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Three shop operators share how they helped their respective businesses reach new heights

How They Did It

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“It doesn’t all happen by accident and you can’t fake it.” —Ryan Clo on the success of his Cincinnati shop, Debwerx.REACHING THE 'NEXT LEVEL'
HOW RYAN CLO TURNED HIS FLEDGLING BUSINESS INTO AN INDUSTRY STANDARD

Ryan Clo used to be concerned about marketing. He used to worry about his shop’s reputation. And the long waiting list for appointments that seemed to grow and grow every hour of every day threatened to burn him out and turn off his customers. 

Dubwerx, Clo’s Cincinnati European specialty shop, wasn’t always the pristine, precise and efficient example of industry professionalism it is today. Far from it, Clo says, and Ratchet+Wrench actually highlighted Dubwerx’s early transformation in a May 2013 story. That story, Clo says, was similar to many he hears throughout the industry: a shop operator struggles to fully control his or her business’s future and success; then a light goes off and the shop makes drastic changes to reach a point of profitability.

But what comes next? How does a shop go from good to great? Or, more specifically: How did Clo take what in 2013 was a suddenly thriving million-dollar business, build on that success and turn it into one of the Midwest’s most respected shops, one that will approach $2 million in sales in 2016 without having significantly expanded its staff or facility?

Reaching that “next level,” Clo says, isn’t as complicated as many think. You simply have to put yourself in a position to allow it to happen.

“People ask me all the time: How do you get X , Y or Z? How do you get that out of your business?” Clo says. “You have to create an environment where it can be built over time. You need to start by creating an environment where all of these things can be possible.”

HOW CLO DID IT:

For the past several years, Clo has adopted the “three-legged stool” philosophy when measuring his business’s success: “That’s a big differentiator for any business,” he says. “You need to focus on having a high level of customer [satisfaction], profitability, and employee satisfaction—and not necessarily in any order.”
That’s the foundation, he says, the starting point where true business building can begin.

“If any one of those three isn’t there, the others suffer,” he says. “There isn’t a silver bullet to any of it. It’s about creating that foundation, and then building from there.”

The right environment. A strong foundation. It all sounds a bit whimsical, Clo admits, but there are tangible ways to create this. He has already. With four full-time technicians, Dubwerx will top $1.7 million in total sales this year, and Clo has expanded the business to include an additional shop, Just SAAB Cincinnati, which he recently acquired and is in the process of overhauling. Clo now also works as a business coach. But what he’s most proud of is the stack of résumés that keep coming in—dozens of qualified techs clamoring to work for him—and his slew of five-star reviews from his ever-growing, loyal customer base. 

“It doesn’t all happen by accident and you can’t fake it,” he says. “If you create that foundation and have that environment, you can reach that point and do it the right way. There are some simple ways to do it.”

Here are four of them:

1. ALWAYS REINVEST IN YOUR BUSINESS. 

Keep pushing, Clo says. Never be complacent and never be “satisfied” with where your business is.
“It’s not about being overly intense or unhappy or anything,” he says. “It’s understanding that you can always get better and always improve, and that it takes significant effort and investment to do that.”

When Clo’s shop first started turning a significant profit in 2013, he was determined to shore up any other issues it might’ve had. He took those profits and reinvested them into a full redesign of his brand and shop (more on that in a moment) and increased training for his four technicians. (Equipment purchases and upgrades, he says, should be part of your regular budget.)
“Making a profit doesn’t mean you can now relax,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to see real change and growth in your business. You now have the means to do it.”

2. FOCUS ON DESIGN

A quick look at the Dubwerx website (dubwerx.com) might sum up the business’s transformation better than any words can. If you took a look, here’s what you’d see: a consistent, modern and recognizable logo; photos of people (the actual people who work in and have vehicles serviced in the shop) and the impressively revamped facility; more than 140 five-star reviews; bios of each team member; information on the business’s green practices and hiring strategy; and an overall brand image that displays the shop’s focus on high-end work in a comfortable, local environment. 

This was all by design, Clo says. 

“A focus on shop and brand design is one of the things truly missing in a lot of shops,” he says. “All of this plays into the environment your team works in and that your customers are attracted to.”

Most notably, Clo says the shop doesn’t look like a typical service center; “it’s more like a coffee shop or a Chipotle,” he explains. Even the uniforms (button-down shirts) aren’t “traditional automotive style.” 
Clo encourages others to “think outside” the norm of the industry. Be different. Stand out. He spent more than $300,000 in the facility upgrade. He added bays (each technician has two now), upgraded lighting and invested in new lifts and equipment. 
“You need to make your facility a destination shop—not just for customers but for employees and potential employees,” he says. 

3. NEVER STOP RECRUITING

That ever-growing stack of résumés Clo has? That didn’t come overnight. It’s a constant effort, he says. He has a tab on his website that reads “We’re Hiring!” year round, even when there are no openings. He regularly has job postings throughout the industry, and networks with others to meet the most talented people in his area.

“Profit and productivity start with the techs,” he says, and that was a big reason for the facility upgrades. “Your shop needs to be a step up for anyone who comes to work for you, no matter where they worked before.”

Keeping your team staffed with high-caliber people is the top job of any shop operators, he says, and if you look at those that are best at it in any industry, Clo says they have one thing in common.
“They are great at selling their ‘vision’ for the company,” he says. “If you don’t have one, that’s a big problem. And if you’re not getting that across effectively to current and potential employees, that’s a problem. Everything we do should demonstrate the vision of this company. It needs to be clear to everyone involved.”

4. DROP THE EGO

Success, Clo says, shouldn’t shut people off from learning more. If anything, he says seeing his business thrive has only shown him how much he still doesn’t know.
“I’ll work with other shops, or see the way others do things, and I’m blown away,” he says. “There’s no one way to do things, and no one has all the answers. There’s a lot of ego in this industry, and it [stifles] growth. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Stay open-minded. 

“We’ve done a lot of things to change this business. We’re not worried about those little things as much anymore. But it’s not like I just figured all this out. I can’t claim any of this is very original. I learned from others.”

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