Build a Sturdy Multi-Location Business Model
SHOP STATS: Lake City Auto Care Location: Hayden and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Operator: Ben Prickett Average Monthly Car Count: 265 (Combined) Staff Size: 13 (Combined) Shop Size: 10,000 sq ft (Combined) Annual Revenue $1.95 (Combined)
Ben Prickett wanted two things in 2013: to leave the state of Texas for a scenic location, and to own an auto repair shop. Prickett—who has a business administration degree in automotive aftermarket management—stumbled across Lake City Transmission and Muffler in Hayden, Idaho, in March 2013. By the next year, the shop was his.
Under his lead, the business became “Lake City Auto Care,” a full-service general repair shop. The business continued to grow both inside the facility, and outside over the years—but it took some work for the community to get used to it.
“Customers were a little bit shocked, and I would say disappointed, not because they didn’t like us, but because they liked the prior owner so much,” Prickett says. “I think people had really grown used to seeing the same person in and out of here.”
There was a little reluctance in the area, he says, and some people weren’t accepting of the business—but it didn’t stop the shop from trying to make a strong impression.
After joining an Elite group, a majority of his peers were multi-shop owners, which kickstarted his motivation to acquire a second location. In 2018, Prickett purchased a four-bay shop in Coeur d’Alene, a neighboring town of Hayden.
“[The previous owner] was an honest individual, so we weren’t buying someone else’s problem,” Prickett says.
Over the last five years, Prickett has pushed to eliminate the negative image that some associate with the repair industry.
“I would like to think that, as people, we try our best when people come and go, that they leave with a better impression of not only us, but the independent repair shop in general,” Prickett says.
As told to Kiley Wellendorf
I live close to the Hayden shop, so I always go there first and arrive around 7:15 a.m. When I get in, I turn all of the lights on in the office and fire up R.O. Writer. I try to get working on important emails and tasks that need to be completed before we open the doors—whether that’s changes in the software before anyone is in it, or getting a glimpse of the shop before employees file in.
We have our shop meeting in Hayden at 7:45 a.m., and typically we go over any issues that occurred the week before, as well as things that went well. If there are any educational courses coming up, that is also discussed in the meetings. I usually take notes in my phone on things that I see around the shop, and then I bring it up during the meeting on Monday. My shop foreman also reiterates anything that he’s seen over the week. We try to get ahead of things as quickly as possible—especially if an issue arises. Since the Coeur d’Alene location is smaller—we only have two full-time employees—they have their own Monday morning huddle and cover issues together.
Prior to purchasing the shop, I came in and shadowed the business for a few days. That’s when I learned that the previous owner had Monday morning meetings. I thought the meetings were a really good idea and I’ve never stopped the practice.
I try to visit the Coeur d’Alene location at least once per day. I have an office in the Hayden location, so I’m primarily at that location the most. I will more often visit the Coeur d’Alene office around three times per week, and I usually spend around an hour or two at the shop on the days I do arrive.
Since the shop is smaller, I’m a little more limited on where I can work out of at that shop, so I sometimes remote in at the Hayden location to check Coeur d’Alene’s numbers. I can log in remotely for both locations, but I typically do that more for the Coeur d’Alene location. When I’m not over there or logged in, I check in with the manager throughout the day through text or a phone call. We’re not super formal, and because he’s worked at my shop up in Hayden, he knows the way we want to do things. He’s been with the family before so there isn’t really any growing pains.
We’ve had to really market ourselves in the second location—especially when we first purchased the Coeur d’Alene shop. When we decided to add on the second location, the prior owner was around the shop for two weeks, and there really wasn’t much of a marketing effort. We basically just introduced ourselves and gave customers our new business cards.
Prior to us coming on board, the previous owner didn’t really have email addresses on file, so we had to really ramp up how we received customer information. We didn’t have a really clean database to market to, so, as people came in, we really tried to capture email addresses and mailing addresses. I think they had roughly 15,000 customers in their database and 8,000 customers didn’t have a mailing address—there was really no way to reach out to existing customers.
When a customer walks in, we take down their address and phone number, and update their customer information. We really had to just introduce ourselves—some heard about us from our Hayden location, so that was a benefit. I know that we’ve had some customers who used to go to us in Hayden and have since switched over to the new business, and it’s worked both ways with both shops. We’re OK with that.
I would say our loaner fleet has been our most successful in-house idea. Today we have four loaner cars, and I actually have a loaner pick-up truck for a contractor in Hayden, and we have three loaner cars at the Coeur d’Alene shop. People have seemed to really appreciate the service. We haven’t had customers abuse the vehicles, and they haven’t come back in poor condition —for the most part.
To market our vehicles while they’re in use, we have the name of our shop and its two locations for the business on the vehicles. I think it’s our best return on customers.
We have a great staff here and I really appreciate everything they do. We’re a pretty close-knit group. I try to make lunch or grill for the Hayden shop on the last Friday of the month. I try to make the food so it’s more meaningful, and then we all eat together as a team. At the end of the year, we rent out a room at a local restaurant and have a Christmas party.
I really try to surround the shop with employees that aren’t here just here for a paycheck and really believe in what we do. Everyone is always willing to help each other out, so there’s really nobody here that’s selfish.
There was an instance where my brother visited and got two flat tires while driving in Montana, so I had to go trailer him back. It was Friday night, and two of my technicians stayed late to help. At the time, one was home with his family, and the other had his son’s birthday, and they both helped put four tires on a car. I gave them gift cards Monday morning at the shop meeting, and I told them how much I appreciate their help and that what they did really meant a lot to me as an owner.
I really have an outstanding group of individuals and I’m very fortunate to have the people I have.