Like me, I know that most shop owners start out as technicians – they don’t know anything about running a business,” Foster says. “Now, I also do coaching for Repair Shop of Tomorrow, which is an approved NAPA Auto Care program. We work solely with NAPA Auto Care Centers, trying to teach them how to implement NAPA Auto Care programs and also teaching them the things that they need to know about running their business and providing consistent marketing across all platforms.

“The program has evolved into something that’s just valuable and coveted within the industry,” Foster says, “and much of it is designed to help us communicate with our customers, to help us do a much better job with them. The customers’ need didn’t make it to the end of the counter to the technicians. So, little things like that can cause big problems. So, all the tools they provided to help are pretty amazing.

“Many of our Google reviews are always complimenting us how well we communicate with the clients, and thanks to some of the tools from NAPA, it’s mostly automated. Once it’s set up, it’s just happening in the background. The client’s getting a text every step of the way to keep them in the loop. When their car breaks down, there’s a lot of anxiety. ‘What’s it going to cost? How am I going to pick up my kids? How am I going to get to work? What’s wrong with it?’” Foster says. “They’re facing all this anxiety, so the more we can share and assure them that we’re here to take care of their issues and really tamp down and to take that anxiety away, the better for all of us.”

Success ultimately comes down to clear explanations and understanding, says Foster. “I would say in my business, and probably globally, most of our problems come from communication.”

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