Repairer Profiles

How I Work | Greg Bunch

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When Greg Bunch decided to go out on his own, he started small.

“My original location was my garage,” Bunch says. “I had a license. I had insurance. … I worked for probably about two and a half months out of my garage.”

From there, it was onward and upward. Bunch moved into a 3,600-square-foot shop, which he soon abandoned in favor of a 5,000-square-foot facility. In 2007, he added a second location. And since then, he has opened three more.

Today Bunch’s company, Aspen Auto Clinic, in Colorado Springs, Colo., has five shops that together gross $7.5 million a year. Currently in negotiations for two more locations, Bunch successfully runs his multi-shop operation while navigating his company’s continued expansion. 

My vision has always been that my shops are well-oiled, well-documented machines.

I’m the guy that my employees get behind, because of my vision. Where I see this company going and what I want to do with it—that’s what drives them to work for me.

I want to motivate my employees to be the best, but I don’t want to micromanage.

SHARING A VISION: Greg Bunch focuses on the overall direction of his company, something he shares with staff through the business’s “The Aspen Way” manual. Photo by Denise Chambers

On an average day, I get in at 8:30 a.m. At my fourth location, I have my own private office. I never would have dreamed that as an auto shop owner I’d have this beautiful office. I come in and first thing, I check mail, emails and voicemail.

I get slammed with emails—advertisers, industry newsletters, etc. As far as communicating with customers, I rarely have to get involved; my operations manager handles 97 percent of any issues. My store managers send me daily snapshots showing car count, sales and gross profit. My managers find it easier to communicate with me via email, because it can take me awhile to return calls.

I try to spend at least two hours a week at each store.

I haven’t touched a car, to fix, in years. I haven’t written a ticket in years. I’m not involved with the day-to-day operations.

But I go in, maybe bring a breakfast and just talk to everybody: “Hey how’s it going? How’s the family?”  

Then I talk with the manager. I just go over things that I see that need some work. I also try to praise them for things they do well. I spend a lot of time in a mentoring leadership role with my operations manager and store managers

It all hinges on having a great manager. I learned that the hard way with my third shop. I went through two managers before I found my current manager, who is my superstar and has done a great job.

I learned from that experience before opening my newest locations. I worked harder to pick the right manager before I opened the doors, and I was even willing to delay the opening, if I didn’t have the right manager.

A great manager has the ability to lead a team and to drive sales. I do not have the time or energy to micromanage, so having a strong, engaged, committed, reliable manager to open a new location is critical.

I have what I classify as “knowledge work” to get done during the day. I need absolutely two or three hours uninterrupted—to write, study, whatever. Part of that “knowledge work” is marketing.

I’ve learned the mistake people make is they think they’re in the automotive industry, but we all have to look at it like we’re in the sales and marketing business, and it’s just a matter of whatever product we have that we’re selling.

It’s important to me that I have time to work on marketing ideas, in order to make the very best investment in marketing for my company.

I take the time to research TV, radio, direct mail, couponing, and how well everything works.

I come up with ideas, and I have people to execute those ideas. For example, I hired an employee to execute my marketing ideas, but I feel like it’s my primary job to stay up on the most cost-effective way to bring cars into the door or make the phone ring.

I would say the thing that has been instrumental in our growth and success recently is getting the leadership team together every Wednesday to work on drafting “The Aspen Way.”

I’ll sit down with my shop managers, the sales trainer and the operations manager in the conference room, and we will discuss our best practices. For example, what’s the best practice for building an estimate, or replacing a technician?

I hired a guy with a doctorate in developmental leadership to record and document all this to help me build “The Aspen Way” manual.

He’s written curriculum before, so he’s been good about facilitating the meetings and keeping us on track, extracting the information out of us and then putting it into written format.

Most shops in America are run by the mom-and-pop method, where the owner is the manager and keeps most everything in his head. That system works fine if you are only doing $60,000 to $80,000 a month. But when you are running high numbers, systems are a requirement to hold everything together. We have been creating systems as we grow, but have never taken the time to truly compile them into a master manual. We know that this is a mission that is critical to growth and consistency. As we hire new employees, having everything in a single book makes it easier to train and not let the little things fall through the cracks.

We’re not there yet, but once we’re done, it’s going to be way easier to open our new stores, because now we’ve got a manual to go through step by step.

We are in negotiations to open two more locations.

I’ve learned something new with each location I’ve opened.

I take my time to make sure there is enough money in the bank, or a large enough line of credit.

I’m not big into debt, but I do believe if I have a choice between borrowing money at 4 or 5 percent to buy equipment or shelling out that cash, I’m going to borrow the money. Then I’ve got my nest egg. If you come up short on payroll one month, you don’t have time to scramble; you need that cash.

It’s also important not to pick a location because it has the cheapest rent. Pick a location because it has good demographics. In planning my latest location, I scouted the area, looking at demographic studies and checking out the competition. I also had my hands around the marketing and staffing of it.

A lot of so-called experts preach that if you follow their system, you’ll be running your business four hours a week from a laptop on a beach somewhere in the Bahamas.

But for the kind of shops I want to have, which are high-end and have a good reputation in the community, I think the owner has to have a hand in running the stores. I don’t think he can pass that off to somebody and expect to have that reputation.

My employees and I work really hard to take care of our customers and operate with absolute integrity.

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