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Adding the Right People

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SHOP STATS: Quality Automotive   Location: Blairstown, N.J. Operator: John and Denise Stanley  Average Monthly Car Count: 140  Staff Size: 6  Shop Size: 3,000 sq. ft. Annual Revenue: $725,000 

What does it take for a shop to triple its revenue in just two years? Just ask Quality Automotive Repair in Blairstown, N.J. In a town of roughly 6,000 residents, the shop managed to go from $219,000 in 2015 to $660,000 just two years later by focusing on employees. 

Owners John and Denise Stanley both came from dealerships before deciding to open up their very own shop in 1996. The couple started out in a two bay shop located on the back roads and made their way to the shop’s current location, where they’ve been for 10 years now. Yes, moving helped increase the shop’s exposure, but revenue was still stagnant. With their dealership experience, they thought running their own independent shop would be second nature.

“For 20 years, we had no idea what we were doing,” Denise Stanley says. “We took our dealership background and just went with it.”

After joining the Automotive Training Institute (ATI) in May 2016 and adding on a service advisor a couple months after, the couple realized everything they’d been missing. And in 2019, the shop hit $725,000.

With her husband slowly moving out of the business, Denise Stanley has taken the reigns on the operation. To get to her goal of $1 million for 2020, she’s placed more of an emphasis on the people within her shop. 

As told to Abby Patterson

When I arrive at the shop between 8 and 9 a.m., I make sure to say, “Good morning!” to each guy. Right now, I’m focusing on employee engagement and want to make sure each employee feels heard and seen. After that, I talk to our service advisor about what’s going on for the day and if he has any questions or concerns. From there, I get up to the office and start doing repair order audits. I’m not consistent with what I do throughout the day, but this is something I do every day so they don’t pile up on me. From these, I am able to discuss any discrepancies with my service advisor and technicians.

I need to make sure I’m up to date on everyone’s performance. It’s important to have one-on-one check-ins every month to make sure everything is going well. I have one every month, and I also have my service advisor hold a meeting with the technicians every month. That way, they can vent their issues about the service advisor to me, and vent issues with me to the service advisor. It helps with getting the most accurate feedback.

Every week, I hold a “breakfast meeting,” where I buy everyone breakfast and I go over what’s ahead for the week. This is a great time where the techs can have an open-ended conversation with one another and have the ability to express any questions or concerns.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, I work on marketing with my part-time marketing employee, going over everything that we are going to push for the week. This year, I’ve been focusing on a lot of different ways to market. Recently, I was talking to someone in our 20 group that told me about a different marketing platform for direct mail, so I made the switch to try and grow our marketing. Once we switched over to the new marketing company this year and started doing direct mail, we gained 200 new customers. We received a lot of great feedback. I’ve even had people come in that I didn’t know and said they recognized my face from the postcards we sent out. I had a little celebrity moment from that.

We are the only shop in the area that does digital inspections with pictures. We’ve been working on our new Repair Shop Solutions software all year, and since September, we finally have the process down. So far, we haven't advertised this in our marketing yet. The funny thing is that the things we do, I forget they are special. I was recently talking to our direct mail guy and he said I need to tell people about these things, including digital inspections. Now, we are trying to let people know that we are here and different from everyone else.

Of course, there’s a tech shortage. The thing about any employee is that—in interviews—they are on their best behavior, and then they are onboarded and have a different idea of how they want to do things. In the past, we wanted to hold onto candidates because they were a warm body, and we realized that was the worst thing we could have done. We went to a couple of staffing and hiring seminars and I learned how to interview a little better. Just asking the right questions can reveal a lot more than you possibly know. If you ask all of the typical questions, they’ll know it’s coming. It’s about asking the odd questions that will give you an insight.

We started having staffing issues when we joined ATI because we wanted to do things differently. We had three technicians and two of them did not want to change what they were currently doing. It was an ongoing thing. We cracked down on our processes this summer after I went to the staffing and hiring seminars and realized I was handling my staff the wrong way. When we got our new digital inspection system, for example, it took a lot to get people on board to use it. Now, we finally have guys that understand why we are using it.

Our service advisor was our biggest contributing factor to our revenue growth in that two year period. Before we hired him, we went through a period of slow times and I didn’t know how to overcome it. When I was acting as the service advisor, I always talked to customers and held conversations like a regular service advisor would, but when it came down to it, I truly didn’t know how to execute a sale. When customers would talk about how they were going through hard times, I just naturally assumed customers wouldn’t be able to afford a certain service.

When I hired our service advisor, he didn’t know these people and he didn’t have a pre-assumed notion about them either. He just presented what the vehicle needed to the customer. He’s what we were missing in our shop. He’s a salesman at heart.

One of my personal goals in 2020 is to find my second in command to replace my husband as he transitions out of the business into retirement. I’m 57, so I still have about 10 years to go before I can retire, and I don’t want to sell. I want the shop to go on as long as possible and hopefully one day, it will run on its own. And to do this, it’s essential to find the right people to take on those roles.

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