2021 Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Awards: Lucas Underwood
SHOP STATS: L&N Performance Auto Repair Location: Blowing Rock, N.C. Owner: Lucas Underwood Average Car Count: 61 Staff Size: 7 (1 advisor, 2 A techs, 1 GS tech, 1 apprentice, 1 porter) Shop Size: 3,500 square feet Number of Lifts/Bays: 9 Average Monthly Car Count: 121 ARO: $900 Annual Revenue: $1 million
That’s the mantra Lucas Underwood, owner of L&N Performance Auto Repair in Blowing Rock, N.C., has taken in his approach to educating and helping the repair industry. Through podcasting, training sessions, and community work, Underwood’s sole goal is to help the industry flourish with the insight of one key perspective: the voice of the shop owner.
It’s a perspective Underwood felt hasn’t been voiced enough. Underwood hasn’t always been successful. In fact, he was ready to close down his shop just a few years ago, as he was only pulling in about $15,000 a month in sales. And during those times, Underwood felt there was no outlet he could relate to. Everything he was reading and learning came from a “very altruistic” viewpoint on the industry.
There was nobody detailing the hardships and struggles and it wasn’t coming straight from shop owners. Then he found the Auto Shop Owners Group on Facebook, which connected him with shops that were going through the same everyday challenges.
“That was a powerful realization. You don’t feel like you’re alone anymore,” he says.
From there Underwood was encouraged to attend training events and his shop turned around. He also hired Rick White, founder of 180Biz and a shop coach. The pressure and stress he was feeling was calmed through constant conversation with shop owners just like him. He went from $15,000 a month in sales to around $120,000 without adding staff or expanding his facility. During COVID, the business saw 50 percent growth. Through May, the business is already up $140,000 from the previous year.
“I began to realize there was a better way to do things. I was trying to reinvent the wheel for shop ownership when there was already a system that worked,” he says.
Then, when COVID hit, the events were cancelled. Having recovered from his own business challenges, Underwood wasn’t actively searching for help, but knew that others were, so he started the ASOG Podcast with fellow shop owner David Roman.
Drawing from the criticisms he had as a struggling shop owner, his platform isn't just about success stories; it’s about the everyday struggles and rough spots those in the industry face day in and day out.
“It’s been extremely rewarding because every day we’re getting messages from technicians and service advisors who say, ‘I never realized that I had peers who were struggling just like me.’”
Underwood has continued that work within ASOG, serving as one of the moderators for the Facebook Group. He also sits on the board of the Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina where he has prioritized training both for those currently in the industry and those looking to join.
In those efforts, he’s helped roll out the organization’s apprenticeship program and is a frequent visitor at the local high school advocating for the school’s automotive program. The program, which only had five students a few years ago, now has a two-year waiting list for those eager to join.
“If there’s a way I can help to fix the technician shortage, I want to be a part of it,” he says.
To Underwood, addressing the shortage starts first within his own walls. His day-to-day work is focused on developing and training his employees, along with handling the shop’s marketing efforts. Every day he is making sure his employees are satisfied and improving in a culture that invites growth. Underwood estimates he’ll spend over $100,000 this year on training.
“We don’t just show up to work on cars. We show up to build a family and a culture that focuses on clients’ needs,” he says.