How I Work | Jimmy Alauria
Jimmy Alauria, 37, knows his place in his business, and it’s not out in the shop. Although he grew up in 3A Automotive in Phoenix, Ariz., the shop his father founded along with Alauria’s grandfather and uncle, he isn’t going to be turning any wrenches.
And it’s that lack of technical work that serves as his biggest strength, he says.
“I really just think that the key to the success of any shop is really just making sure the owner is doing their job,” he says. “If there was anything I could give advice to, it would be to stay out of the back and run the business. That’s your job; that’s my job, and I work hard at it.”
Alauria has gone from a green operator in 2001—fresh off a brief career in minor league hockey—to building 3A into a million-dollar operation and building himself into one of the industry’s top speakers, delivering national seminars for Management Success!.
I never planned on taking over my father’s shop, and honestly, I never wanted to. So, no, I never really imagined being where I am now, running the shop and giving seminars across the country to other repair shop owners.
I grew up in the shop, but I never really worked there until 2000. I had a couple of knee injuries and an empty bank account, so I just hung ’em up, as they say, and stopped playing hockey. Until then, my dad’s shop had never been more than a summer job to me.
It was always the “three As”—that was my dad, my grandpa and my uncle. They started the shop in 1975. My grandfather was an entrepreneur since the time he was 18, and my dad was the natural mechanic. My grandpa just saw my dad’s and my uncle’s work ethic and my dad’s passion for cars and saw the real opportunity there. My uncle only stayed on for a couple years or so, then it was just my dad and my grandpa.
My grandpa always handled the business side of things for my dad just to let him focus on fixing the cars.
That’s the way I try to handle it today—I try to get the business side of it out of the way for my team, so that they can do what they’re best at.
It’s only been about 11 years or so since I took over full-time, but I’m at the point now where I don’t have to be in there all day, every day. I have great people in there, and they all know what they’re doing.
Tuesdays, though, are our big days in the shop, as far as meetings and planning. Everyone is in the shop on Tuesdays, so we have a full staff meeting at lunch. We’ll bring in some food, and we go over everything, have kind of an open forum.
So, my mornings are spent getting ready for that. What I’m looking at is the numbers. We manage the shop by statistics. By Tuesday, we have all our numbers from the week before put together. I’m looking at how many cars we brought in, what the average ticket price was, how many new customers we got last week—that’s a really big one for us, right now, because we’re making a big push with spending a lot of marketing money on our new website and building our web presence, and we’re doing a lot of direct mail. These numbers are great indicators of our marketing—and how our sales staff is doing.
When everyone rolls in for the meeting at lunch, we usually have lunch for them. Then, we let everyone in on all the numbers; we want everyone to know what’s going on from a day-to-day, week-to-week basis.
We’ll acknowledge people for a good week. We’re on a production pay system, so sometimes we’ll be handing out bonuses at the meeting.
And then we’ll go over any important information going on and what our plans in the near future are.
I learned pretty early on in running the shop that the best way to keep people on board with what’s going on is to keep them in the loop, to explain your decision so that they understand there’s a reason behind it. That way it’s not some arbitrary thing you’re throwing at them.
When I first came back to my dad’s shop, I never planned on taking it over. I had a marketing degree from college, and I always planned on running a business of some kind, but my only goal was to get my dad to where he didn’t have to come into work anymore.
My dad had really solid systems in place already in the shop, so it took only about a year and a half, and then I was in charge.
It was hard at first getting the team on board with everything I was doing. I wanted to make some changes—and they were to improve things in the shop—and it didn’t go over so well. I remember being really frustrated one day and talking with my dad about it. He told me that the one thing that has kept him coming back to this business for the last 25 years is that he owns it, and if he doesn’t like something, he changes it.
He gave me this new sense of control in that I should like working here. And if there’s something I don’t like about it, then change it because it’s our business.
That lesson has stuck with me ever since then.
After our staff meeting, I’ll sit down with our bookkeeper. When I took the shop over, I think we had done about $800,000 or so in sales in 2000. My goal for the first year was to top $1 million, and we did. When that happened, we really needed to have someone full-time to keep track of our finances; we were just starting to get too big.
I think that’s a really important piece. People can undervalue having accurate information, financially. As a business owner, you really need to always know where you’re at, because if you don’t, you could be losing money and not even realize it, and it’s for no other reason than just not having accurate records.
Then, I have a marketing meeting. This was sort of my passion area when I took over, and it’s where we made a pretty big jump early on. We went out and got a lot of fleet work right away. Most of that was simply by personal marketing—I took my dad with me, because everyone knew his reputation, and we went out to these different companies nearby and sold them on having us work on their fleets. We got one account that spent $50,000 in the first year with us.
Today, our marketing is geared toward online and generating new customers. We track all the numbers of where customers are coming in from, whether it’s because of an oil change mailer we sent out or the website or social media, whatever it is. Knowing the numbers lets us know what’s working.
When I first came back to the shop in 2000, I took any and every management class I could get my hands on. I took a service writing class, I took a shop owner training course. As soon as my dad was set to retire, he told me that even though I had my college degree, I still needed training in how to run a shop.
That’s when I first started working with Management Success!. For those first five years, I probably took every single course they offered. And, eventually they asked if I’d start delivering some of their seminars. I did it for a while, and eventually, I took over their main one, which I’m still doing today.
I’m married, but no kids yet. Most of my weekends are spent traveling to deliver these seminars. I enjoy it; it’s fun. I also appreciate the amount of help it gave me when I was starting out.
Knowledge equals control. So the more knowledge a shop owner has or a management team has, the more control they will have over their business.
I’m always studying. I’m always reading new books. You’re never going to know everything about this business, but if you can continue to study, it doesn’t take long to be one of the top people in this business, if you keep studying.
I never pictured myself doing this for my career, but the real fun is building a business where all the technicians and employees make good money and live a good lifestyle. That’s my job as an owner.