When husband-and-wife team Chris Knuth and Emma Silvera purchased Star Motors in 2008, they had a distinct vision for their shop. While the existing shop had a solid foundation with happy customers, Knuth and Silvera wanted to take Star Motors to the next level by making it part of the community. Through a combination of community events, marketing and selective hiring and leadership practices, the pair has created a shop that is not only profitable, but also memorable.
EMMA SILVERA: When we took over the business in 2008, the business itself was solid. The clients who were there were happy. But we had different visions for the business. We were looking not just to keep it the way it was but to take it to the next level. We just wanted to make that customer experience the best that it could be, in addition to having high-quality repair work.
CHRIS KNUTH: Emma and I both come from very different backgrounds. I was a technician and worked for several independent shops. I was in transition and we ended up taking over a little two-bay shop at a local gas station on a week-by-week basis. Then, through the grapevine, a gentleman called us who had a BMW/Mercedes repair shop who wanted to retire and we ended up buying his business from him.
ES: My background is doing a lot of community service. I’ve been a teacher and I’ve worked in different community centers. But I’m an entrepreneur at heart. Taking over the shop was a learning curve, but Chris’ technical experience and my experience with different nonprofit organizations and building programs blended very well. Together, we were able to not just have a shop, but make it very unique.
CK: We definitely had our own ideas about how we wanted our business to look. The biggest piece we wanted to change was that the shop wasn’t well known in the community. I think we took the business from off-the-beaten-path to more into the public view. I think we’re more top of mind now.
ES: I just really think having a sense of community is really important. Knowing who is in your community and working together is so important for building relationships. In this day and age, it’s so easy for things to be robotic. We want people to have that feeling of warmth and comfort that I think is missing from businesses nowadays.
I like to look at a variety of different causes. We got out there and we try to figure out what’s going to make the biggest difference in the community. We have also helped out different high schools, we have participated in the local parades and decorated floats.
One of the most successful initiatives we’ve done is our art gallery. We have partnerships with one of the local galleries in our city and they show artwork in our shop. We have also developed partnerships with local artists so we’re always rotating the artwork. When we change the artwork, we’ll have an art opening and invite our clients to the shop for a fun night of wine tasting and art. It’s nothing but a nice couple of hours to give something back to our community. We’re right next to Laguna Beach, which is a huge artist community. It really ties into the area, our clientele and what they like.
We also incorporate the art gallery in our other events. We hold a monthly women’s car care event. We invite women (and men, actually) to the shop and we set up four different stations. One is about computers and your vehicle, another is about tires, one about fluids in your cars, and we have one station where they can ask the tech anything they want. We have food, raffle prizes, chair massages, mimosas and goodie bags.
We pick local charities but there are certain times of the year where we will branch out and do a national fundraising campaign, like the Brake for Breasts campaign. To me, that was a no-brainer because 100 percent of the money donated is going to the research.
CK: I love supporting all the things that we do. I think it’s really neat to make our business not all about auto repair. We’ve found that these kind of events are really important for our clientele. I think that’s one of the things that we’ve created here: a family atmosphere where our clients come in and know everyone who works here.
We focus our marketing efforts to continue this atmosphere. We send out a monthly print and email newsletter. In our print newsletter, we feature one employee every month. It gives our clients a chance to look at their more human side. We touch our clients in a lot of different ways, but our overarching messages are about community, teamwork and how grateful we are for our clients.
ES: Facebook is an important part of this. We’ll have fun giveaways, like guess the age of an employee and get a free oil change or movie passes. In November we get a giant pumpkin and have customers guess the weight, or in March we do a March Madness giveaway. We try to change it up so there’s something fun for our clients. It doesn’t have to be about cars all the time.
CK: We hire employees that have the same mindset. They need to really enjoy being with people and getting to know the customer more than just dropping off their car. I think finding those employees starts with the recruiting materials we put out here.
Even in the ad, you’re attracting the kind of person you want by what you’re asking for up front. We set up our expectations immediately. We have a training requirement where all our employees have to do 40 hours a year of ongoing education. We let them know we’re a drug-free workplace, how many years of experience we have, our work hours.
What I also like to do is ask that when they send their résumé in, they include a short paragraph about why they’re a great fit for this position. That works really well because it checks to see if people are listening and following directions and you can see where their head is at too.
Another thing that works out really nicely is that Emma and I team up for interviews. We both have a different perspective. She sees things that I don’t see, and I see things she doesn’t. We’ll also have candidates interview with our employees. So it’s six or seven people’s minds coming together to make a decision, rather than just one or two of us.
We also have weekly staff meetings every Tuesday. We cater in lunch for those meetings. It’s a good opportunity for us to talk about wins we had the week before, challenges, and our goals for sales, customer retention and quality. We always open the meetings up to comments and people just throw things out there.
ES: It gives all the employees buy-in to the company. We have very specific goals for our company but we also always want our employees to have personal goals, too, and helping them achieve those is important to us.