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R+W All-Star Awards

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If you’ve read Ratchet+Wrench during the last several years, you’ve probably come to recognize this annual issue dedicated to the industry’s most outstanding professionals. Launched in 2013, the Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Awards have increased in popularity year after year, with nominations pouring in from throughout the country. 

The process is simple: candidates fill out a short form sharing their candidate’s most noteworthy business achievements, along with their industry and community impact and anything else that makes them stand out as auto care pros worth recognizing. The editorial team carefully reviews each submission, discusses them ad nauseam, narrows the field to finalists and eventually selects winners, often after some follow-up reporting.

It’s not an easy task, but it is a rewarding one. The nominations are always impressive and serve as a testament to all of the industry’s difference makers striving to advance this trade day in and day out. But in the end, there are always candidates who rise to the top. Though they work in different positions, they all share a few personal attributes: talent, skill, commitment, passion and a drive to improve—not just for themselves, but for their colleagues, customers and the greater industry. 

Congratulations to the 2016 Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Award winners. 

View all Nominees


Photography by Kelly Embry






By Anna Zeck​


It’s hard to imagine that Douglas County AutoCare—now a 50-car-per-day, $2-million-per-year, 11-employee business—was once a simple three-bay, full service gas station in the late 1980s. At that time, Teresa Brewer was a newcomer to the industry and was along for the ride as her husband, the founder of the company, worked in the back and managed the shop floor. Since then, however, Brewer has become an integral part of the business and instrumental in not only the shop’s growth, but also the efficiencies, charity work and unique tactics that have made the shop a staple of not just the Douglasville, Ga., market in which it’s located but all of Douglas County

“Teresa is the go-to person at Douglas Co. Auto on everything from advice, payroll, HR, to what’s happening in the shop,” says Ryan Flanagan, digital marketing coordinator at NAPA AutoCare. “By treating her employees and customers as family, and being a part of the community, Teresa definitely left her mark on the city of Douglasville.”

As the administrative support specialist, Brewer is responsible for all front-office tasks, including payroll, bookkeeping, banking, accounting, and even service writing at times. And while managing those roles would be a large enough task, it’s the initiative she’s shown in her role that has made her an irreplaceable part of the business.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX: Teresa Brewer (near left) has been instrumental in implementing processes in the front office of Douglas County AutoCare that have resulted in improved efficiency and profitability.That initiative began when Brewer started a recycling program for oil filters and cardboard at the shop shortly after opening. Since then, the shop has put in waste oil heaters, retrofitted the lighting in the entire building, recycles antifreeze, and repurposes all scrap paper. The shop now saves $5,000 in utility bills annually, receives payment for the waste oil, and saves significant money on inventory costs.

“I’m very conscious of that, No. 1, we can save money,” Brewer says. “No. 2, anybody who goes to the landfill, they see that. Even driving up and down the road, everything is thrown out. Whatever we can do to help the community, we will do that.”

In 1996, Brewer installed and implemented the NAPA TRACS system and moved the shop to QuickBooks to help improve inventory tracking, point of sale and streamline accounting functions. The move has resulted in not only improved efficiency, but Brewer says the daily reports have helped improve profitability, as well. In 2016, after attending a NAPA meeting, Brewer also implemented Bolt On Technology’s digital inspection and lube sticker programs. The program has eliminated all hand-written inspections and many of the errors that occur during that process. It’s also helped retain more detailed customer information and allows the shop to communicate with customers via text, a feature that Brewer says customers loved immediately.

Finally, it’s those customers that Brewer tries to connect with in every way she can, both inside the shop and in the community. Brewer is a member of the Douglas County Chamber of Commerce, as well as sponsors Little League baseball and is a key member of the “Fostering Faith” program—a project that provides backpacks for foster children in the area during the holidays, in addition to outreach for those children. Brewer has been involved in this project for three years and has helped recruit, raise contributions, as well as build the back packs for distribution.

“Besides being a smart business woman, devoted wife and mother, and a wonderful grandmother, her passion is helping and making her customers a part of her extended family,” says Flanagan.


Photography by Jeffrey Ocampo






By Travis Bean​


This was it—this was the moment Charlie Marcotte was going to set himself apart. The second American Pride Automotive facility was going to expand his business, increase its footprint, help so many people in need of automotive repair in southeastern Virginia.

Yet, it sat vacant.

“I found myself totally scared to death,” he says. “I didn’t want to pull the trigger on moving in.”

Up to this point, Marcotte had been no stranger to overcoming the odds. Working out of a 10-by-20-foot storage unit for the first six years of his American Pride ownership, he slowly built his reputation in Williamsburg, Va., moved into a 10,000-square-foot building he remodeled from the ground up, and purchased a second building as the next step.

But the timing couldn’t have been worse: The Great Recession hit, and Marcotte knew he needed cash flow immediately to make the new facility work. What could he do to set his business apart?

A few weeks later, Marcotte answered that question by hosting the very first Family Service Day to mark the building’s grand opening—a community event of his creation in which his team fixed the vehicles of area single-parent families for free.

Seven years and 65 Family Service Days later, the Virginia-based American Pride Automotive has not only grown exponentially—from one location with an annual revenue of $196,000 to three facilities with $3 million in total yearly sales—through Marcotte’s passion to give back, but also fostered a culture of philanthropy in auto repair shops across the country.

And it’s that nationwide impact that made Marcotte the clear winner for the 2016 Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Award.

The rapidly growing Family Service Day—which has gone from partnering with 12 shops when Ratchet+Wrench covered it in December 2014 to 40 shops that have helped over 1,000 families in 17 states today—helps create unique cause marketing programs for auto care businesses to aid single-parent and military families through area non-profits. The family-centric day, which usually involves the local fire or police departments for kids, allows participating shops to connect with communities by offering free vehicle maintenance and education to families in need, including an oil change, tire rotation, and a 31-point inspection.

Marcotte can’t discuss his insane business growth, his dynamite shop culture, his motivated employees, his ability to invest in new technology and equipment and training without tracing it all back to Family Service Day. The revenue it’s generated for his shop through referrals and grassroots marketing combined with the philanthropic culture it’s built with his staff has produced truly remarkable results that prove investing in your community and showing you care about your customers can make all the difference.

COMMUNITY OUTREACH: Charlie Marcotte (left) started Family Service Day as a way to connect with his local community. Since then, it has turned into a national even that has helped more than 1,000 families in 17 states. “I noticed my guys were standing a little bit taller. Their chests were out further,” Marcotte says of his employees after the first Family Service Day in 2009. “And the word-of-mouth promotion from the effort was just unbelievable.”

The results show, as he’s been honored by the industry numerous times: Marcotte has won the local Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year, AAA Shop of the Year for two consecutive years, and JASPER’s Diamond Award—which recognizes the best marketing efforts in the nation—10 years in a row.

And while the program continues to gain national exposure and expand, partnering with industry organizations like Carquest and Advance Auto Parts and non-profits like Habitat for Humanity and Big Brothers Big Sisters, Marcotte hasn’t forgotten about the town where he started it all. His three-shop team has remained connected to its local Virginia communities by donating $5 from each state inspection to area nonprofit partners. Currently, American Pride is ahead of its 10-year campaign of donating $320,000.

Participating in local philanthropy has always been voluntary for American Pride staffers, but with the fun, giving culture Marcotte has instilled—which includes yearly whitewater rafting trips and renting out restaurants for employee dinners—his employees are always on the front line.

“It’s a culture thing. They need to want to be participating,” he says. “Everyone here is of the same heart. We all work together really well. It’s more than just employer-employee relationship.”

As his business and Family Service Day continues to grow, Marcotte will continue forward with his mission to unite auto repair shops for a common cause. Because although Family Service Day is about the less fortunate, it’s also a plan to make the independent repair industry shine.

“It’s not about making a profit—it’s what you do with your profits that really show the difference of the person. That’s what independent shops can do to stand out,” he says. “In the end, I don’t think anybody will care about how many oil changes we did. But if we can help positively affect others in the world, that’s something to be proud of. And that’s where we’re going with it.”


Photography by Erin Gamble






By Anna Zeck​


Rick Hughlett has held countless interviews throughout the years he’s owned Rick’s Automotive in Springfield, Mo., and he says it’s rare for any job candidate to arrive for the interview in a three-piece suit—let alone a prospective porter. But that’s exactly what Tim Cummings did when he interviewed for the position nearly 30 years ago and, according to Hughlett, he’s maintained that same level of commitment and work ethic ever since.

A single father, Hughlett says Cummings had already completed a paper route and gotten his daughter ready for the day by the time he got to the shop at 6:30 a.m. and turned the coffee on.

EMBRACING GROWTH:  Since starting as a porter 30 years ago, Tim Cummings (left) has become an integral part of Rick’s Automotive’s growth into the 40-employee It’s that work ethic and commitment that has helped Cummings climb the ranks from porter at a 4,000-square-foot, six-employee shop to an instrumental part of the three-building, 28-bay, 40-employee business that Rick’s Automotive has grown into today. And it’s earned him the respect of many in the industry—from the staff he leads each day to those whose passionate nominations made him a clear choice for this award.

“Because he’s worked his way in the shop from the very bottom, our employees trust and respect him,” Hughlett says. “They know he’s worked his way to the top. He wasn’t hired as an executive. Hardworking men respect him because he was the low man on totem pole.

Since he’s come up through the ranks, he knows what it feels like and he treats all the guys accordingly.”

At the shop, Cummings is known as a cheerleader who comes to work with a great attitude every day, takes time to form relationships with all employees, and is the main reason many employees have stayed with the company for more than 20 years. Cummings believes that offering good benefits to employees is, bar none, the most important thing you can do as an employer.

“You have to care about your employees,” Cummings says. “And to me, their family is always going to be more important than the job. I want to know about it. You only get one chance at some things. A lot of times in life, you don’t get do-overs.”

Beyond managing the staff, Cummings was also the driving force behind obtaining fleet accounts for the shop and managing the shop’s vendor accounts.

But his influence doesn’t stop there: Cummings is just as dedicated to what’s going on outside the shop. He is responsible for the shop’s charity work, including the Bike MS bike race, lending funds and time for Cycle for Life and Habitat for Humanity builds, and aiding in the planning of a run that helps local women pay for outstanding medical bills.

As the shop has grown, both in terms of scale and regional recognition, Cummings has become dedicated to developing the future of the industry, as well. He’s served every office of the local ASA chapter and served as master of ceremonies at the VISION Hi-Tech Training and Expo. Cummings also serves on the technical advisory committee at the local technical college and is part of the school’s mentoring program, which has resulted in several hires that have become long-time employees.

“He has dedicated the last 29 years of his life to help make being an automotive technician a profession instead of just an occupation," Hughlett says.


Photography by John Sherlock






By Travis Bean​


For your next birthday, what gift do you really want? What gets you really excited? What is the one thing in the world you want more than anything else?

For Tanner Jenkins’ 33rd birthday, the answer was easy.

“I just passed the last part of my ASE L1 certification last month,” he said in July. “My birthday is in June and I really wanted to get that done by then.”

With each successive year, the lead technician at CS Automotive in Brentwood, Tenn., is thinking about how to improve as a tech, as a learner, as a leader in his shop. And it’s that level of pride in and commitment to his craft and education that owner Kim Auernheimer saw five years ago when she hired Jenkins.

WORKING TO IMPROVE:  As lead technician, Tanner Jenkins has worked to improve efficiency and productivity on the shop floor.“It was just his personality and his presence,” Auernheimer says of that day. “You could really sense that he cares about the work he performs.”

Good thing Auernheimer trusted her gut: Since starting at CS Automotive, Jenkins has had a less than 0.5 percent comeback rate, and been crucial to the business’s growth.

And that impressive stat probably has something to do with Jenkins’ simple, yet crucial, all-encompassing life motto: “Do it right the first time. Every time.”

“He has such a passion for what he does,” Auernheimer says. “There is such a concern for the customer that he wants to do it right the first time for his own pride and for the reputation of the company.”

That attitude has not only virtually eliminated comebacks, not only ensured Jenkins consistently achieves 120 percent productivity and 140 percent efficiency, not only motivated the three other technicians on staff to follow his lead, but also, as Auernheimer emphatically claims, been the driving force behind CS Automotive’s growth: In five years, the company’s annual revenue has jumped from $680,000 to $1.5 million with a monthly car count of 209.

“Tanner has an incredible gift of recall and memory. I don’t know how he has enough room in his brain to do what he does.”—Kim Auernheimer, owner, CS Automotive

“His willingness to make the changes we asked, including inspections, estimating and training, were definitely a huge part of this,” she says. “He has been instrumental in leading the techs and helping us take our business to the next level.”

Auernheimer says the staff jokingly throws around the acronym WWTD, but, in all seriousness, the phrase “What Would Tanner Do?” exemplifies exactly the difference one dedicated employee can make to overall operations.

“Tanner is a leader not only in his knowledge and skills, but other techs look to him because of his ability to think things through, his dedication to the customer and the business, and his commitment to the industry,” she says. “He can play the game and still be the coach on the sidelines.”

“Our philosophy here is, ‘We’re going to treat your cars just like we would treat our own.’ And obviously if I work on my own car, I’m going to make sure it’s done right the first time,” Jenkins says. “So I carry that philosophy through to working on customers’ vehicles every day, and I want it to rub off on everyone else.”



POPULAR DEMAND: John Thornton is seen by many in the industry—both shop owners and event coordinators—as the foremost trainer for diagnostics. Photography by Mike Whealan.






By Tess Collins​


Type John Thorton’s name into iATN’s forum search feature and over 800 posts filled with praise for the diagnostic instructor will pop up:
“John Thornton is the premiere automotive instructor in our industry today,” one iATN poster wrote. “Most instructors, including myself, strive to be able to deliver what he does when teaching a class.”

The examples continue:
“John’s classes are the best out there.”
“John Thornton showed once again why he is the standard for training in our field. “
“John Thornton, in my opinion, is the best trainer in the country.”
“John is by far one of the best instructors. This man knows his stuff.”
“He’s inspiring. There are techs that I know who were fed up with the industry,” says nominator Matt Fanslow, shop manager of Riverside Automotive in Minnesota. “They were sick of the fight. They were fed up. After going to one of John’s classes, it was like a whole new world opened up. He reignited their passion.”

Former shop owner and industry consultant Bill Haas of Haas Performance Consulting echoes Fanslow. Haas says that Thornton is one of the most intelligent people that he’s met in the industry and says Thornton has a gift for being able to connect with anyone and deliver the information needed at their level.

The thought that Thornton puts into all of his classes, the overwhelming positive feedback he receives, and the widespread impact he’s had on the industry are among the many reasons he is a Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Award winner.

During the day, John Thornton can be found driving around the Chicago area working as a mobile diagnostic technician. At night and on the weekends? Thornton is inspiring technicians throughout the Midwest with his lectures delivered through Automotive Seminars. People come from far and wide to hear Thornton speak. One post on iATN said that hearing Thornton speak would make the trip from Massachusetts well worth it.

Thornton has never been the type of instructor to get up in front of a class and wing it. In fact, when he was starting out, he said he would videotape himself giving his lectures beforehand to make sure he was engaging with the audience and to eliminate any nervous ticks. When putting together the curriculum, Thornton and his partner, Tim Houghtaling, survey Automotive Seminars’ training technician customers to find out the topics that they are interested in learning more about. Once the topics are determined, the class is put together based on what Thornton believes to be most relevant information for a technician. How does he know what’s most relevant? Practice.

When Thornton isn’t running his mobile diagnostic company or teaching classes at night or on the weekends, he’s working on vehicles for research purposes. It’s not unusual for Thornton to spend a Saturday working on vehicles to better understand certain systems or the specifics that a tech would need to know to understand what’s going on. By researching and performing the diagnostics himself, Thornton is better equipped to go into the classroom and explain to others how to do it.

Through his mobile diagnostic business and research, Thornton has an arsenal of experience that he uses as case study examples to keep his audience engaged.

“Having case studies keeps the audience engaged because they have worked on vehicles like the examples that I’m using and have probably had similar experiences,” Thornton explains. “I show data. I have photos of the vehicle, connection and equipment. I also have scan tool data, scope patterns and wiring diagrams to show.”

Thornton says that the data helps emphasize the point while keeping his lectures interesting. Thornton believes that the worst thing an instructor can do is just talk.

Beyond his extensive knowledge of the subject matter and dedication to providing relevant and engaging topics, Thornton stands out as an instructor because of his approach to teaching. In his nomination, Fanslow pointed out that Thornton is able to take complex topics and relate it to something with which the audience is already familiar.

“I use the building-block model,” Thorton says. “Take something complex and break it down into smaller categories and build off of that. It’s important to remember to always link the next piece with the previous piece.”

An example of this would be when Thornton was teaching about air fuel sensors. Thornton knew that most, if not all, members of his audience were familiar with oxygen sensors. Thornton using that knowledge as a base and related everything back to oxygen sensors, which made it much easier for his class to digest the complexity of the new information.

Along with knowing effective ways of delivering the information, Thornton also knows how to build trust with his class. “If the audience isn’t comfortable answering a question, they’ll shut down,” Thorton says. “I’ll never put my audience on the spot or tell someone that they are wrong. I’ll guide them to the correct answer.”

Thornton says that it’s the job of the instructor to provide a technician with a strong foundation of how systems work and he’s dedicated to providing this for anyone who attends his classes.


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