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SHOP STATS: Markert Motor Works  Location: Lawrenceville, Ga.  Size: 7,800 square feet  Staff Size: 10 Average monthly car count: 170 Annual revenue: $1.57 million

With every sentence he speaks, Dave Markert—a road racer in his free time—sounds like a young man with boundless energy. 

As recently as 2015, though, he was much more weary, due to a career as a shop owner that had seemingly hit the skids. 

“I was in the process of losing my mind a couple years ago,” says the founder of Markert Motor Works, located in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville, Ga. “I built this from the ground up, and it was my passion, but I was on the verge of failing. 

“Letting customers down. … It wears on you on a daily basis.” 

One month in late 2014, Markert Motor Works produced a car count of just 16. A true low point occurred one day in August 2015, when a customer came to claim his car and noticed that five cars were blocking in the vehicle amid a chaotic and fairly disorganized shop floor.  

“It’s extremely embarrassing when a customer comes to pick their car up and you can’t even get it out of the shop, because you’re just blundering,” Markert says.  

Before long, the former industrial engineering major learned that working long hours means little if a shop owner is leading his or her business in an inefficient manner.

 

THE BACKSTORY

Markert, a long-time BMW fan, began his German auto repair shop in a rather illogical fashion in 2011. Student loan debt from his recent stint at Clemson University approached six figures. He had to borrow the first month’s rent for his shop from his parents.  

Oh, and he had no lifts for the first nine months at his shop, then located in the basement of a strip mall. He largely worked by himself in those first months in business. 

“It was an extremely rocky start,” Markert says. “I was young, dumb, and overzealous.” 

Eventually, in 2013, Markert begged a friend and fellow millennial who shared his passion for fast cars, Rob Eskew, to become a 50-50 owner. Eskew’s buy-in, so to speak, was providing two lifts for the Georgia shop.

“It was just too much for one person to handle,” Markert recalls of his business’s modest beginnings. “I would sleep at the shop sometimes, and my fiancé at the time was getting a little sick of it, as you would imagine. … She couldn’t handle me never being home. 

“So I had to change the way I was doing things.” 

 

THE PROBLEM 

Eventually, Markert Motor Works’ strip mall location grew to five lifts. But that hardly solved the issues. After all, the facility had just one bay door and featured a shop floor in which lifts had been laid out in a sideways manner, making it difficult to maneuver vehicles around. 

“Getting vehicles onto the lifts required multi-point turns,” Eskew says. And “there were support beams that we had to pull the cars through. … It was very tricky.”  

And, the 3,500-square-foot, basement facility was equipped with just nine parking spaces, which made for some moments that irritated the city of Lawrenceville, as the crew at Markert Motor Works occasionally parked cars at a nearby gas station or McDonald’s. 

“We had fire marshals always on us, because you have to maintain a certain footage of egress, and if cars were parked along the curb, we would violate that code,” Eskew says. “It was surely an obstacle.” 

Markert, Eskew and their employees were getting buried in work, and could scarcely keep up. In 2015, for example, the shop’s technicians averaged just 30–35 billed hours per week, while the shop worked on a total of 1,502 cars that year. Also, the shop’s annual revenue by that point ($1.15 million) was less than its owners had hoped. 

As a result of their sluggish numbers, in late 2015 Markert Motor Works’ owners decided to take a leap of faith and buy a $1 million facility that was more than twice the size of their original location. Though it took the young owners nearly six months to finalize financing, they eventually secured a Small Business Administration 504 loan in conjunction with a Wells Fargo loan. 

The business’s owners desperately sought a facility set up for optimal efficiency. 

“We were left with no option,” Eskew says. “If we wanted to grow, and better serve our high-end clientele, we had to get out of the dark and gloomy, moldy basement. We needed parking, more space, light, and something worthy of representing the quality of work we were known for.” 

With the new facility, Markert planned to take great care to make sure throughput would be maximized, and increase the inadequate average hours per day that technicians were billing. 

“The most important thing,” he says, “is how many hours techs are billing each day. They can be hustling and working hard, but if they’re not getting cars in and out in an efficient manner, then you’re not making money.” 

 

THE SOLUTION

Before moving into the new facility on the northern edge of Lawrenceville in April 2016, Markert thoroughly studied optimal shop layouts. He gathered advice from veteran shop owners, for starters. But he also sought the expertise of an old college friend from his engineering program, and the two envisioned an ideal shop layout through the use of a computer-aided design program. 

“We utilized SolidWorks’ CAD program to lay out the entire shop,” Markert says. We “basically optimized the shop from an engineering standpoint.” 

In other words, Markert laid out his new shop floor with supreme efficiency in mind.  Among the considerations the business’s founder considered when envisioning future workflow: parts intake, parts storage, and exterior parking. 

Now Markert Motor Works has an assigned area for parking each car that passes through the shop, depending on if the vehicle’s repairs are still in process, or if the vehicle is, for example, completely finished. That helps avoid any embarrassing shop traffic jams, such as the incident in the summer of 2015. 

Each tech has their own rolling shelf, transmission jack, access to power drops from the ceiling, and countless cleaning implements. 

“Doing everything in your power to keep the technician at their bay is extremely important,” Markert says. “Because, if they have to go to the office or something, they’re walking. And they can waste literally an hour a day walking around aimlessly, talking to the service writer, getting parts, whatever. 

“That was a huge thing for us, getting all the technicians to stop milling about.” 

Markert also decisively improved the parts intake and delivery system. Now, when a service writer sells a job, he prints the work order, puts the work order in a bin in the parts intake area, puts all parts in the bin, and then utilizes Bolt On Technology’s system to send a message via computer tablet to the tech. The tech promptly heads to the bin, grabs any parts in the bin, walks back to the bay and begins fixing the vehicle.

“Just having a process, and an order, to every single thing keeps everyone in motion,” Markert notes.     

 

EFFECTIVE, LOW-COST MARKETING TIPS 

Dave Markert has spurred rapid revenue increase at his shop and says creative yet cost-effective marketing campaigns have been key to that increase.    

The biggest thing is making a name for yourself, generating advocates out of your customers—people that bring you up in random conversations. Like, when your name is mentioned when someone asks, “Where should I take my car?”

Some of our service writers, my business partner, and my techs, they’ll run up to people at a gas station and say, ‘Hey, nice-looking car. Have you heard of Markert Motor Works? Check us out on Facebook,’ and then hand them a business card. Getting people to spread the word about you, it spreads like wildfire, much more than just pushing people for referrals, and direct mail. 

That’s your best marketing tool, is other people. You can have the best reviews in the world, you can have all the best marketing. But it doesn’t mean anything unless people are talking about you, and in a good way. 

 

THE AFTERMATH 

Markert Motor Works continued on the upswing in the final two months of 2016, doing around $160,000 per month in revenue. Annual revenue at the Lawrenceville, Ga., shop, which had languished at $238,000 in 2013, reached $1.57 million last year. 

These days, Markert’s crew continues to find a level of efficiency that was absent earlier this decade. In recent months, the shop’s technicians have, by and large, averaged 8.5 hours billed per day. One technician does 12 hours per day on average. Markert says the majority of his technicians average 40–50 hours per week. Additionally, average monthly car count at the Georgia shop increased from 125 in 2015 to 151 a year later. 

Markert Motor Works’ operators are optimistic that their uptick will continue in the foreseeable future. 

Oh, and Markert and his better half are nearing their fifth wedding anniversary. Markert says his stress levels have improved by leaps and bounds.  

“We’re closed on Saturdays, and I’m home most days by seven,” he notes. “The more efficient you are—the smarter you can work—the earlier you can go home.” 

 

THE TAKEAWAY 

Markert is still a young man, just six years removed from his college graduation. He knows he still has a few lessons to learn in the industry. But now, more than ever, he’s willing to listen to anyone and everyone who offers advice. 

“Talking to other successful shop owners, we realized … we had glaring inefficiencies with tech hours and with parts procurement,” Markert says. 

“Dave has taken much more of a leadership role,” Eskew says. “He works on the business much more than before, where he solely worked in the business.” 

If his first six years as a shop operator have taught Markert anything, it’s that you need to occasionally take a step back and view your business from a “global” perspective. 

“It’s very easy to get distracted with the day to day,” he says, “and not realize that you have glaring, grotesque inefficiencies left and right that are crippling your business—and wearing you out at the same time. 

“Unless you’re constantly, diligently looking at the business from a global perspective, you don’t even notice it’s happening sometimes, until it punches you in the face.”

 

EXPERT ADVICE

David Harrison, owner of Harrison Motorsports in Alpharetta, Ga., which opened with just one technician back in 2000, has been in the repair industry for 25 years. He offers his tips for building a shop from the ground up. 

Use any educational avenue you can. The Worldpac training classes, the associations centered on your market. ASE is good. 

Start small. Don’t go outside of your comfort range. If you don’t know how to rebuild transmissions, don’t offer to rebuild a transmission. Be what you’re good at, until you can learn to be more. Because, if you overpromise and underdeliver, you’re going to lose customers. 

If you’re young and struggliang, your normal reaction is to try to take in every job you can, because you believe that you need that job. If you take a job that you don’t do well, you’re not going to benefit. 

I’ve watched several shops that started around the same time as me fold up, because they tried to be too much to too many. Unfortunately, tenacity is both a good and a bad quality, you know? 

You have to realize that you can only do what you can do. And, when you shut the door to go home at night, you have to shut it off. Step back, do the parts that you can do, and work your way through. Compartmentalize without ignoring.

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