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The Necessity of Reinvention

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The Necessity of Reinvention
Inside one shop owner’s reinvention—three times over.

Today, Rich Fearing is the proud owner of three—soon to be four—locations in the Minneapolis area that are on pace to do more than $3.8 million this year in combined revenues. We all look at this and go, “Wow, that’s a good story” or, “I would like to meet him to see what he does!” It is a good story but what makes it a great story is that Rich has had to reinvent himself and his businesses three times in the past three decades to stay at the top of his game. Now that’s a man I want to learn about and how he did it.

Rich started out in the late 1970s as a general repair technician and then eventually became a transmission rebuilder working for a local franchise (a man after my own heart). He was very successful at his profession until reading the business opportunities section in the Sunday paper the fall of 1983 and saw an ad for a two-bay transmission shop for sale. That’s when the story really began.

Rich bought that tiny shop and Village Auto Works was born. After working nonstop, he realized he was essentially a technician that had a shop, not a business owner that ran a profitable business. That’s when he encountered shop owner Terry Greenhut, who became the first of his mentors. He worked with Terry by phone and attended one of his weeklong training classes. He came back with processes and systems that allowed him to grow to three shops over the next few years, averaging close to $1 million in transmission-only sales out of each store. He also set up an 8,000-square-foot centralized rebuilding facility to supply the other locations and an express lube oil change facility.

The world was great! That was up until 9/11. As the world faced this new crisis, Rich was facing his own, with a major downturn in sales and other independent reman units, such as Jasper, coming into the marketplace. Declining sales eventually resulted in the selling of two of the remaining satellite locations.

Now, Rich started his next reinvention. He considered diversifying into general repair work, which was a hard decision because three-quarters of his transmission business was referrals from general repair shops, so he had to be prepared to lose that business. He joined his first 20 Group in 2004, converting his only remaining transmission shop into his new business model, Village Autoworks. Joining the 20 Group shortened the learning curve in getting up to speed in the general repair business, but growing his car count quickly was still a missing element.

Then the slowdown happened again! Car count was stagnant and his numbers declined. He started draining his resources again. However, his next mentor was about to enter the picture. In 2009, while strolling the convention hall at VISION in Kansas City, Mo., he had a chance meeting with Tim Ross (and later, Greg Sands), who told him about Mudlick Mail and their concept. He called other shops using their direct mail program and “yes” business model, which included proper phone strategies, speed of service and convenient store hours. Those calls lead to a complete shift. His existing team told him that there was no way it would work but Rich knew it was time for reinvention No. 3.

He planned to implement saying “yes,” having great speed of service, adding convenient store hours (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and Saturdays to his plan. Prior to implementation, he told everyone to get on board or get off the bus and after the dust settled, he was down to just one remaining person. Rich knew he couldn’t move forward with a team that didn’t believe in the plan so he quickly got on Craigslist and recruited an entirely new crew. Once he relaunched this plan, the phones started ringing off the hook, everyone was saying “yes” and selling service and he was on his way to eventually doing over $1.6 million out of that store from just $800,000 18 months prior.

A few years later, in 2013, Rich took his largest former transmission facility and split the building into two shops, a full service general repair facility on one side and a European specialty shop on the other. He took those two shops to over $2 million in sales within the first three years and company wide grew to $3.8 million by 2017.

Rich’s story is amazing because our business can be very easy if we are flexible with changes to our customers’ needs and the industry as a whole. When we hire the right teams, have the right mentors around us, follow the processes put in place and, most importantly, we actually have the drive, you can see from Rich that this really is a great business to be in.

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