Running a Shop Shop Life

Friend, Not Foe: Fellow Shop Owners Can Be Your Most Useful Resource

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Shop owners are proud creatures, Lucas Underwood, owner of L&N Performance Parts in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, says.

Hubris is often an Achilles' heel, and shop owners are no exception to this when it comes to collaborating with others in the industry. Too often, shop owners look at one another as the enemy, when in fact, that person may have the answer they've been searching for. 

Underwood struggled in the early days of being a shop owner. He was overwhelmed and wasn’t seeing the results he wanted. He was this close to hanging up his owner's hat for good when he realized that he didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. The answers he was looking for were right in front of him. All he had to do was ask. 


Backstory

In 2007, Underwood opened L&N Performance Auto Repair in Blowing Rock, N.C. In the beginning, the shop was focused on diesel performance and pulled in roughly $15,000 per month. 


Problem

Right after Underwood opened his shop, the recession hit and people weren’t spending money on pleasure items, such as performance vehicles and accessories. There was a change in the market, Underwood said. Along with a change in the market, Underwood had a major change in his personal life⁠—the birth of his baby girl in 2011. 

During that time, Underwood was extremely frustrated with his shop. It wasn’t performing as he wanted and he said to himself, “I want to be better for her. I want to provide more than this life that we’re currently providing.”

Underwood felt defeated and was ready to give up the stresses of being a shop owner. He figured he could make just as much working as a technician somewhere else. So, he told his wife his plan, and she handed him a postcard she had received about technician training at the Automotive Service & Technology Expo (ASTE). Underwood decided to take the leap and sign up. 


Solution

As soon as Underwood walked into the training, he was approached by Bob Pulverenti, executive director of ASTE. 

“He said, ‘I see you’re a shop owner, why are you taking all these tech classes?’ I said I was done [with being a shop owner].” 

Pulverenti encouraged Underwood to attend a few management training classes. He agreed and took two. While there, he was introduced to other shop owners, and it became clear that he wasn’t alone. 

“It felt really good, knowing I wasn’t the only one with this problem meant a lot to me,” Underwood says. 

When he returned from the training, he joined the Auto Shop Owners’ Group (ASOG) on Facebook, where he continued networking with other shop owners. In the group, Underwood shares his problems, and he’s able to get multiple solutions from shop owners around the country that have seen proven results. 

“I was trying to reinvent the wheel when other people had already solved the problem—this was a wake-up call,” Underwood says of the revelation of the benefits of working with others. 

Underwood continues to use the Facebook group to his advantage, attends training, and even has his own podcast with fellow shop owner David Roman, where they share industry tips and interview others within the industry. 


Aftermath

Utilizing other shop owners as a resource rather than trying to solve every single issue on his own helped Underwood turn his business around completely. Underwood says the shop went from $14,000 per month in the early days to averaging $100,000 per month this year. This is with the same size staff and shop. Underwood says that within minutes of hearing people talk at the training, he heard solutions to his problems and his stress level went down because he knew he wasn’t the only one with these issues. Within weeks of implementing the solutions, such as the way he answered the phone, he saw a difference in how his shop was running and how his customers viewed L&N Performance.


Takeaway

“If you can work together and understand challenges, you can improve as a whole,” Underwood says of the importance of collaboration within the industry. 

Refusing to work together and viewing one another strictly as competition shuts down the lines of communication and doesn’t do the industry any favors, Underwood explains. 

“Changes and challenges are coming [to the industry] every day,” Underwood says. “If we want to reach a level of professionalism, we have to do something different than we’ve always done.” 

And, if your argument for not working with other shop owners is that you’re scared of losing clients, that’s on you. 

“If my client is willing to go somewhere else, I’ve not done a good job,” Underwood says. “Is it possible that a shop owner hears what I’m talking about and implements those changes? Yes. If that puts me out of business, knowing that I’ve helped someone change for the better, I’m good with that. If they get to be a dad or a husband again, that’s worth it.” 



Finding Your Network 

Looking to collaborate but aren’t sure where to go? Here are some good places to start:


Sign up for training. 

There’s no shortage of management training. A great way to start and find shop owners from around the country that can help you is to attend one of the many held throughout the year. 

Join a group. 

Check out a 20 Group near you for a great way to connect locally. There are also larger associations that represent a larger number of shop owners. 

Browse social media. 

Although trolls are common, Underwood says joining Facebook groups was extremely helpful for him. Start with the Auto Shop Owners Group and go from there. 






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