It’s his name at the top of the sign in big, bold, black type. And it’s his face that appears on the shop’s website next to the slogan, “Service so dependable, I stand behind it with my name.”
Yet, Terry Wynter knows that if he were the only person standing behind the business, the only person running Terry Wynter Auto Service Center in Fort Myers, Fla., the shop wouldn’t be very successful.
“If you’re a goal-oriented person, and your goal is to grow your business, you have to be able to change with the times and do what’s best for your business,” he says. “You’re not going to do this if you’re controlling every aspect of running your shop.”
That’s why he relies heavily on his business partner—his wife, Kay, a former mortgage broker.
Terry, 64, and Kay, 58, started their auto repair shop in 1996, and over the past 15 years, the two have grown the business into an 11-bay, $2.4 million operation that services roughly 600 cars each month.
And they did it all by tailoring their roles as owners to their own personal expertise. As they put it, Terry works in the business, controlling and operating the mechanical end, while Kay works on the business, handling the finances, marketing and other administrative duties.
“It’s one of those things, that if it were just me, we wouldn’t be successful,” Terry says. “And if it were just Kay, we wouldn’t be successful. We’re successful together.”
A True Partnership
What allows Terry and Kay to work so well together is what sets them apart.
Terry, a gear head with a lifelong obsession with fixing cars, has worked in the auto industry for more than 45 years. He’s worked for major corporations, like Sears and Pep Boys, as well as small, independent shops in the Fort Myers area.
Kay spent her early career in the financial world. With a degree in business administration from Appalachian State University, Kay had a successful career in the banking and mortgage industry. During all of that time, her only experience with repair shops was as a customer.
And that’s how she met Terry. She was a regular customer at the shop where he worked in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“One time after taking my car in for service, he asked me out for dinner,” Kay says, “and the rest is history.”
When an opportunity presented itself in 1995 to open his own shop, Terry immediately enlisted his wife for help.
“I had learned a lot as far as the skills in the shop—hiring, understanding cars. There’s not too much I don’t know about cars,” says Terry, who went through numerous management and leadership trainings during his career with Sears. “But I knew I was more limited on the business side of things, and Kay’s skills were a perfect fit. She came in and ran the inside part of it, the management part of it, the numbers part of it.”
They opened their doors for business in January 1996. Since then, both Wynters have remained extremely hands-on with their business: Terry oversees, prices out and assigns nearly every service order that comes into the shop; Kay handles all of the books and marketing.
“We don’t adhere to the absentee-owner philosophy,” Kay says.
Turning Passion Into Success
For as long as he can remember, Terry’s life has been about cars.
“Maybe I’m a little odd or little bit different individual,” he says with a laugh, “but I wake up thinking about cars. I go to sleep thinking about cars. I was made, designed, built and programmed for this type of work. I just love this business, and I love coming to work every day.”
Needless to say, Terry always envisioned running his own repair shop. As he is quick to point out, though, a lot of people jump into owning their shop because it’s a dream of theirs, not necessarily because they know how to be successful.
Kay has seen evidence of this in most skilled industries, not just auto repair.
“A lot of people are very good at what they do—they’re skilled mechanics or very good painters or carpenters or whatever—but they don’t always know how to run a business,” she says. “That’s why a lot of shop owners, when they go out on their own, quickly become frustrated and realize it’s a lot more than just fixing cars.”
Often, the problem is owners not relinquishing control of certain aspects of the business. They try to “wear all the hats,” as Terry puts it. Both Kay and Terry have witnessed this too often.
“The only way to grow your business is to take a hat off and share it with somebody,” Terry says. “I can’t think of a single shop that is successful—that is growing—and the owner is still wearing every hat there is. Doing every aspect, day after day, well, that’s a lot to take on. Sooner or later, you’re going to get tired and that’s going to affect your business.”
They both understand that not everyone is in their situation where they can lean on their spouse for help like this.
“It’s just that they have to, in some form or fashion, they have to be willing to let go and not try to do everything and let go of some of the responsibilities and turn them over to a qualified person,” Kay says. “That way they can concentrate on what they need to.”
They both agree that this comes from two areas: Hiring and training.
Finding the right people with the right background is critical in relinquishing control. An owner needs someone they can trust in managerial positions, Terry says, and it doesn’t mean it has to be someone like him or herself. “Sometimes those differences are what makes it works,” he says.
The two also focus a great deal of attention on training their employees. Simply put: More skilled, more knowledgeable employees will be better equipped to take on bigger roles.
“You have to buy into training, you have to have and find the right people you can delegate (responsibility) to,” Kay says. “You need your business to reward you, not frustrate you.”
Every major business decision for Terry Wynter Auto Service Center is made jointly between Terry and Kay. Even the name of the shop was a conscious decision by both to take advantage of Terry’s already solid reputation in the community, using it as a marketing tactic.
That reputation in the community, built over the past 15 years, is what Terry and Kay pride themselves on. They’re involved in a number of charitable organizations as well as local business initiatives. They work in various industry leadership roles (Terry is on the Automotive Service Association mechanical operations committee, while Kay is the first woman ever to be named to the A/C Delco advisory council).
“We want our business name and our names to be affiliated with projects and causes we care about,” Kay says.
Mostly, they want to be a successful business firmly rooted in its community. To stay that way, they need to operate as efficiently as possible.
The key to all they do, Kay says, is the ability to adapt. Whether it’s shifting a marketing strategy away from the Yellow Pages and onto the Internet, new and more advanced training, or shifting the roles of leadership, as long as the core values don’t shift, change can be a good thing.
“Nearly every aspect of our business has evolved in some way,” Kay says, “and we need to be able to be willing to change and make changes with the times if we want to continue to be successful.”
Terry and Kay proudly call themselves a family business and understand their responsibilities both to their customers and their employees. That’s why they don’t let egos or pride get in the way of letting others help to make their business better. It’s not about the name on the sign; it’s about what it represents.
“If there’s one thing that keeps us going, it’s that we have some great employees with great families who all depend on this business for their livelihood,” Kay says. “Our biggest goal or aspiration is to continue to service our customers and continue to provide good, stable jobs for employees. That’s what’s most important.”