How They Did It
Aaron Stokes transformed his business and his life
A pivotal shift in thinking led Stokes to build one of the industry’s most respected shop networks
Every business owner has a defining moment—or needs one, Aaron Stokes says.
“Yeah, let’s rephrase that, actually: Everyone needs that one moment that pushes them toward reaching their potential,” he says. “For all of us, there’s something that holds us back. Maybe it was something someone said to us once. Maybe it was a bad experience we had—we failed at one point. Maybe it’s our circumstances, where we came from. All of a sudden, we have this in our head, that this—whatever that this happens to be—is all we are capable of. You set a ceiling for what you’ll accomplish. You put a limit on what your potential is.
“All of us, to reach our full potential, need that one moment where we break down that barrier, where we realize there is no limit on what we can do, when we truly believe in ourselves. Once that happens, man, your whole life changes.”
If this sounds a bit dramatic, well, that’s because it is; Stokes’ story of total transformation is dramatic. At the time of his “defining moment” (and we’ll get to the story of that moment later), EuroFix was sputtering. This was a business that, after Stokes founded it in a residential one-car garage in Franklin, Tenn., in 1999, built its reputation by grinding out work on the dirt floors of an old tobacco barn for five years. Stokes and his wife lived in front of that barn in a single-wide trailer, which was just about as narrow as Stokes’ view of the business’s future. Make this small business successful enough to support my family—that was his goal, and that was the ceiling he placed on his success.
Then came his moment in 2007, and the complete change of course shortly after. His business model changed, he overcame a nearly disastrous expansion, he roughly tripled sales, he quickly built his second location into a powerhouse, and by March of 2011, Stokes no longer saw a limit on his business’s potential.
To quantify it in dollars, in mid-2007, EuroFix (then called The Saab Shop) approached $70,000 in monthly sales. That March of 2011, that original facility did $164,000. The second location (which was roughly the same size as the first) did $224,000. And with his unique operational model in place, Stokes netted roughly $100,000.
“I called my wife freaking out, because we’d just moved out of the trailer and I didn’t even know what to do with myself,” Stokes says. “I was this poor, white-trash kid growing up in trailer parks with stains on my jeans and T-shirts. What do I do now?
“I didn’t know what to do, so I started wearing ties.”
STATS: EUROFIX/AUTOFIX LOCATION: NASHVILLE, TENN., AREA Size: 2,400–19,000 square feet Staff: 56 (25 technicians) Average Monthly Car Count: 1,200 Annual Revenue: $8 million
Stokes’ laptop died; bad timing. As each of the other nine members of his group took turns, he squirmed, knowing that when his name was called, he’d have to start with explaining the dead laptop.
“We were going up, one by one, and showing him our shop websites and explaining our business models,” Stokes explains. “And I’m just waiting until the very end for my turn to meet with him.”
“Him” was Greg Sands, who at this point in the story wasn’t the same industry celebrity he is today.
“He was like this secret, underground guru or something at the time,” Stokes explains. “His business was already incredibly impressive and he was extremely successful, but it wasn’t really out there in the public then. And our [20 Group] had the chance to go to a special event at his house—just the 10 of us—to meet with him about our businesses.”
When it’s Stokes’ turn, they retreat to an office at Sands’ home (dead laptop, remember?), and in the privacy of a secluded room, Sands pulls up EuroFix’s website and stops abruptly to study a photo of the shop floor. He asks for some numbers; Stokes gives them.
“And he looks me in the eye and says, ‘You’re too smart to go out of business. You have no reason not to be successful,’” Stokes recalls. “It sounds simple, but this was a huge turning point for me to have someone else believe in me. I still remember it like it was yesterday. Having someone else show that confidence in you changes the way you think of yourself, it breaks down all those other limits you placed on yourself. It was what I needed.”
A Budding Empire
If you haven’t heard of Stokes before this story, let’s just skip ahead a bit to where his business is today: With six total locations (four under the name EuroFix and two named AutoFix), his business did more than $8 million in 2016 with just 25 total technicians. The business’s net profit sits at 18 percent—and that’s a true net, after accounting for taxes, owner/corporate salaries, etc. He’s considered by many to be among the very top operators in the country, an innovative guru, who now has many shop owners seeking his advice.
How’d he get there? Well, it wasn’t a smooth progression. There were stops and starts—a new location for his original facility, already with the foundation poured, that had to be scrapped when the recession caused the bank to pull its loan in spring 2009. There was a learning curve in managing two facilities. There were bottlenecks that arose in implementing his workflow model.
In the end, though, each of those those potential roadblocks led to new concepts that pushed the business forward. When he lost the new site for his original shop, he decided to open a second location—and it thrived. Juggling two facilities led to him instilling company-wide best practices, and fine-tuning the processes that made the business a success. And each hiccup in workflow led to further innovation.
Today, Stokes says the success of his business comes down to just a handful of things: hiring the right people, putting them in an environment to succeed, and a firm belief in the limitless potential that still exists.
“You can learn anything—processes and systems and things,” he says. “You can know how to do all of it, but at the end of the day, you have to have the belief to go out and make that change. You need to believe that you’ll succeed. The moment that happens for you, everything changes.”