Three Tips for Tackling a New Venture
“We’re pushing each other all of the time,” says Jason Lightbody, tire and oil manager at Houska Automotive Services in Fort Collins, Colo. “We want to find ways to differentiate ourselves and bring in new customers.”
When Lightbody joined the Houska team in 2010, the shop looked very different than it does today. Since then, Houska Automotive has added two buildings, mobile mechanics, a detail center and an idea that Lightbody pitched and was given the go-ahead to run with—a commercial tire service. Lightbody’s contribution to the shop’s growth and heading up the tire service is why he was nominated for a Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Award by Mark Vigil, a sales advisor at Houska.
“When I started out, I saw all of these missed opportunities with vehicles that were coming in and out of our shops, and tires weren’t being sold,” Lightbody says. “Bringing on tires has allowed us to expand our business.”
Since Houska ventured into tires in 2012, yearly sales have doubled. The first year, Houska sold roughly 100 tires. In 2016, the shop sold 9,600. Lightbody credits the culture at Houska for allowing his idea to come to fruition and says that anyone in the organization that has an idea and can show a potential return on investment has a solid chance of turning his or her vision into a reality.
Lightbody, a Michelin product expert and TIA-certified instructor, wasn’t an expert on tires when he started out—far from it. The then-service advisor saw an opportunity and pursued it. Lightbody shares a few of the steps he took when he started the tire center that can be used for tackling any new venture in a business.
Listen to Employees.
At Houska, Lightbody says the discussion is always about growing and diversifying.
“We’re always trying to think of ways to offer our customers something that nobody else can,” Lightbody says. “We all work together and push each other.”
Because of that, when Lightbody had the idea to add a tire service, he knew his pitch would be considered.
“The Houskas are amazing,” Lightbody says. “They know their best resources are their employees.”
The fact that the shop already had all of the basic equipment helped. The team was behind Lightbody’s idea and pursued it.
Do Your Research.
Lightbody didn’t let his lack of knowledge about running a tire center get in his way. Instead, he got resourceful.
“I’ve always been a self-starter,” Lightbody says.
Lightbody read books, listened to podcasts and went online to find business classes. He even created a library of helpful YouTube videos for his teammates to check out. He also joined a 20 Group for retreaders that he says has been instrumental to his success.
Find the Right People.
“We were venturing into something we were unfamiliar with,” Lightbody says. “When we started out, we had a bunch of apprentice mechanics selling tires. This wasn’t working. We needed the right people to sell tires and once we realized that, sales really started taking off.”
At first, Lightbody says that they were looking for sales advisors with a repair background. What he realized was that some of the technicians didn’t know how to relate to people.
“A retail customer coming in for tires has different expectations than someone that’s coming in to get his or her brakes checked out,” Lightbody says.
Through trial and error, Lightbody realized he needed outgoing people that could think on their feet and were capable of handling a lot of responsibility. In addition, since there’s so much to know about tires, Lightbody started looking at people that already had the knowledge. He linked up with a staffing agency to find candidates. He found people who were currently working in the tire industry, and he was able to get them to join Houska because of the company’s stellar reputation within the community and its competitive benefits.
“The staff I have now was hand selected,” Lightbody says. “I went after these guys because I know their reputation. They required minimal training and [we] just needed to get them incorporated into our culture.”