Running a Shop

Staying Busy and Striving for Excellence

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Shop Name: Madison Auto Service, LLC Location: Madison, Ind. Shop owner: Steve McAtee Average Car Count (week): 35-40 Staff size and breakdown of positions: 5 employees, 3 technicians Shop size: 4,000 square feet Annual revenue: $700,000

Steve McAtee was working as a line mechanic at a Madison, Ind., Firestone location in the 1980s when the shop decided to close and head over to a nearby town. McAtee figured it was as good a time as any to make a big move himself.

“I don’t want to get caught without a job," he thought to himself. "So maybe it’s time for me to open up my own garage.”

The product of that go-getter attitude is Madison Auto Service, which McAtee has owned and operated for almost 35 years now. McAtee has spent decades in the repair industry, putting in time and effort that has allowed him to reach the title of a World Class ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified technician, as well as garner a plethora of other awards and certifications along the way.

Even with the vast amount of experience that he has, he is constantly striving to learn more about his profession. He treats every day at the shop as a chance to expand his own knowledge, educate his staff and even pause to help out other mechanics in the Madison area.

“If I go a day without learning something,” he says. “Then I’ve missed a day.”

I usually get in between 7:30 and 7:45am. Waking up is my favorite part of the day because I’m ready to get things started. The shop opens at 8, but I’ve always had an “open door policy.” I base my entire day off when customers begin arriving. I figure, if someone is there a couple of minutes early, what does it hurt? If I’m in at 7:30 and a customer is ready to walk through the door, they can. When I’m not there to let them in, then they are waiting at the door for when I get there. Basically, my day starts before it even starts.

Next, I check the schedule. Usually we book out a week ahead of time for appointments, but there’s always someone who has an emergency. My day can end up going bumfuzzle right off the bat. Madison is a town of only around 12,000, but we’re always trying to squeeze people in and shuffle our schedules around. It can get hectic, but we like to help as many people as we can because I don’t just work on just Chevrolets or Fords, I work on motor vehicles. I used to always associate Ford with Ford, Honda with Honda, and Toyota with Toyota. But then one day I realized that these vehicles are all the same. They all work the same way. So I stopped looking at them as totally different animals. I like to help every car that comes to my shop, and when I classify them all as motor vehicles it makes it easier to approach every oddball vehicle that may arrive. We touch all kinds of brands here, but cars are cars. If you get past the nameplate, there’s an opportunity to really dig in and learn more about vehicles in general.

I look at each day as an opportunity to learn something new. For the past 10 years, we’ve been an ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) Blue Seal garage. I’m big into certifications because they are a great way to improve my work and provide an outlet to learn more as a mechanic. Over the last couple of years, I have thought about everything I’ve learned over the course of my career and how I could motivate my employees to want the same experiences. I’m 60 years old, but I still want to learn how to do better. I want to go for the gold. I encourage my employees to take training courses and get certifications. This is for their personal benefit as well as the reputation of the garage. I’m an ASE certified Master Auto Technician, and after having that title for 25 years I went on to become a World Class ASE certified technician and I’ve won the Napa/ASE Technician of the Year award 6 times. This is all to say that I am motivated to do quality work and continue learning where I find the opportunity to do so.

Lunch hour is from noon to 1 p.m. Depending on the size of my staff that day, I have to make sure both the shop and the office are covered. I only have one office employee and she’s my daughter, Lisa. I want to make sure she gets a break so that she’s not running on empty. I will drop all of my tools and cover the office for her. When Lisa first started, people would call the shop and ask to talk to a mechanic instead of her. But Lisa has been with the shop for awhile now and even has her own ASE certification. It’s really awesome because she can explain all the pricing and talk about cars directly with customers. She covers it just as well as a learned mechanic. Now, when I’m answering the phones I’ll get people who want to talk directly to her! So, the tables have turned a little bit, but I’m happy about it. I’m proud of the work she does and what she has been able to learn here. That’s huge.

The day goes by so fast, I don’t realize it’s closing time until it’s closing time. We could stay until 7 or 8 because of how packed our days are, but I don’t want to push my employees. We close at 5 and I try not to stay later than thirty minutes after we lock the door. Giving myself a cut off allows me to breathe and get away from all the telephone calls. We get repair calls all night with people calling at 1, 2 and 3 in the morning. People don’t seem to know what time of day it is when they call! But we will always get back to them because the most fulfilling part of my day is reflecting on the people that we’ve helped. We never turn anyone away, and we’re proud of what we do. I’m not here to do fast and easy work. We are here to repair cars. We can look around town and know that we are doing top dog work because other garages are asking us for help. This is another thing I look at as a learning and teaching opportunity. Pride is a big thing, but we will never refuse help to another garage because I think that’s just plain mean. At the end of the day it’s all about feeling good, helping others feel good and knowing that you took care of business in the best way possible.

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