Becoming a Trusted Expert
Bryan Warman first started working on tractors on his grandfather’s farm in his adolescence. He became enamored with the intricacies of the big engines, and how, when they were maintained properly, the tractor would get the job done, day in and day out.
He still has a tractor owned by his great-grandfather that runs as well now as it did in its heyday. It’s a testament to the work ethic and care Warman puts into his business.
Now, as the co-owner and shop foreman at Mike John’s Imports in Jeffersonville, Ind., Warman is taking a similar approach on a smaller scale—making sure the engines of his customer’s BMW and MINI vehicles are cared for correctly, so they do the same thing, day in and day out.
Working on cars is backbreaking. When my partner and I first bought this company, I had dirt under my fingernails when I shook hands with the bank. It’s impossible to work on cars and run a business.
When I walked in here the first day after buying it, I came in with my toolbox. The former owner looked at it and told me I wouldn’t be needing that for long. I’m sure every shop owner would say the same thing. You work on one car for five minutes and get called to look at something else or take a phone call or talk to a customer.
I do prefer the management side a lot. I have found you can sit in your bay and turn wrenches, but if you really want to help your community outside with your customers and impact the lives of people, ownership is the most gratification you can get. If you have to do problem solving as a technician, you’re going to get pigeon-holed. I like the challenge. I spend more time in front of banks and attorneys now than I do in the shop as an employee.
For anyone who wants to start a shop, our mantra is we are providing excellent customer service for a fair price with happy employees. Those three things, if you can wake up in the mirror and say you’re doing those, that’s the most important aspect to understand.
Any given day, we try to schedule between eight and 12 clients. We schedule them depending on what needs to be done to each vehicle. People will swing by for oil changes, about three to six a day. We have six loaner vehicles that are all BMWs. A lot of customers request to have the loaner as long as we have their vehicle. l shuttle people to and from Louisville. We’ll pretty much do whatever customers ask us to do in order to get their business.
Once a repair job is complete, the shop foreman will go out and put about six to 12 miles on the car. Every one of my techs is required to drive a six-mile loop before they lift a vehicle. You can actually mask system failures when you lift a vehicle. I have a lot of customers ask about it, they say they notice the mileage. We printed out our entire process and put it in the waiting room so customers know what we’re doing. It’s a failure in the industry when the cars don’t get driven enough. You’re trying to save your customer. A lot of customers get out of a Tahoe and buy an X5; you need to tell them and make them aware of everything about that vehicle. In the shop, we estimate everything that needs work, smallest to largest. We wouldn’t want them to put a transmission on a rusted frame.
As the shop foreman, I do a weekly walkthrough of the shop with the service manager. We walk the shop and take notes, which bay needs to be cleaned, move this there, clean up frayed wires, general maintenance. Trash needs to go out daily, and we have a floor scrubber, so every Monday night the techs roll all their equipment into the middle of the shop and clean the floors until they are clean enough to eat off of.
Before coming here, my partner, Daniel Allen, and I opened a shop called Monkey Wrenches. The idea was to build our name and equity with the bank with the intent to purchase Mike John’s in the future.
We paid a lot of money for this place. If I could recommend anything, it would be to buy an existing company. We had no money, we just started Monkey Wrenches with $5,000. Then we went from that to this.
You have to always practice like you want to play. When you turn the key to open your one- or two-bay shop, you have to act like you’re a 10-bay shop. We were one of the first and few places to get a Small Business Association loan from the bank at the time. The only way it would have been easier is if I had an immense downpayment.
Everyone told us we would never get any money or a loan, but the banks came in and saw the work coming in and out of our shop at the time, and none of the banks let on any resistance. We checked off every box, and everyone is eating their words. That occurred because we had our foot in the door, leased our business properly, took the risk and practiced the way we wanted to play.
I don’t see a lot of manufacturer specialization in shops, and I think it’s a big mistake. If you’re good at working on something, and if your market will allow you to do so, you should definitely specialize. You have such an upper hand if you are specialized. You know what to expect.
The workflow and the customer satisfaction are seamless. It’s 10 times more stressful working in a shop that repairs all makes of vehicles. I would hope to see the market understand that for the betterment of business. We only do BMW and just added MINI. We added MINI because the terminology and part numbers are all the same as BMW. We’re the only MINI Cooper service shop in the Louisville area.
The type of vehicles that need specialized service, most people don’t really know how to work on them. Most people do not know how to properly repair a BMW, and they keep repeating failure. They aren’t repaired correctly the first time and then it snowballs. ABC is your system; here’s where B failed, and here’s how it will affect C, and then A.
Customers can get some of these things done cheaper at other places, but then they’ll come back to me a few months later and become a customer for life.
We’re a market that’s large, we have 1,400 active customers, and 6,000 in our database. We average a one-day turnaround for 90 percent of customers. We have the market cornered without a doubt.
BMW definitely has an enthusiast background, and I don’t think customers would begrudge that. Their cars are so good and so different. All but one of my technicians drives a BMW. That’s their choice, we don’t promote it to them.
Nobody wants to be a mechanic anymore. Everyone wants to be a technician—a doctor of motors, not a grease monkey. When you work on BMWs, you are usually in a safe, clean—able to lick the floors—well-lit environment, and that’s what our shop is.
There’s a 35 year old I know who has no foundation in the industry. He played video games for 25 years, then went to school to work on cars, but it’s not the same without a foundation. My master technician is 45 and he has a lot more foundation than all my other techs.
Living in that era has changed things. The techs coming up now, the electronics is second nature to them, and that’s good. BMW has two fully electric vehicles now. I’m looking to the next stage. Our goal is for someone who buys a brand new electric-engine BMW to take it here to get work done over going to the dealer. We want to stay as current as possible. It’s exciting rather than scary.
You have to stay innovative and keep looking for ways to improve. If you don’t want to do that, then this might not be the best industry to own a company.
The only things I have ever preached about are quality and customer service. Those are the only things that matter. We’re cheaper than a dealer, but more expensive than some shops. On CustomerLink we have over 400 reviews and comments, all five stars for the most part. We love three stars—we love the opportunity to interact with someone who didn’t love their experience. We have never had a one-star rating.
We’ve earned it though. We worked our tails off to get here. The first thing we do is service customers, the last thing we do is fix cars.