Joe Rush: A Return on Community Focus

Sept. 6, 2023
2023 Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Runner-Up Joe Rush believes success starts with people and community.

For every potential new hire at Rush Automotive, owner Joe Rush conducts what he calls a “heart interview.”

For about an hour, Rush talks to technicians or service advisors about anything but work. Instead, he asks applicants about their families and outside passions, only later introducing them to another company leader for a career-focused interview.  

“I want people to see our culture right away,” he says. “We run like a family. If your employees know that you love and genuinely care about them, they’re going to perform well. And in most cases, they’re not going to leave.” 

Since founding Rush Automotive in 2011, Rush has grown his business to three full-service shops in Texas, with a fourth due to open next year. The 27-year-industry veteran also operates two locations of MainLane, which are also repair shops but have a high volume of quicker oil changes and fluid services.  

Aiming to be “crucial to the community”, Rush, 44, is proud of his 12-year-old company’s financial successes, 50,000-plus customers and philanthropic outreach, which includes supporting schools and youth sports programs with sponsorship and advertising dollars.   

Yet Rush is most proud of his retention rates for a diverse team of 48 male and female employees, many of whom have stayed with him for five and often 10 years. As he works to boost salary, health benefits and retirement packages, Rush also offers perks such as a week’s paid vacation for all new fathers and no Saturday and Sunday shifts for anyone.    

“It was a very difficult business decision to close weekends, but it’s the right decision for attracting top talent and having a strong, secure staff,” Rush says.  

“A lot of our team members have children, and it’s important to be involved as a parent. I think one reason why our industry has had trouble with worker shortages is because too many people just feel marginalized and underappreciated.”  

Himself a married father of five, Rush knows most of his team’s kids by name and frequently treats them to candy at nearby convenience stores. Many call him “Uncle Joe.”

Rush will readily share his three keys to success with those kids, his employees, his multiple industry mentees and schoolchildren he meets during guest speeches and career days: 1) show up every day on time, 2) work hard and 3) take pride in the work you do.  

That’s how Rush evolved from a teenager who went through “some difficult times” to a thriving business owner, he notes: “I wasn’t particularly skilled at anything as a kid, but I was smart and more than that I was hard-working. I’ve worked 12-hour days since I was 17.”   

Born in Oklahoma, Rush grew up in an area of neighboring southeastern Kansas that also borders Missouri. He was a car lover and entrepreneur from a young age, once peddling a huge number of candy bars for his Little League team to win tickets to a Kansas City Royals game.  

After graduating from high school in 1996, a 17-year-old Rush needed a job but didn’t have a car. His father was a service advisor at a local Ford dealership, which was looking to hire a lot porter to park cars all day.  

“My career started because my dad could give me a free ride to work,” he recalls with a laugh. “But I liked being a part of shop operations right away, both the serving people and the solving puzzles of what was wrong with a car.”  

Over 14 years with several Ford dealers, Rush worked his way up the ladder into sales and later service manager positions. He then spent about a year as a manager for an independent tire and battery company, a move he made to help prepare for opening his own small business.   

While Rush is now working on a bachelor’s degree in business management through Western Governors University, much of his education has been on the job. He also reads a minimum of 24 books a year, with 48 as his real goal. Most are on leadership and self-improvement, and he typically rereads each one three to five times to catch information he may have missed.  

As Rush looks to expand further in Texas, he hopes the philosophy of a positive, culture-based workplace will spread in the blue-collar automotive industry. He also encourages shop owners to collaborate and share ideas with each other; one current project, in fact, is developing a training program on how to coach and connect with salespeople and technicians.    

“I want others to succeed,” he says. “You don’t have to put someone else’s light out to make your light shine brighter. Just shine brighter yourself.”  

One of Rush’s most recent lessons on leadership, from the book “Greatness” by sport and performance psychologist David L. Cook, Ph.D., is the power of employees feeling trusted by their supervisors.    

“I want my people to know that I’ll be there even if they make mistakes,” he says. “We have to fix problems, of course, but I’m going to love them through it and not give up on them. My job is to identify any barriers to that message getting across—and to people really believing it.”  

As for customers, Rush Automotive emphasizes top-quality service with bonuses such as theater-style recliner chairs, big-screen televisions and free Wi-Fi and Keurig coffee in shop waiting rooms. The newest store, in Leander, Texas, has a children’s play area.  

“That has been a big hit for customers with kids,” he reports. “Employees also can use it for their kids’ parties on weekends.”  

Rush and his wife of 20 years, Ashley, an assistant principal at an elementary school, are parents of five children, ages 17 to 25. The first four, Alexis, Sydney, Kylie and Cadee, are daughters; the youngest, Jaden, is the long-awaited son.  

“As I said,” Rush jokes, “I don’t give up on anything.” 

A family man, Rush loves camping, watching college football (especially the Oklahoma Sooners), collecting sports memorabilia and sweating out morning gym workouts with a friend who also happens to be his pastor. “It’s a great way to get supportive guidance plus exercise,” he says.  

Once Jaden graduates from high school next spring, Rush hopes to get back into coaching youth football, which he enjoyed in the past. For now, he aims to funnel money that could have gone to expensive radio or television ads into community programs. He calls those moves “Return on Community” projects, rather than “Return on Investment.”  

A dozen years into his life as a business owner, Rush is thrilled when people in line at grocery stores, restaurants or other spots see his company T-shirt and tell him they love one of his shops.  

“My whole purpose has always been to serve my community,” he says. “What I’ve learned is that the process starts with taking care of my own family and my employees’ families. The funny thing is that by focusing on them, we’re going to serve our customers well, too.”   

Sponsored Recommendations

Free Resources for Shops Like Yours

View insights, research and solutions curated specifically for shops like yours.

Restore & Protect: The Powerful Revenue and Profit Accelerator for Your Business

Restore & Protect is a major business opportunity for Valvoline installers with positive impact on profit growth as well as customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Deliver a First-Class Guest Experience

Our dedicated Valvoline Trusted Advisor Sales and Support Team provides hands-on classroom and targeted in-store coaching to help your employees become more skilled at selling...

Promote Growth on Two Fronts: Existing and New Customers

Increase Sales and Customer Traffic To Your Store(s).