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Focusing on Growth

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SHOP STATS: Legendary Automotive  Location: Fort Myers, Fla. Operator: Jason Stretch  Average Monthly Car Count: 160  Staff Size: 8  Shop Size: 3,000 sq. ft. Annual Revenue: $1.8 million  

After owning an auto repair shop in New Hampshire for a decade, owner Jason Stretch wanted to trade in life on the east coast for warmer weather and a chance to expand his operation. Overall, the Sunshine State just sounded like a better place to be.

 After sending out 140 letters to shop owners in the area, he sold his business and headed down to Fort Myers, Fla., where he opened his shop in April 2017.

Right from the start, he hit the ground running to find the perfect crew for his operation, while also implementing an organized system in his shop aimed toward constant growth. The result? He tripled the business’s revenue over the next 24 months and now pulls in $1.8 million annually. Now, his goal is to grow his one location to six, and he’s going about achieving this with a consistent plan in mind and finding willing, able people to help him reach that goal.

As told to Abby Patterson

On the days I come in, I try to get here by 9 or 10 a.m. and sometimes earlier to be a part of the production meetings. Production—technician and service advisors—gets here at 7:30 a.m. and meet with the sales team to know what to expect. Right when I get in, I check emails and check if there is any sort of communication from customers.

I use my time throughout the day to focus on different areas of the business. Each day is a battle; if you don’t spend the time going over what the battle will be like, it’s easy to forget things throughout the day. I don’t have a pile of paperwork on my desk to get through. Instead, I set aside days to go over different aspects of the business. I don’t necessarily use that whole day for that one aspect, but I put most of my attention on it. Depending on the day, it may be finance that I’m working on, it may be marketing or stats. 

For example, on Mondays, I go over stats and KPIs. I write out a battle plan and meet with managers in sales and production to go over where they are at now and for the month and what they need to do in order to reach our goal. On Tuesdays, that’s more of a finance day for me. I look at cashables and allocate money to pay the shop’s bills. And Thursday, I spend a lot of time on marketing and the website. 

It’s not a set schedule. I may move things around if needed; everything is driven by the numbers, so when we see problems arise, we tackle those first before handling the day-to-day operations.

Our manager forecasts our sales from the previous day for the next day ahead. With this, we can see where we should be by the end of the week and can really see how things are running, see if sales are off, etc. I can then put my attention on those things before I focus on other owner and administration stuff. For instance, sales were down last week and the issue was in production. 

When faced with an issue, first, I try to inspect the problem before correcting it—don’t jump to conclusions, do the research first. Second, I talk to the direct people in charge of the task to see what happened. Then, I look at the policies and procedures in place. It could be the flow of the shop or simply a lack of training that caused the issue. A lot of people are quick to yell at staff, but if you haven’t provided an efficient solution or training, you can’t yell at them. If the policy hasn’t been documented, I add it, and if it is, I change the procedure so it doesn’t happen again.

 It can feel like it’s going really well in the business, but feelings don’t get you anywhere—it’s all about the numbers. If the owner is not paying attention to their numbers, they are going to get what not paying attention looks like. Ultimately, you have to pay attention to your KPIs daily to hit those targets. 

I am always recruiting new talent, even if I have a full staff. It’s predicted the automotive industry will be short 24,000 technicians next year, which means the industry is one year behind schedule. And, because of this, I’ve been spending a lot of time on recruiting and trying to find the best. You never know what could happen in people’s personal lives that can affect your business, and the perfect candidate isn’t always looking when you are looking for them. 

People are still coming in to fill out applications and coming by for interviews. I set my staff up to understand that we are always looking for new talent, just so they don’t get weirded out that I’m hiring. 

So far, it’s been working really well with changing the message in the job ads. Instead of, “I need a service writer,” I’ll start off a job ad with, “A service writer is one of the most important parts of a business,” and people are like, “Wow, he gets it!” We do things differently than a lot of other shops. For most owners, it’s, “Oh, a warm body looking for a job.” And then, two weeks go by and they realize they aren’t the right person for the job. Bringing another person in costs a lot of time and a lot of money, so you have to find the right person right off the bat. I’m still continuing to constantly refine the process.

We are currently working on a recruiting program that delivers exceptional talent regularly. Across our industry, as far as techs go, there are not a lot of amazing techs that want to be the best; a lot of them want to just get by to pay the bills. You want them to want to care about your customers and want them to want to make that money. It’s hard when you’re operating at a top level, so onboarding those people and creating that process for hiring and firing is very important. 

This includes finalizing the manuals for each position, which I continue to refine each week. Along with this, we are starting to move toward video for training. I use Camtasia to record the videos on my desktop to show staff how to do a warranty claim, for example. It takes so much less time to sit down in front of a computer to create a training manual. I use Google for my business, so it’s easy to create dynamic training documents with a link to the training video. We are going to get away from a lot of stuff in writing, mainly because it’s easier to follow along with a video.

Really, it’s about making sure—as an owner in any business—that you have somebody doing what needs to be done. They know what their job is and know what they need to do to get it done so you don’t have to worry about it. It’s not as simple as throwing someone in there and going off to plan for the future. If I’m stuck in the business with people that don’t have that, that robs my opportunities for expansion. 

I’ve learned to delegate a lot of my responsibilities to my staff, however, I still am the main person working on marketing because I enjoy doing it. Success is really about creating a strict plan on utilization of your time. In order to expand, we have to have time. For example, I used to do certain standardized marketing tasks—new customer letters, referral thank you cards. Now, I have my delegated staff do that for me on Tuesdays. I even delegated the end of the day cashing out process—counting the drawer, making the deposits match and the invoices are posted. Delegating these tasks to my staff allows me to spend more time focusing on expansion for the future. 

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