From ‘Kid’ to Shop Owner

Jan. 3, 2018

Zach Eggleston has experienced a lot of change from an unexpected push into ownership, but one thing remains the same: a unique mentorship with his service writer, Dana McCray.

SHOP STATS: JEFF'S AUTOMOTIVE  Location: NEW CARLISLE, OHIO.  Operator: Zach Eggleston  Average Monthly Car Count: 160  Staff Size: 4  Shop Size: 3,600 sq ft; Annual Revenue;$850,000  

Dana McCray Jr. has seen Zach Eggleston throughout nearly every stage of his life.

McCray once babysat a two-year-old Eggleston; he saw Eggleston roaming his father’s shop, Jeff’s Automotive in New Carlisle, Ohio, as a child; he even taught Eggleston how to manually install u-joints—not without some resistance, though.

“And he tried, and he tried and he tried and then about 30 minutes later, I heard this ‘raaaaaa!’ And clank, clank, clank. He actually went out there and threw the drive shaft across the parking lot. I was like, ‘OK, u-joint lesson 102 coming up,’” he says, laughing.

McCray persisted and eventually went from mentor to friend to now trusted colleague. McCray acts as service advisor at Jeff’s Automotive, and has helped Eggleston become the successful shop owner and technician he is today.   

While the value McCray has added to the bottom line and culture of the family business over the years is indispensable, McCray was just one piece of the puzzle Eggleston had to tackle when he took over.

After his father (the shop’s original owner) suffered an unexpected bike accident, Eggleston found himself learning the ropes of the business all by himself. Today, Eggleston, with the support of his father and McCray, is now able to comfortably and successfully run his 3,600-square-foot shop, which has an average monthly car count of 160 and annual revenue of $850,000.

Growing Up in the Industry

McCray was Jeff’s first-ever employee in 1978, so Eggleston’s strong relationship with McCray was instant and natural. When Eggleston began working in the shop at age 11, he shadowed McCray and helped him out with any shop tasks.

McCray’s guidance was more of a technical one. Being the A-tech in the shop, McCray knew almost everything about carburetors (including rebuilding them) and was well versed in fuel injection systems, a fairly new technology at the time.

By age 16, Eggleston found himself rebuilding carburetors and diagnosing performance issues, thanks to McCray’s teaching.

“As far as mentoring him, it was really kind of easy. He had a natural aptitude for it, and his patience could’ve been a little longer, I think, from time to time,” McCray says. “It was a lot of fun.”

Eggleston, who attended college for automotive technology, continued with training classes and strengthened his skills. McCray was employed on and off with Jeff’s Automotive until 2005, when he took a break for family matters.

The Sudden Transition

After a brief falling out with his dad, Eggleston came back to the business in 2006. Upon his return, he ran day-to-day tasks, such as fixing cars, service writing and paying bills. During that period, Eggleston took some control of the business.

In need of a service writer, Eggleston rehired McCray in 2007 as a writer instead of a tech.

While the business was in ownership transition for years, Eggleston was forced into true ownership in July 2014, when his dad suffered a concussion only 150 miles into a planned three-month bike trip across the country.

Eggleston went from having his dad available at any time by phone to suddenly needing to learn the backend of the family’s business.

Thrust into the business, Eggleston’s anxieties were rooted in not knowing how he was going to pay employees and do the taxes.

Since he says his dad wasn’t the best bookkeeper, the checkbook was off and so Eggleston figured out how to read the P&L numbers and understand what they indicated on a monthly and quarterly basis.

He began to notice red flags with the shop’s accountant. There were times where Eggleston was positive it was a high-grossing month, but the reports would show the month was only fair—and was sometimes even marked red for a negative balance.

After some research, Eggleston found his parts costs were always 30 days behind on the report and did not reflect the shop's success.

After months of trying to fix those numbers, Eggleston realized he needed some help, so he called Elite in September 2014. He learned to read and understand his business by tracking KPIs. Now, instead of taking months to realize a problem, he can identify it right away.

Being A Better Leader

With such an extensive background, Zach Eggleston doesn’t just see Dana McCray as an employee who gets the work done, but as someone he can use as a resource when needed. When asked what advice he would give owners to see value in their employees beyond just getting work done, he says the following:

Giving my employees proper training and education has been key. When you enable somebody with the power of knowledge, that gives them pride and a sense that they’re in control and breeds continued motivation. When I was a tech, any time I would find some good quality training, it was like someone lit a fire under me. I got a new enthusiasm with my job. I try to give my employees this opportunity. I do see a difference in the ones that go to training. It also helps with the relationship aspect.

Provide a living wage for your technicians. My lowest-paid person in my shop makes $57,000 per year.

Be flexible with your staff. When they need days off, I can fill in anywhere. My lead tech used all his vacation and personal days, but ended up with pancreatitis. He had basically two weeks where he wasn’t working. I was able to still pay him. At the same time, when you take care of your employees, it creates that family atmosphere. I know his family and knew he needed the help. Everybody’s got each other’s back.

Better Than Ever Before

After recovering, Eggleston’s dad saw that his son had stepped things up. The business was doing better than it had in years.

“It was great for me because for 10 years, he kept saying, ‘Give me a couple years and I’ll retire,’” Eggleston says. “This was a forced transition and it made him realize he didn’t have to be here.”

Eggleston became the official owner of Jeff’s Automotive on Jan. 1, 2017, with his sights set on improving the numbers even more.

After tweaking his parts-pricing matrix, Eggleston increased his gross profit on parts by about 5 percent.

In addition, he began tracking technician efficiency more closely. He realized techs were undercharging for their time. Before taking over, his techs averaged 70 percent efficiency. Now, they’re at 105 percent efficient overall.

The Employee That’s Always Been There

While these changes were being made in the shop, one constant remained intact: McCray.

Although McCray’s enthusiasm for service writing was initially lukewarm, that’s when the roles somewhat reversed: Eggleston helped McCray with service writing as McCray once helped Eggleston as a tech.

Eggleston sent McCray to California to an Elite service advisor course. Since taking the course, Eggleston says he has learned so much from watching McCray, just like old times.

But more importantly, it isn’t just about the job for Eggleston, but also the guidance and support McCray continues to offer.

“Dana takes ownership in his job and his responsibilities around here. Obviously he’s an employee, but it’s more than being just an employee,” Eggleston says. “It’s more of a family thing.”

Eggleston continues to tap McCray for advice. As the shop continues to improve, Eggleston finds comfort in knowing that McCray is always there.   

“I’m just crazy proud, if not jealous of the kid, you know—and I still call him ‘kid’ and he’s my boss,” McCray says. “It’s been rewarding to see him take it to the next level. Next thing you know, the boy’s smarter than I am.”

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