Shop Life Shop Profiles

Scale, Efficiency and Maximum Potential

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How do you take a town with a population of 5,000 and turn that into a $5.7 million business? Just ask Mike Brewster.

Gil’s Garage was started as a two-bay shop in 1966 by Mike Brewster’s father. Its first expansion was in 1969 along with the acquisition of a neighboring gas station, including an additional three bays. Mike worked alongside his father for a few years before he fell ill, leading Mike to take the reins in 1985. Within the next year, Mike lost his father, added an additional six bays to their family shop, and had twins. While these may have been the toughest times in Mike’s life, they only made him stronger. He will tell anyone who asks that he is so joyful and laid back today because he knows what tough looks like, and anything else is a cakewalk.

By 1998, the shop had become so overloaded that it was nearly impossible to get all of the work done in a timely manner, leading to late nights and unhappy customers and employees. Mike’s initial solution was to add 10 bays, and increase staffing exponentially, but, before implementing that change, he realized that it was not be best choice for his employees or customers.

Mike is a Burnt Hill native, and understands that the small town of 5,000 people lives there for the schools and sense of community, and works elsewhere. This leads to a high demand for early morning and late night drop-offs, with the requirement that vehicles be ready for pick-up the next day. After careful consideration, and chats with his community and employees, Mike came up with an unconventional solution: a 24-hour auto repair shop!

Mike decided to create two shifts for his shop. The office is open from 7 a.m.–9 p.m.; however, the phones are answered 24 hours per day and they are staffed at all times. The cleaning crew (yes, with that many cars they need one every day) starts at 4 a.m., the first general service comes in at 5 a.m., Mike comes in at 6 a.m. and the rest of the office staff is heading sales by 7 a.m. This leads to a long to-do list for the front office by breakfast! The night shift has already repaired and set one entire group of vehicles up for delivery, and diagnosed another group ready for new sales to begin. This new process created an environment that not only made the team happy, but also worked great for their customers!

Mike’s next challenge was to figure out how to efficiently run 1,800 cars through a shop, and keep the staff and customers happy along the way. This is critical to his mission because his name and reputation in the area is bar none, not only with customers, but with employees, as well!

Mike considered many processes, but his secret cure came down to playing to his employees’ strengths, and having them only do what they excel at, and do it efficiently at all times.

So, what does this mean? It means that the front counter staff (very bubbly salespeople) only focus on sales. They answer phones, interact with customers, and drive sales. Once a customer has called and met with a front counter salesperson, he or she is handed over to the dispatcher. This person is great at prioritizing bays, customers, technician rotation, and understands automotive needs. Once the dispatcher assigns a bay and tech, the car is pulled into the shop. The technician will alert the front salesperson when a safety item is identified (speed of service in action).

The sales team will then either do a show-and-sell at the car, or they will take pictures to text the customer in order to help sell the job. Once the job is sold, the ticket is then moved over to the estimators’ area. This team is tasked with shopping around for parts, estimating the job, and getting the ticket back to the sales team. Once the price has been approved, the parts team takes over. The parts team is a group that has expertise in ordering parts, shopping around, and handling labor/credit claims. Once the parts have been ordered and signed off on, the ticket will go back to the dispatcher for service. The dispatcher will then assign the tech with the proper skill level to the project. Mike’s techs all have specific expertise, ranging from brakes, alignments, R&R, diagnostics and more. This ensures that the tech that can produce the car the most efficiently will perform the work.

Mike has truly been an innovator in the industry, and has accomplished what many people can only dream of. So, why do we always get to see Mike at 20 Group meetings, conventions, and out in shops? He says that it is because he wants to be around other excited and motivated shop owners, keep the business fun, allow himself the opportunity to continually learn new things, and serve as a mentor to others!


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