A Look Back, A Leap Forward

Aug. 4, 2020

With 100 issues under its belt, Ratchet+Wrench reflects on how the industry has and continues to evolve. 

In 1954, Roger Bannister achieved what seemed to be an impossible feat: He ran a mile in under four minutes. 

However, it took only two months for that unprecedented record to be broken—by a full second, no less. 

Today, the world record for the mile is 3:43.13—17 seconds under four minutes. 

Under four minutes is now the expectation. 

If you know Brian Sump, Ratchet+Wrench’s first-ever cover star (reprising his role in this issue), you likely know this story. Sump has written about it in the pages of this publication and spoken about it at the Ratchet+Wrench Management Conference. 

In many ways, it’s representative of Sump’s journey: A retired professional football player, he was simply following his passion when he purchased his first shop, Avalon Motorsports, in 2007, with little industry experience.

A few years later, though, he was on the cover of Ratchet+Wrench’s first cover and a few years after that, he opened another business—Urban Autocare. Then a third shop. And this year, a fourth shop. 

Sump was the perfect choice for Ratchet+Wrench’s first issue. He was a trailblazer. He was innovative. He cared for the industry. He was the future of the automotive repair industry. 

One hundred issues in, and he’s still a natural fit for the cover. 

Since its inception, Ratchet+Wrench has been lucky enough to see the rise of leaders in the industry, as well as identify those that are the future. 

The four industry superstars profiled in the following pages have been with Ratchet+Wrench since the beginning. For 100 issues and eight years, these shop owners have become the industry standards of what it means to be successful shop owners—each one in their own unique way.  They have learned from the trailblazers of the past and are paving the way for the future. Here, they share their stories on how they’ve seen the industry evolve coupled with insight from the 2020 Ratchet+Wrench Industry Survey.

  • Name: Brian Sump
  • Shop: Avalon Motorsports and three Urban Autocare locations 
  • Location: Denver area 
  • Staff size (average): 30 employees 
  • Annual revenue: $5.5 million 
  • ARO (average for all shops): $440 general repair, German shop $720 
  • Average monthly car count (total): 1,000 
  • First Ratchet+Wrench Appearance: July 2012 

A few years ago, Brian Sump closed out the Ratchet+Wrench Management Conference alongside columnist Aaron Stokes. The question, “how many of you never worked as a technician?,” was posed to the audience. Sump says that he and one or two others raised their hand—in a room of roughly 100 people.  

“It’s the exception, not the rule,” he says of owners without a background in the industry. 

Only 15 percent of shop owners in the Ratchet+Wrench Industry Survey said they had zero background in the industry before taking over a shop.

So, while Sump is not your typical shop owner, that hasn’t stopped him from running some of the most successful shops in the country. 

Sump went to Colorado School of Mines and studied civil engineering until 2002. He then pursued a career in football, playing professionally from 2003–2007 as a wide receiver and kick returner for the San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams. The year he retired from football, he purchased Avalon, which at the time was just an e-commerce website that sold performance upgrades for German vehicles run out of a small office attached to an independent service center. He’s since moved locations and added on a general repair MSO called Urban Autocare. 

Going from a career in professional football to running an auto repair shop may seem strange—and maybe it is—but Sump has always loved cars. 

“I loved football and I loved cars. I’ve always loved cars. [I thought,] if I could be around German cars all of the time, that would be sweet,” he says.   

The Shift

Despite his passion, those first few years were a struggle for Sump.

“I felt like my head was under a rock for two and a half years. I was drowning trying to figure it out,” he says. 

It wasn’t until he sat next to a fellow shop owner on the way to the Worldpac Expo in 2009 that he was encouraged to attend the classes available—not just sit by the pool, he says with a laugh. 

“My eyes were opened to the opportunity of the industry,” Sump says. 

Sump realized that he wasn’t the only one that was running into certain obstacles and that others around him had been able to find a way to be successful. If they could do it, so could he. 

“Seek consol from people that have done it, it takes a huge load off your shoulders,” Sump says. 

That year, he started a 20 Group in Denver to continue the peer networking that he found so helpful.    

“You have to have smart people and good advisors and people who have done what you’re thinking of doing,” he says. 

Sump took a big risk when he moved Avalon across town in 2011. The move to a larger location and rebrand had Sump working 80 hour weeks to make ends meet, but within two months, he had nearly doubled his record revenue month. Since then, he’s added three general auto repair shops—Urban Autocare—to his operation since 2014. 

The Game Changer

Many in the industry told Sump that his background was an advantage, but it took a while for him to see it that way.  

Now, he sees that his civil engineering studies taught him problem solving and critical thinking, and that his time as a musician enabled him to use both his left and right brain to access critical thinking and creativity. 

Because he hadn’t been in the industry for many years, he wasn’t stuck in a certain way of doing something, which made him flexible and willing to adapt.  

Not having a preconceived notion of how the business should run allowed Sump to innovate and think outside of the box. 

“I didn’t already have bad habits,” he says, with a laugh. “I didn’t know anything.” 

The Takeaway

“Find something you love doing and make a living doing it,” Sump says. 

If you’re burnt out, get back to the heart of what you love about the industry. If it’s turning wrenches, get back on the floor. If you love interacting with customers or the community, push yourself to do that, Sump advises. 

A Leg Up 

Is there an advantage to having a background in the industry? 

When it comes to ownership, experience within the industry seems like an advantage, right? Well, when comparing a few KPIs, it would seem that owners that have no industry background and a background as a technician perform very similarly, even when taking into account plans for the future and industry involvement. 


Owners with No Industry Experience

Tracks KPIs: 75% 

Overall gross profit margin of 60% or higher: 17% 

Overall net profit margin of 20% or more: 16% 

Member of a peer networking group: 35% 

Plans to expand in the near future: 30% 


Owners with Background as a Technician 

Tracks KPIs: 74% 

Overall gross profit margin of 60% or higher: 15% 

Overall net profit margin of 20% or more: 19% 

Member of a peer networking group: 26% 

Plans to expand in the near future:  27%


The Techie 

  • Name: Greg Buckley
  • Shop: Buckley’s Auto Care 
  • Location: Wilmington, Del. 
  • Staff Size: 2 Advisors, 3 Techs. 1 Apprentice Tech (part time) 
  • Shop Size: 5500 square feet
  • Annual Revenue: $980,000 to $1 million 
  • ARO: $589
  • Monthly Car Count: 154
  • First Ratchet+Wrench Appearance: August 2014 

Greg Buckley began his career in the automotive repair industry in 1968 at the age of 8, working at his dad’s shop (the original Buckley’s Auto Care) as a pump jockey. Since then, the industry has changed and shifted in a major way. One of the most notable shifts is through technology, something with which Buckley has become synonymous (ratchetandwrench.com/techandtoolsbudget). 

Buckley has been in the industry his whole life, but that doesn’t mean he’s gotten complacent. Far from it, in fact. He’s used Google Glass in his shop (ratchetandwrench.com/utilizetech), all of his techs are equipped with digital vehicle inspection tablets, and he’s currently looking into interactive monitors that will allow his shop to effectively communicate with one another.

But it’s not just about using technology for the sake of having it—Buckley uses it to find the best solutions for his shop.  

The Shift

2000 was a significant year for Buckley, as it was the first year that he started formally tracking KPIs, five years after purchasing the shop from his dad.

“We knuckled down and studied what we were doing to find out how we could become more efficient,” Buckley says. “My dad would always have numbers on paper. We weren’t ignorant to KPIs—they were gross metrics back then—but it’s not as mature as it is today.” 

According to the 2020 Ratchet+Wrench Industry Survey, 79 percent of respondents track KPIs—which has a significant impact on shop performance. That percentage is an increase from 64 percent in 2017, but 21 percent still don’t track, which is a detriment to the business [See: The Importance of Tracking KPIs]. Not surprisingly, Buckley was an early adopter and has tracked KPIs for 20 years. In 2000, Buckley joined NAPA and the NAPA TRACS shop management system. 

Being able to have an organized approach to tracking numbers made a huge difference for Buckley, as it helped break down every job to highlight where the money makers and the headaches were, something that was extremely convenient for a shop that services all makes and models. Now, he can see what customers he should market to in order to be as successful as possible. 

It may not have been the norm when Buckley and many others in the industry started, but a shop management system and tracking KPIs is now a best practice, and Buckley encourages any shop that is not doing it to start.

The Game Changer

So, in all of the years that Buckley has been in the automotive industry and with all of the new technology that’s come out, what does he believe is the piece of technology that’s advanced his operation the most?

Digital vehicle inspections (DVIs). 

The number of shop owners that use DVIs is on the rise, but, according to the 2020 Ratchet+Wrench Industry Survey, it’s still less than half of respondents, with 47 percent saying that they use a digital vehicle inspection sheet. 

One of the reasons for this low number could be the fact that many shop owners have a hard time getting their team on board with new processes, Buckley says. One way to do so could be to show the actual impact that it has. For example, the survey found that of those that use an electronic vehicle inspection sheet, 46 percent had a closing ratio of 70 percent or higher. That number dropped drastically to only 9 percent for those that do not take advantage of this technology. 

The Takeaway

When it comes to technology, you need to invest, Buckley says. It can increase efficiency, improve communication and boost revenue. 

 “We live and breathe tech in our world—we can’t escape it,” Buckley says. 

The Importance of Tracking KPIs 

What's going on in your business pays off 

The Shops that Track KPIs

Annual revenue over $1 million: 47%

Sales closing ratio over 70%: 54%

Average repair order above $400: 62%

Overall gross profit margin above 50%: 57%

Gross profit margin on parts above 50%: 50%

Gross profit margin on labor above 60%: 55%

Overall net profit margin above 10%: 67%

Posted labor rate above $110: 54%

Effective labor rate Above $90: 25%

Efficiency above 100%: 26%

Productivity above 90%: 31% 

The Shops that Do Not Track KPIs

Annual revenue over $1 million: 18%

Sales closing ratio over 70%: 59%

Average repair order above $400: 47%

Overall gross profit margin above 50%: 13%

Gross profit margin on parts above 50%: 20%

Gross profit margin on labor above 60%: 27%

Overall net profit margin above 10%: 27%

Posted labor rate above $110: 17%

Effective labor rate above $90: 25%

Efficiency above 100%: 5%

Productivity above 90%: 12%



The Visionary  

  • Name: Greg Bunch 
  • Shop: Aspen Auto Clinic 
  • Location: 5 locations in Colorado 
  • First Ratchet+Wrench Appearance: May 2013 

Greg Bunch started his Colorado-based Aspen Auto Clinic empire out of his garage in 2001. Since then, he’s grown it to five locations and founded The Transformers Institute, a training and coaching firm for the auto repair industry. Bunch didn’t start out with the intent to own more than one location. In fact, he fell into it by chance and looking back, he admits that his plan was shaky, at best, and probably shouldn’t have worked out.

“I bought the second shop on a whim,” Bunch says. 

While it’s not something he recommends, it ended up working out, as he’s gone on to open six total locations, one of which he sold, and is currently looking for more acquisition opportunities. Owning more than one location is relatively rare among Industry Survey respondents: Only 10 percent said they owned MSOs, with 85 percent identifying as owners of single-location independent repair shops [See: The Future of Independents]. 

 Bunch has undergone a complete transformation—from working in the business to working on the business—throughout his time in the industry, a theme that remains common for many shop owners. Thirty-one percent of 2020 Ratchet+Wrench Industry Survey respondents said they work on vehicles every day and only 29 percent have plans to expand. 

In order for Bunch to become the leader that he is today, he had to change his way of thinking so he could successfully run more than one location, and still have time to pursue his passion and open a training company.  

“I went through an evolution. When I started, I was a one-man band—I did everything,” Bunch says. “At that point, I didn’t mind doing that.”  

The Shift

“I went to an industry conference, and the speaker said that the best thing you can do for your business is to take your toolbox out,” Bunch says. “At that point, I was the only tech. That was the moment that took the air out of my lungs and stuck in my mind that eventually, you have to be the business owner.” 

 Life often takes you unexpected places, as Bunch knows all too well. Newly divorced and a single dad to four kids, he knew that he needed to change his mindset. So, he decided to stop being a car guy in the business world and start being a business guy in the car world.  

“I was forced into not being able to fix every car. I had to rely on people,” Bunch says. 

In order to do this, Bunch became more involved in training within the industry. He took classes through the Automotive Training Institute, he joined 20 Groups and he became more familiar with the business side of automotive repair. 

“I didn’t understand what a P&L was. I didn’t understand margins,” Bunch says. “I think the modern business shop owner has a much better grasp on the numbers than anyone I ever saw growing up in this. They understand they need to be a better business person than a better mechanic.” 

The Game Changer

Since Bunch started, the way vehicles are made has radically changed, which he says has been the biggest adaptation he’s had to make. A decade ago, it was common for vehicles to come in and need work at 30,000 and 60,000 miles. 

“A 60,000-miles service, that was a six to seven hour ticket—it was a juicy ticket,” Bunch says. “Now, a lot of the maintenance is longer between services.” 

Because there are fewer touchpoints, making a good impression with customers is key. Luckily, this is one part of running a business that hasn’t changed. 

What’s changed is what customers want and how to adapt to their new needs. 

“When I first did the three-year, 36,000-mile warranty, everyone thought I was crazy,” Bunch says of an offering that has since become common. 

Customer service, especially in today’s highly competitive environment is key. That’s what makes this statistic so alarming: 55 percent of Ratchet+Wrench Industry Survey respondents do not track their CSI scores. 

The Takeaway

Bunch suggests joining a group—no matter how successful you are.  

“If I could change things, I would have gotten help from the very beginning,” Bunch says. “I still have a business coach for myself, it’s not like I’ve arrived and all of the sudden I don’t need help.”

The Future of Independents 

In 2020, indy shops show no signs of slowing down 

Greg Bunch is an example of a successful MSO owner, but he is in the minority. The majority of shop owners own only one location. Here’s the breakdown: 

Shop Type:

Independent: 85%

MSO: 10%

Franchise: 4%

Dealers: 1%

The Advocate 

  • Name: Donny Seyfer 
  • Shop: Seyfer Automotive 
  • Location: Wheat Ridge, Colo. 
  • Shop Size: 6,500 square feet
  • Staff size: 5
  • ARO: $570
  • Monthly car count: 130
  • Annual revenue: $740,000
  • First Ratchet+Wrench Appearance: September 2012

Before Donny Seyfer was born, his father, Don, founded the Independent Garage Owners of Colorado (which would later become the Automotive Service Association) in 1963. You could say that being an advocate for the industry runs in his blood. 

“My dad used to say, ‘whatever you put in, you get back ten-fold,’” Seyfer says of his father, who passed away in June of this year. 

Seyfer has put in a lot. He has served in almost all of the Automotive Service Association positions (including Chairman), he was on the board for ASA National, the board of ASE education and involved with AMi. He currently serves as the executive officer for the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF). 

The Shift

When his father was involved in the industry, it was much more difficult to network, especially across the nation. But even then, Don saw the need for it, and his son has carried the legacy on. 

“There was face-to-face networking in much smaller areas,” Seyfer says of how the industry has changed over the years. “It was very expensive to go on an airplane in the ’60s. You didn’t have people hopping on a $49 flight to a conference.” 

Today, that’s become much easier (even during a pandemic, shop owners have found ways to network through Zoom meetings and virtual conferences and webinar). 

“I have over 3,200 people in my contacts,” Seyfer says. “When you get involved at that level, you meet people and they make the world a little bit smaller for you. By being a volunteer [within industry organizations], you get an opportunity to develop relationships.”

Seyfer says that the networking piece of running a business is so important, and that’s why he chooses to stay involved. 

“If I can’t figure something out, I can reach out to someone for support,” Seyfer says. 

The benefits of peer networking are clear [See Breakout: Networking Benefits], but many in the industry are not taking advantage. Only 29 percent of Ratchet+Wrench Industry Survey respondents are a member of a 20 Group or other peer networking group. The numbers are slightly better when it comes to state, regional or national association (44 percent involved), but it’s still less than half. Shop owners within the industry are not as involved as they should be—and it’s hurting their businesses, Seyfer says.  

The Game Changer

Seyfer is big on communication, and that is where he says the automotive industry is failing. 

“There’s all kinds of miscommunication and a lack of understanding,” Seyfer says. 

OEMs don’t communicate what is available, and because of that, independent repair shops don’t use all of the tools at their disposal because they are unaware. The lack of communication between the independent auto repair industry and the automakers means there’s a lack of understanding of what the aftermarket needs and a lack of resources for providing these tools. By not leaning on one another, the entire industry suffers, Seyfer says. 

“We [independent shop owners] haven’t done a good job of engaging them [automakers] with what we need and then using them when it’s made,” he says. 

It all goes back to the importance of being involved. One of the biggest issues, the Right to Repair, is a topic that NASTF is trying to find a solution for, but Seyfer notes that very few shop owners actually join the call. 

“You can’t complain if you’re not on the call,” Seyfer says. 

The Takeaway

 In order to move forward, Seyfer is calling for independent shop owners to drop the “them” and “us.” 

“Stop having turf wars,” Seyfer says. “Independents aren’t going away, neither are dealerships. We need to get that narrative out of the way and to say, ‘What do we need to do to take care of people with cars?’” 

Networking Benefits 

Asking for help pays off 

Works with a Peer Networking Group

Revenue above $1 million: 67%

Average repair order above $400: 73%

Effective labor rate above $90: 61%

Technician efficiency above 100%: 33%

Technician productivity above 90%: 39%


Doesn’t Work With a Peer Networking Group

Revenue above $1 million: 35%

Average repair order above $400: 53%

Effective labor rate above $90:  26%

Technician efficiency above 100%: 17%

Technician productivity above 90%: 22%

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