A Love of Repairs

Oct. 29, 2019
This shop owner has turned a passion for fixing vehicles into a successful business venture

At the age of 16, Israel Villavicencio was making a name for himself in the community for his expertise on fuel injections. 

From a young age, Villavicencio’s thirst for knowledge made him a stand-out technician and inspired him to follow his passion and open his own shop, Gearheads Transmission and Complete Auto Repair in Van Nuys, Calif., two years ago at the age of 40. 

 For over two decades, Villavicencio worked at other shops of various sizes and in a number of positions and had the opportunity to see what worked and, more importantly, what didn’t. Throughout his years in the industry, Villavicencio experienced customer after customer coming to him with a problem that wasn’t fixed the first time or customers that weren’t treated with respect and ripped off at other businesses. Villavicencio vowed he would never run a shop like that, and he hasn’t, which is exactly what has made him a Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Awards nominee. 

Make money the right way.

While working in other shops, Villavicencio heard it time and again: customers complaining about other technicians that didn’t know how to work on vehicles. Many of his customers came to him after another technician worked on the car and the fix didn’t work or the quote was very high and the customer wanted a second opinion. 

For example, Villavicencio remembers one particular customer that came to him after visiting a dealership. She was quoted $7,000 for a transmission repair. After examining the vehicle, Villavicencio determined that the fix did not require the removal of the transmission and quoted the work at $1,700. Thrilled with his attention to detail and ability to save her money, the customer wrote an excellent review and now brings her car to Villavicencio once per month for maintenance. By creating a customer for life, Villavicencio adds more to his bottom line, which is better in the long term. 

“How do we save them money and make money the right way?” Villavicencio says, as a motto for how he runs his shop. 

This is why he attends regular training and provides it for the other two technicians that work with him as a way to prepare for today’s advanced vehicles. 

Encourage feedback. 

Although he’s only been open for two years, Villavicencio says he already has a loyal customer base. One way he gets customers in is through his customer reviews. As a practice, he encourages all of his customers to leave reviews and also works with Mitchell 1’s SureCritic, a system that reaches out to customers on the shop’s behalf to get them to leave reviews. Villavicencio says that using the system has brought in about 10 new reviews per month. That, paired with positive customer service that encourages leaving reviews on sites like Yelp, is how Villavicencio has been able to quickly build up a reputation as a trustworthy business.   

Get involved in your community. 

Villavicencio says he’s focused on his community. Doing this has helped people become acquainted with the business before they ever need to bring a vehicle in. 

“That’s what builds a strong business—trust,” Villavicencio says.  

Throughout the year, for a certain amount of time, he donates 20 percent of every ticket written at his shop to his kids’ school. While doing good in the community, he also looks for ways to get the word out about the shop. One example of this was when he donated 100 T-shirts to a local theater company. The theater company agreed to let him put his logo on the shirts, so not only was he giving back, he was also advertising. 

Follow your passion. 

Even though he’s a business owner now, Villavicencio still works on cars. 

“I love working on cars; I couldn’t be sitting in my office all day,” Villavicencio says.

That being said, he needs to prioritize his tasks and only does light repairs. He stays organized by planning a day ahead for what needs to get done the next day so that he’s able to still do what he’s passionate about while running a successful business, which was over two decades in the making.

Next up for Villavicencio? He plans on opening a second location in 2020.

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