Best of the Best: Family-Owned Shop

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Rissy_Sutherland Column Family Owned Shop

In my travels throughout the country, I’ve seen a lot of impressive operations—from the largest networks, right down to the smallest single-shop operators. There’s no one way to success in this industry, and shops of all shapes, sizes and structures can do well to learn from others that have different business models. 
With this thought in mind, I want to tell you about Kerry’s Car Care in the Phoenix area, one of the best-run operations I’ve come across. From its ethical principles to its innovative hiring strategies, there is plenty that makes this business the best of the best.


The Background

Kerry Nier started his shop in 1993 in Glendale, Ariz. Kerry grew up like I did by working in his family’s businesses as an automotive technician. Kerry and his wife, Denise, had a very successful single-shop operation in Glendale for years—and he had no plans to open more locations.
After a few years in business, he joined a top 20 Group to make his shop the best of the best in his area and met Greg Sands (one of the leading shop owners in the country and founder of Mudlick Mail) in the process. Greg was impressed with Kerry’s shop and, more importantly, his life ethics.
Therefore, he approached him about expansion. Kerry said no at the time, but intervention from above was soon to come!
Enter Chris Schultze, Kerry’s son-in-Law. Chris was in the Navy for 12 years, and then in 2014, he was getting ready to exit the service and investigating what he would do next. He respected his father-in-law, his business ethics and his goals. Chris felt he could help the entire shop to expand in potential—and locations.  
To show Kerry how serious he was on making this goal a reality, he printed out all his awards, recognitions and year reviews (a pile of papers over 2 ½ inches thick) and left it on the coffee table for Kerry to read. At this exact time, Kerry was having a conversation with Greg Sands again about expansion. Kerry knew this was meant to be!
Chris knew nothing about running automotive shops and he wanted to start fresh with the approach from a customer’s standpoint and a military man’s idea of teamwork and leadership. Therefore, he read some top books on the industry and scoured online training resources. His final training was spending less than one week at the Glendale shop before he was ready for opening day at the new Phoenix location!  
With his focus on team, leadership, a “say yes” philosophy, and speed of service, they blew the doors off the shop! Chris says, “I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to do over 900 cars in a month from the start so I just said yes and made it happen.”
Today, Kerry and Chris have three shops in the Phoenix area! They opened their first joint location in 2015 and the last week of June, they opened another location just 7 miles away with an opening record day again! Their shops average well over 900 cars per month (in eight bays) with 63 percent gross profit and excess of $1.2 million per year for each location!


How are they different in their approach to hiring and building teams?

Chris’s strategy was to go back to the military for recruiting managers and techs. The reason is that the core of these men and women is their innate ability to follow processes, people skills, organization, ability to handle all situations, and they often have built-in leadership skills. As Chris puts it, “Military personnel are trained to work with what they have to make it great and that’s what we need in our shops.”
For his new service advisor, he went to the barracks where he had stayed during Navy Seals training to recruit Steve Wind. Steve excelled at everything that was thrown at him, even moving from special warfare to administrative work. Chris offered Steve a manager’s position as a manager and provided him with the same training he had—read books, watch videos, spend one week in the shop, remove all mistakes you see, and run with the things that are right! 
Chris also recruits previous military personnel that are in technical schools, as they have GI bills for supplemental income while they are in school. They can start training in his shops and continue schooling while that subsidized pay continues to allow them this advantage.
Jason, another one of the business’s new managers, was unhappy working at a national chain competitor due to their ethics, pay, treatment and more. He was driving by Kerry’s Auto shop one day and his girlfriend told him, “You need to work for a family run shop like that.” Little did he know that an ad he would see one day later would result in a call from Chris and Kerry!


Kerry and Chris’s Biggest Tips to Success:

  1. Don’t say no to anything! Always say yes to your team and customers. The week before I visited the shop a customer came in with high-end wrought iron patio furniture and wanted to know if they would weld it … they said yes! That might sound crazy, but they just gained a customer right there. On another day a customer asked for help to hang a TV (yes, you read that correctly). The assistant manager, after installing a battery in the customer’s vehicle, hung the TV at the customer’s home!  Last week, a customer was not feeling well when he drove by the shop. Concerned it may be serious and he shouldn’t drive further, he said to himself, “I’m going to Kerry’s Auto shop because I know they will take care of me.” He made it into the lobby and Bobby, the general manager, immediately took him to hospital. It wound up saving the man’s life. That is customer service and a true family!
  2. Don’t hire the norms! Hire leaders with people skills. You can train the other pieces of the puzzle but you can’t train that.
  3. Keep Training and Communicating all the time! For true communication on processes, they all work together. Everyone in the shop understands the inspection and sales process. The sales staff will write up all work orders with an estimate, and then they will actually sell the job to the tech before they call the customer. The technician then gives him feedback on what was great and what needs to be improved. This allows everyone to fully understand the shoes that they are all walking in and why they are doing things the way they are. It’s easier to work together when you know everyone is giving it their all! 
  4. Systemize your business approach and follow it every time with communication. Shops that have no systems operate in chaos and disorganization, which results in less motivation, unhappy teams and unhappy customers!
  5. Never stop marketing! They do direct mail every week. They never stop. They send out 7,500–15,000 per week. It’s expensive but it pays back every time. 


Final Thoughts

Everything thing you see and hear shows that they truly love their customers and employees. Kerry says, “Our employees are our family we are a pay-it-forward team. We give them the best training, tools, pay and they give back to us. We all embrace this philosophy every day and they go above and beyond for it!” 
This philosophy is to do what is best for the staff and customers; if you do that, the money side will come. Bobby, the general manager, who was recruited from the banking industry due to his customer service skills, validates this statement.
“I love Kerry’s concept and how he runs his business,” he says. “It feels like he really cares about each and every one of his employees; that’s what brought me here. We have a lot of fun always laughing and making the most of everyday, which is crucial with how busy and stressful this shop can be.”
At the end of the day, both Chris and Kerry give God credit for blessing them, their locations, their teams and their shops. I consider myself blessed to have met this team, and I can’t wait for my next trip by to Kerry’s in Arizona!

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