Stokes: How Ratchet+Wrench Changed the Game

July 4, 2022

Ratchet+Wrench columnist Aaron Stokes looks back on the magazine's industry influence over the past decade, why it's a must-read, and what attracted him to the publication.

It's been special watching Ratchet+Wrench grow. 

I remember getting my first issue in the mail. It was different; it stood out. It had a cover with a picture of a shop owner and that had never been done. Other magazines would have a logo of the company, and you'd open it up and there'd be some pictures, but it wouldn't be about the owner. This magazine, as I was flipping through it, had huge spreads and big beautiful photos. You could tell somebody invested money in the photos, and it was big deal. I could see pictures of somebody's front counter, the equipment in their shop, the lifts they were using, etc. There were stats on their revenue, car count, and how many technicians and staff members were in the building. It was impressive—and it was all about the owner. That was special to me. It also showed how you can emulate somebody. Maybe in another magazine, I could look and say, "There's a shop I want to be like," but in Ratchet+Wrench, I would go, "Whoa! That's what someone looks like who does $5 million a year. I want to be like that guy or that girl." And because the magazine went so deep into the information on the owner, it made a difference. I’ve always loved that about Ratchet+Wrench. The cover may have a $30,000 per month shop owner on it or a $300,000 per month shop owner on it—it doesn't matter. The little shops have as much of a chance to make the cover as the big shops, and that's cool. Everybody gets an opportunity to clean themselves up, wipe the grease off, and get on camera (We're a dirty bunch, right, us shop owners?). 

R+W: An Industry Disruptor

It’s inspiring how Ratchet+Wrench looked at the publishing landscape and said, "There's been one way to do this, and we're gonna flip the script. We're going to change it." A lot of us with shops can relate. We go into a town, see an underserved market, and we see the competition is not great. “I'm going to come in there and I'm going to kick some butt,” we say.  And that's what happens and it's awesome." But then you see someone who comes to town with the same attitude, but doesn’t have the goods and can't make good on their promises—they can't pull it off. Ratchet+Wrench rolled into town, made good on its promises, and made it happen by identifying what was missing, filling the gaps, and providing more value. It gives pictures, detailed articles, and stats. It shows what your business could look like. Ratchet+Wrench gives a lot of people hope, and if they just listen to 10 percent of it, they'll improve. 

Sharing a Common Purpose

What inspired me to get involved with Ratchet+Wrench, was when I spoke at the Ratchet+Wrench Management Conference five years ago. Associate Editor Bryce Evans grabbed me afterward and said, "Aaron, that was an amazing job. Can you do more? Maybe you speak at the next year's conference and write an article for us." I said, "You got to let me share what I want to share." He said, no problem. Be yourself, don't hold back. It took off from there. I ended up helping with podcasts and coming back to speak at every conference since and to see Ratchet+Wrench grow to become a dominant player has been cool to see. It’s funny because when Bryce was asking me if he could write an article on me in 2015, I dodged him. I knew what I was doing was unique, and I wasn’t ready to share all of it (I was scared, to be honest). I didn't want the limelight. I wanted to stay in the shadows. Finally, our stars aligned, we connected (I finally got brave), and it's been a fun ride, I enjoy. I love helping shop owners and giving them free info that, if they'll execute on it, could be life-changing. I also love knowing I can have a significant impact on someone's life. It's not just about making money, it's about helping people for me and for R+W. 

About the Author

Aaron Stokes

A nearly 20-year veteran of the automotive repair industry, Aaron Stokes grew his business, AutoFix, from a one-car garage to a six-shop operation that is widely regarded as one of the top repair businesses in the country. Stokes, the founder of Shop Fix Academy, is an operational guru with a unique business and leadership philosophy that has led his business to great heights.

Sponsored Recommendations

Find the right shop management system to boost your efficiency

Find the right shop management system to aid in efficient scheduling, communication and payment processing

Craft a strategic marketing plan

Develop strategies and communicate them to your staff to keep you on track

Establish and track your KPIs: Technician Productivity

WHAT IT IS: Technician productivity refers to the time a technician is available to work measured against the actual time spent working on positive cash flow repair orders. Tracking...

Empower your technicians with the right tools for efficient repairs

Foster a highly motivated and efficient team to get vehicles out the door faster