Evaluating Your Current Location
SHOP STATS: Autovantage Service Center Location: Auburn, Calif. Operator: Bryan and Becki McGinnis Average Monthly Car Count: 180 Staff Size: 8 Shop Size: 11,000 sq. ft. Annual Revenue: $1.2 million
For Bryan McGinnis and his wife, Becki, their dream was to own their own auto repair shop, and so, when an opportunity presented itself, they leapt at it, even though they knew it wasn't the best location.
The path to their ultimate dream had the couple starting off in a 3,000-square-foot shop off an industrial road in Auburn, Calif. Going into it, both Bryan and Becki knew this location wasn’t the end goal, but they had to start somewhere, and it was what was available and what they could afford. So, when their shop, Autovantage Service Center, gained more clients and their space didn’t hold up to their expectations, the time came to search for other options. Bryan and Becki detail how they made it work until the ideal opportunity presented itself.
Bryan started off working as a technician in an independent shop, later working for dealerships. The last one he worked at was Auburn Nissan, which ended up closing its doors in 2008. Right after, he decided to open up his own shop, but he had to start off small. He and his wife, Becki, were able to find a tiny shop hidden on an industrial road near the Auburn airport. Bryan says the space was more like a drive-thru than your typical shop; the shop had three bays with no bay doors.
“When we started, we started the business from scratch; beggars can’t be choosers,” Bryan says. “It was a good size for a home, but not automotive repair.”
Lucky for the McGinnis’s, they started out with a hefty client list. When the Nissan dealership shut down, Bryan asked the original owner to name his price for his client list. On top of this, the old owner wrote a personal letter to all of his former customers recommending Autovantage Service Center—Bryan and Becki’s new shop—to them. This was a blessing, but with limited shop space, it became difficult to handle the workload. Their solution at the time was trying to shove as many cars in the shop as they could handle. Thankfully, they made it work—at least, at the time.
“We always had to watch our schedule to make room for everything,” Bryan says.
After a couple of years in the business, however, another problem with the location kept coming up.
“You’re so hard to find.”
“We had no idea you were here.”
Turns out, being on an industrial road wasn’t the best way to get exposure. They started off with a blessing of plenty of clients, but when new customers— or existing ones, even—couldn’t find the shop, they saw an issue. Many times, customers would drive by the entrance multiple times, never noticing the shop.
“Auburn is not a big California town; only about 12,000 people in the town,” Bryan says. “It’s one of those things where I thought word-of-mouth would work.”
Two years after opening the shop, they added another 1,500 square feet to the space. But, not too long after, they outgrew that space, too. And, besides needing a bigger space and more visibility, Bryan and Becki wanted to take control and take ownership of their own building in the future.
“After realizing we had paid someone almost half a million in rent, it no longer made sense,” Becki says. “I was not going to make a move to continue to pay someone else's mortgage. We were now thinking about retirement and our future.”
With all of these factors in mind, Bryan and Becki knew it didn’t work anymore.
“Pretty much everything you look for in a business, it wasn’t,” Bryan says.
One day, Bryan got a call from a friend who ran his own shop in the former Auburn Nissan dealership for which Bryan used to work for. He was looking to move out of his business and said the current owner of the building would be willing to sell.
The former space Bryan had worked in had everything they were looking for. The location was just off of California’s State Route 49, the main artery through Auburn, and was surrounded by thriving businesses: a marble shop, a dance studio across the way, a paint shop, an automotive parts store and a brewery. This was a huge opportunity for the shop to gain more exposure.
On top of the huge upgrade in visibility, the new space doubled the shop’s size to 10,000 square feet and a total of eight bays. Now, they’d have enough room for their current (and new) customers’ vehicles that walk through the door—much better than cramming vehicles in their barely-two-bay space like they had been.
Plus, there was no lease attached. Once they put their money down, it was all theirs. The McGinnis’s had $30,000 saved up to own their ideal shop, and this location was worth making an investment on.
“All the other buildings [we were looking at] in the past had been too small or were going to need a ton of improvements to get it where we needed the building to be. We never truly loved the locations either,” Becki says.
The minute the old shop was out, Autovantage moved its equipment in.
Before moving, the shop sent out emails, postcards, and notified customers every time they had an interaction with them about the move. And, before the new shop opened, it was closed for a week for the WORLDPAC expo in Dallas. While the team was gone, Becki got to work on making the location their own.
“Because the building had been used for auto repair since opening, it was set up exactly how we wanted it. All we did moving in was paint the interior and exterior, sealed the parking lot and added security cameras—those were the only improvements needed,” Becki says. “Everything went so smoothly, and that is how we knew this was godsend and the perfect building for us.”
Just one day after getting back from WORLDPAC, Bryan and Becki hit the ground running and officially opened back up for business. Just in the first week in the new location, the shop had new customers that were purely walk-ins, which Bryan says never happened at the other location. With a plateau in car count—1,752 for the year 2017, to be exact—walk-ins made a huge difference. At the end of the shop’s first year in 2018, car count was at 2,179, about 40 more cars per month than at the old shop. With this, ARO and revenue went up, too—$555 to $598 for ARO and from below $1 million to $1.2 million. This is all just after two years of being at the new location.
Investing in a location requires a lot of money and a lot of time. So, when you aren’t sure what you’re looking for or are just starting out, renting may be the temporary answer. But, once you have an ideal vision of what you need for your shop to succeed, Bryan and Becki learned that it’s best to take ahold of that investment and run with it.
“I can’t stress this enough, but for me, you have to buy. It’s a huge investment by buying,” Bryan says. “When we are all done, this building is versatile for several different spaces to rent out or buy.”
And because of this, Bryan and Becki can confidently say they’ll be able to retire early on to enjoy the rest of their lives. If they had jumped on any of the other locations they had their eyes on, they would have sold themselves short.
“Whether it was divine intervention, I don’t know, but it sure seemed that way,” Bryan says.