Of all the beautiful sights on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, to local Honolulu drivers, one of the most appreciated is a large yellow sign on the side of a box truck in the heart of a blue-collar neighborhood. This would be your clue that you’re in front of Starkey’s Auto Repair, DRIVE’s client locally known as the “dealer’s mechanic.”
John Starkey, owner of the shop, takes pride in being the place locals trust to fix their cars. And though his shop is relatively new, his team of 13 is focused on educating its clientele and making sure they get the best service possible.
Opened only five and a half years ago under less-than-ideal circumstances, Starkey says the ride has been exhilarating. Originally, he had no intentions of running an auto repair shop but when one of his neighbors raised a fuss about the automotive sales operation he was running out of his residence, he knew he needed a legitimate location to operate his business. One of his friends tipped him off about a man who owned a fairly small repair shop with a single side roll up door and four lifts who was looking to sell. John swooped in and quickly took over the building.
Soon after inheriting the reins, Starkey learned of a critical issue on the island – new car dealerships couldn’t fix their cars fast enough, with customers often waiting two to three months for repairs. Starkey was able to strike a deal with one of the many in-need dealerships, and his profits increased by $100,000 the first month alone.
However, despite this rapid growth, Starkey says his business suffered. “There was no organization, the employees would teach me what little they knew and we would just get by,” he says. With such an overhaul came the need for stability, so Starkey turned to DRIVE. Now he says his shop is well-calculated and self-sufficient.
Starkey prides himself on the environment he’s created at his shop, the DRIVE March Shop Spotlight of the Month. The upstairs portion of his building houses a break room with a massage chair, couch, a bed, a stocked refrigerator, and a large screen TV with accompanying video games. He says he has 13 wonderful employees, including his shop manager, Zack DeWater, and he offers full benefits, including medical, dental and vision coverage. If one of his employees needs something, Starkey buys it – he’s proud that all of the shop’s equipment in the shop is brand new and cutting edge. His employees show their appreciation by consistently hitting their numbers each week, with most of them overachieving, he says.
Because Starkey admits to still being novice shop owner, he has committed himself to not only being the best boss but the best student as well. He took a trip to the mainland to visit two veteran shop owners on the East Coast – Dave Bloom, owner of Pine Aire Truck Service, in Bay Shore, NY, and Kevin Reichelt, owner of Steller’s Garage, Shelton, CT– to learn more about the industry.
After only a few short moments Starkey says he felt like he had known both of them since high school, even though he’d only communicated with them over the phone before this.
“Between Dave and Kevin is a lifetime of business-owning experience,” Starkey says. “They both taught me that if you don’t see the end picture, the roadmap will be fuzzy the entire journey.
“What I learned from Dave was not necessarily how to run my shop. He taught me a lifestyle – he taught me to trust my team and be a leader.”
Starkey credits this camaraderie to his attendance at his first DRIVE EXPO. While he was there, he was able to network with a multitude of shop owners. Listening to their experiences and advice resonated with him. One shop owner in particular had a huge influence on him, Starkey says. “Everything he said was what I wanted to hear. He, along with the rest of the members, have been instrumental in my shop’s growth.”
Starkey counts himself as a student of shop ownership and isalways ready to talk to others in his field of study. That’s why he’s looking forward to attending DRIVE EXPO 2022. “Networking has been a key component of our success,” he says.
Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii is full of possibilities for relaxation, whether that’s exploring the coastline, visiting a natural museum or enjoying a performance from the symphony. On the weekends, John loves to go out and surf big waves – the whole reason he moved to Hawaii!
But Starkey says his outlook on owning a business and his life has changed dramatically in the past five years and he recognizes the possibilities in a whole new way. “Life isn’t about just working your butt off until you die; it’s about enjoying the journey,” he says. “The journey is so much more pleasant when you have laser vision, determination and a well thought out plan. If you have these three things, success will come over time.”