Eddie Lawrence, owner of MTR Inc. in Colorado Springs, CO, understands that business success and personal satisfaction are not mutually exclusive – nor are they dependent upon each other.
MTR has been a model fleet maintenance business serving the Colorado Springs area with truck & trailer repair for over 18 years. Incorporated in 1996 as Mobile Trailer Repair, MTR has since expanded its scope of service and operations to include a new 9,000-sq.-ft. repair facility. Lawrence is proud of what the business has become yet acknowledges that he’s occasionally surprised at how he got to where he is.
“Many of us start off young in our careers as a technician. For me personally, my dream wasn’t to be a technician or a shop owner. I was chasing other dreams, but along the way, life finds you.
“Life will find you and you get set on that course; you know? It doesn’t mean your dreams and passions can’t be pursued and it doesn’t have to be so cut and dry. You can still pursue them.
“In retrospect now looking back, it’s neat to see how that happens.”
Lawrence says he’s learned that there are six steps to satisfaction:
• Hire good people – then let them do their job
• Utilize people who know more than you
• Let your creative juices flow
• Rewrite your story
• Build your legacy
• Take time for yourself
Eddie, tell us about MTR.
MTR has been a mobile fleet maintenance business for over 24 years, serving Colorado Springs area with truck & trailer repair. Incorporated in 1996 as Mobile Trailer Repair, MTR has since expanded its scope of service and operations to include our new 9,000-sq.-ft. repair facility. Our highly skilled team of management personnel and certified technicians aim to exceed customer expectations with the kind of personalized service that is rarely offered in today’s truck repair climate.
I really started this phase of my career more than 20 years ago for a fleet that needed a mechanic. They said, “We’d like to sub our maintenance to you.” I went ahead and bought a truck, set up shop, and I started as a mobile tech for this big fleet and built it from there and put on other fleets.
Back then, you put your ad in the phone book and advertised that way. It was the Yellow Pages and word of mouth and kept putting on customers in town, had to hire guys, put them in trucks, train them. It got to the point to where it was running five trucks and running my truck. Essentially, my truck was my office and I’m dispatching guys out while working on a lot for a customer.
I employed them and put these trucks together. I got to about up to five trucks, six, including myself, and it kind of plateaued out. I thought to myself, it’s a business, but it’s not a business because I don’t have property. I’m just mobile and it felt very fragile to me like it could all go away very quickly.
I found a warehouse property in 2012. It wasn’t a shop yet, but it had about 10,000 square feet, and on an acre and a quarter. We’ve got eight bays with medium duty and large trucks and sometimes trailers. A lot of the trailer work goes on outside the building.
At this point we became in-house and mobile. That allowed us to open up full-scale services. There’s only so much you can do mobile. You don’t want to open up too much to the elements.
Over the years, we’ve put together a customized fleet maintenance and management program that tailors to each company’s needs. Each of our fleets represents a different type of business. For example, our fleet that hauls cement walls for buildings and parking structures has an entirely different fleet management program than the fleet that hauls recycled tires. With each fleet, we have a customized program which includes fleet management, preventative maintenance, and custom, in-house service. By “in-house,” we mean that if a customer has a service need that’s particular to that company, MTR has performed, maintained, and secured that service need for that customer.
With an emphasis on safety, our big truck repair shop strives for perfect safety ratings, and we can perform simple safety modification upgrades to a fleet that aren’t currently in place. MTR meets all the business requirements needed for company compliance and makes sure that only necessary repairs are carried out by our technicians. This eliminates extra work that could drive up costs for you. Proper maintenance management also helps avoid these occurrences by keeping your fleet in optimal working order.
I have a general manager in place, two service advisors in place, and a parts guy. I have an admin manager and a assistant on the office side. In fleet shops, we tend to be heavy on the front end. We’re heavy on the front because we’re managing these fleets. They all have different policies and procedures. It takes that admin manager to help learn how each fleet wants to do things.
I like to have all my positions backed up. If somebody is out on vacation, the business does not skip a beat. I don’t want that one or two people that the business is solely reliant on. I’d like to have everything strongly backed up.
We do very little gas. My rule is, if it has a trunk, we don’t work on it. The shop’s not big enough. It’s essentially half ton trucks on up to the big class eight and trailers. Now, we’ll do a gas pickup for fleet and we’ll do some of the smaller stuff. Say a fleet is 50% gas, we will refer that out to another local shop and they’ll refer their heavy, medium duty, medium duty and heavy duty to us.
They’ll pick up our light duty and we’ll pick up their medium and heavy duty. We’ve got a couple of arrangements like that and they work out well.
We handle everything from cargo to food and beverage, mail service, a lot of construction. We go into military bases here quite often because we’ve got the Air Force and Army here.
The best decision I ever made in business was buying the shop property – I still own it today (actually, I’m still paying on it today), but what’s cool about the whole thing is that property prices, commercial and residential, shot up here in the last eight years. It just doubled in value in eight years. This is a thriving city and a great place to do business. Just a lot of potential still.
We were up to 20 employees when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we scaled back. We needed to anyway. We needed to become more efficient and tighten our belts. We are down to 13 employees, not including my wife and myself.
My wife is the VP of the company. She came on about five years ago and she was a dental hygienist. She had her own career and I had said to her, “Holly, you’re making good money, stick with it in case I screw this whole thing up and I need to fall back on my sugar momma.”
Another great choice I made that was instrumental in what we did was to join Drive nearly 11 years ago. joined Drive when we were still mobile because I knew I wasn’t tapping into the potential that I had and the potential this business has. Between a combination of learning and growing and training Holly and myself, we got to where we’re at now.
What we have learned took me from technician to a business owner executive. Without this, I would still be a technician, service advisor, general manager and wearing all the hats.
I know guys who are running shops, but they’re still wearing all the hats. They are still working in the business, as the story says, rather than on the business.
So you’ve learned how to take advice and learn from people who maybe know more about certain things than you do to become a success.
Absolutely. We refer to our Drive consultant, Larry, as Obi-Wan. We take his advice. We’re not arguing with him about how to do things – No, we listen to him. We know they know. His advice is rock solid.
One of the things we’ve noticed this year. The team is so solid. It’s become operational. Is it perfect? No, however, it is more operational than it’s ever been and less dependent on us.
As owners now, Holly and I work three days a week, at the shop. The rest of the time, we’re taking consulting calls, planning, and doing things on the home office front.
Do you still work in the shop?
No. In fact, I would be embarrassed if they handed me a wrench. So much has changed. I worked on the trucks a little bit when I bought the shop, however, I had technicians and a service advisor in place then. As soon as I bought the shop, I got right into the office mode and started selling service and being a general manager and all of that.
I follow what’s going on I haven’t wrenched on trucks for quite a while. I understand the technology and the concepts still, but I haven’t wrenched on them for a good eight years.
So, Eddie, how did you first get started in this business?
I was working on my own cars in high school – we weren’t taking our cars to the shop back then. I didn’t do it for a living until I got into the fleet business. I was hired on as a young kid as a parts runner for a big fleet of trucks, trailers, cranes, forklifts. They did it all.
Eventually they handed me a wrench and I found that I had a natural knack at it. The next thing you know, I am buying a toolbox and tools and I’m pulling transmissions and doing clutches and doing in frames. I was good at it. Did I love it? Not necessarily, but I was making a living.
As I said, like a lot of kids, I had other dreams. For me and my buddies, we had a band and were playing around the state. I figured I was going to be signed to a big record label and I’d see the world. We were on and off again, but we stayed together throughout the years and got to be the opening gig when the national acts came through.
Our style of music was pretty heavy and most people wouldn’t recognize it, but if you know it, you know it.
Over the years, things have evolved musically, and I’ve written my own music that’s still a little on the heavy side at times but is very much more of a kind of storytelling sound.
That’s where I’m taking it now. Of course, my writing style has grown and evolved over the years. That’s always my therapy – it’s how I can clock out. It’s very hard to clock out as a business owner, no matter what you do for a living. If you can find the thing that helps you focus on something entirely different, you can come out refreshed, recharged and you can think clearly, with better problem solving skills. Everything’s recharged. If you don’t have that outlet or outlets, whatever it is, you’re burning yourself out. It’s so important to pursue those interests and those desires, those passions.
In addition to playing, I build custom effects storage boxes for guitarists. I love the equipment and the technology behind it – I wanted to create something that was kind of vintage, but functional, furniture-like, you could have in your office. There really isn’t anything like them on the market
I built the Pedaler’s Chest line of effect pedal boards to appease my desire, not only to create a functional solution, but to build something of an heirloom quality. Just about everything manufactured in our modern age is made to be thrown away in two years, sterile of character, lacking of craft, void of artistic integrity. I have spent many pleasurable hours handcrafting my ideas into the physical world. Each one is unique in its details and original in design. The line includes the Mini Chest, The Wizard’s Grimoire, The Vanity, and the showcase piece, The Vintage Chest. An upcoming line for gigging will be called the Road Warrior.
I’ll approach some of the boutique pedal manufacturers to use the Pedaler’s Chest to display their pedals at the national music trade shows. Then I can get the chests out there and still go and enjoy the show and not be stuck behind the booth.
I’m still in the R&D process because the line keeps evolving. I realized that if I’m going to put this out there, I need to protect it. So, I got a US patent a couple of years ago I just need to free up some of my time to finish it.
I mentioned that I love to write, and I wrote a book with my daughters in 2018. When they were little, my girls asked me to tell them a story and the story was really turning out cool. I figured I should capture it, so I started writing it down and reading it back to them. They would tell me, if I started going in direction they didn’t like, “Dad, up to there it’s great, but I don’t like this…”
So, I would take their advice and shift the story another way. In essence, they’ve been my co-writers to the story. What they didn’t like, I changed until they liked it. Because who better to be critics on children’s stories than the children themselves?
They were a couple years younger when this came out and I got to read it to their classes at school every year. The book is in the library now, which is really cool.
We did a book signing and sold books at the local Barnes and Noble. Did a couple crafts fairs here locally at the school. It’s available on Amazon. It’s just been a neat diversion. I don’t have to spend a ton of time on it, yet another outlet.
We’re working on a second book now. It’s written, but I’m working with the editor and illustrator now.
I believe that creative thinking is great to apply to business too.
Another gig I’ve started to develop over the last five years also is a life process that I developed for myself because I was working almost 24/7, just really burning myself out.
Suddenly, five years ago, I hit some bad health very quickly. I just wasn’t paying attention to myself and I was neglecting myself, as many of us as business owners and managers do. You come last.
It hit me very quick and in a bad way, I almost died in my bathroom, 3:30 in the morning, when I was 47 years old. I was way too young to die and it was a wakeup call.
I realized “I need to split my time. I need to utilize these waking hours better and I’m not going to kill myself with my business. I want to live, I want a life.” That doesn’t mean I have to leave my business to do this, though. I can stay in business and just divide my life up to where I’m not killing myself.
So, I developed the thing that’s has now developed into “The Life Calibration.” It is a simple method that divides up the areas of our life into three different circles. From the circles, there are spokes that branch off each one.
Of course, you don’t have to be a business owner to get stuck in a rut. It worked for me and I realized, “I think my staff might get something out of this.”
I started sharing the whole concept with my team and they embraced it. I saw several of them get back into something that they used to do and forgot about or neglected or some new thing that they’ve always wanted to do. It has been very moving to see some of them just run with the idea.
Lately I’ve been incorporating excerpts of it into our regular shop meetings – it’s like “Guys, we’re going to talk about acknowledging our emotions today. I know you guys dread it, but you’ve got to acknowledge your emotions.”
I get deep and we talk about all sorts of things. Not only did we all have our personal struggles prior to COVID-19, we all have our personal hurdles and problems that arise in life, outside of work. And then we have work and then you throw this whole social aspect on top of what’s going on in the world right now, and we NEED to talk about our emotions.
We are going to talk about tools that are going to help us step back and look at things differently. Yeah, I guess I force them to look at things, however, they’re all nodding when I’m talking about it and they’re nodding, “Yep. I see that. That happens to me, I can relate.”
I’ve been sharing it with a group of 20-30 shop owners around the country over the past couple of years. I’ve told them “Okay guys, you may not want to share this with your shop because you’re exposing yourself, that’s not a good feeling. But use it yourself. If you find that it’s working for you and you stick with it, or at least think about these things, you can share it with your shop if you want.”
It’s a very simplistic view. I’m not getting into the psychology – I’m not qualified for that. I just let them know that these are simple tools they can use to just back up and look these aspects of life from a different perspective.
It sounds like a real emotional, challenging thing to do to – to open yourself up like that, make it personal. That’s not what typically, as a boss in the automotive industry, the fleet industry or the repair industry can do very easily.
You’re absolutely right, but there’s something authentic and genuine about exposing yourself a little bit, that people will embrace. And people say, “You know what? We ARE all human.”
Yeah, this is a tough industry – but that doesn’t make us any less human. It doesn’t mean we don’t have these emotions. When I first started talking about it, it was difficult. But the more I talked about it, the less difficult it was, emotionally It got to the point to where I realized that the more I talked about this, the more it helped me too.
At Mobile Transport Repair, it’s our goal to rise above; to be the best at what we do. Through communication and friendly, honest work, we strive to deliver. There is nothing greater for us at MTR, than a completely satisfied and happy customer.
Through growth we create stability, and with stability MTR will enable all of us, our employees and customers alike, to succeed in abundance and to have happy fulfilling life.
Maybe that’s really what the rest of the world needs too, right now. It really does feel like we could use a little bit more of that emotional connection.