Creating Your Own Legacy
SHOP STATS: Gordon's Auto Service Location: New Brighton, Pa. Operator: Dick Gordon Average Monthly Car Count: 150 Staff Size: 5 Shop Size: 3,500 square feet Annual Revenue: $700,000
Growing up in his father’s business, Gordon’s Auto Service in New Brighton, Pa., Dick Gordon was preparing to someday take it over. For over a decade, he worked side-by-side with his dad, making the big business decisions together, bouncing information off of each other and learning from one another in the process—an owner with years of experience and a fresh set of eyes in the industry.
But when his father became sick and passed away in 1994, Gordon was in his early 30s and wasn’t as prepared as he thought he’d be to take on his role. He had to choose between giving up the business or picking up the pieces and running with it on his own.
“That is the hardest thing, when you are put in that situation and you have to make it or break it,” Gordon says. “Before, it was me and him. It was up to me from there forward.”
With Gordon’s mother helping him through the transition, he was able to take over the business the same year his father passed. Since then, he’s been able to keep the shop’s values in tact while making it his own. Now, his son, Ashton, has the opportunity in the near future to take over the business and create his own legacy, too. Gordon is now paving the way for his son to succeed.
Maintaining His Father’s Legacy
“He was a wealth of knowledge and people respected him,” Gordon says.
When Gordon decides to hang up the towel down the road, he wants the principles his dad built to be carried on. Working alongside his father for over a decade, Gordon came to know him as a respected business owner in the community. His father maintained a close relationship with his customers; he knew every customer that walked through the door. And, with this, people trusted his father, especially because they knew he would take care of them and their vehicles.
When Gordon took over the family business, he wanted to keep that same value in his shop, but he knew it wouldn’t be easy. It started with gaining the trust of his dad’s customers. Gordon knew that just because he was his father’s son didn’t mean he was going to automatically inherit those customers. He knew he needed to earn them and the best way to do that was through trust.
To gain that trust, he focused on the shop’s professionalism. Gordon trained his staff to be extra thorough with services, making sure nothing was missed and everything was explained in detail to customers. And as an owner, he wanted to ensure he knew every single customer’s name and face that walked through the door—just like his dad.
“It’s not about gaining new customers, it’s about keeping your current ones happy,” Gordon says. “And it’s not them just trusting you, you have to trust them.”
Gordon says he’s even turned away customers that weren’t comfortable with him fixing their car. To gain everyone’s trust, you have to weed some customers out that won’t add that trust back.
“You want to leave a legacy of always keeping yourself to the highest quality standard that you could,” Gordon says.
Creating a Path of His Own
While he first focused on gaining the trust of his father’s customers, Gordon’s also wanted to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
“We wanted to be the shop that someone looked up to, not following the trend,” Gordon says. “We already had a great reputation, so I had to live up to that more than anything and take it to the next level with innovation and technology.”
Eight years after taking over, Gordon added 1,200 square feet onto the original building and redid the office and lobby. Although he updated it to make it more family-friendly, the extra space allowed him to add more revenue streams that kept them up-to-date. For example, the shop added new alignment racks and a state-of-the-art tire machine to install tires, a service the shop never had before. The shop even offers vehicle restoration, which Gordon says breaks things up and keeps work exciting for his crew.
“It keeps you sane being in a family business: changing the shop and making it better,” Gordon says.” If you don’t make changes, you go crazy, because that’s what fuels you to go to work.”
On top of maintaining what his father built, he wanted the shop to be the top-dog in town, which meant continuing to invest one way or another in the business, like the latest equipment, the overall look and feel of the business, and having quality staff on board.
“You have to put a lot into your business every year to be successful,” Gordon says. “We wanted to be the shop that other shops looked up to and we’ve accomplished that through the years.”
Paving the Way for His Son
At 57, Gordon is looking to take a step back. One thing is for sure, however: he realizes he needs the right people on board to follow through on everything he and his dad have built.
Like Gordon, his son, Ashton, has always been invested in the business. When the day comes, he could see Ashton taking it over. And when—or if—he does, he wants him to create his own legacy from there. While he hopes his son takes it over in the near future, Ashton also has his own business on the side.
Through working with his son, he hopes to pass down what he’s learned over the years to him and that Ashton puts his own spin on it.
“You have to evolve slowly, but you have to remember where your roots are,” he says.
While he’s made sure to instill his and his father’s values into his son, his goal before he passes the torch is to use his son and others in the shop as a young, fresh set of eyes, just as his father did with him. At 57, Gordon says he now needs new, young talent to keep driving the business forward.
“You have to get people in the shop with the right personality and the right talent,” Gordon says. “A younger person’s ideas open your eyes most of the time.”