Rachel Spencer: Mastering a New Trade

Sept. 6, 2023
2023 Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Runner-Up Rachel Spencer tells the story of how she entered the industry and saved her shop.

It takes a lot to succeed in the automotive industry–a lot more than a simple love of cars. It requires being able to connect with people and the dedication to run a business through its highs and lows.  

Rachel Spencer took over her husband’s business, Spencer’s Auto Repair, in 2019, after working alongside him since 2004. She and her husband worked to pull the business from its lowest point to seeing more success than ever, motivating herself with the help of fellow shop owners that helped her cultivate what she wanted from her shop. 

As a runner-up for this year’s Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Award, Spencer sat down to talk about her journey in revitalizing her business and what helped her succeed. 

The business was originally started in 2001 by Spencer’s husband, Jerry, who at that time had not yet met her. It wasn’t until 2004 that Spencer would enter the picture when her brother, who worked at the shop, introduced her to Jerry. 

Spencer began helping around the shop by answering phones. She had no prior service advisor training, having previously worked in the sales department for a waste management company, and before that as the key account specialist for the city of Denton, Texas. 

Though Spencer admits it was undoubtedly a learning experience, her skills in communicating with people carried over into her new field well. 

“Yes, you need to know about cars, but we're in the people business,” Spencer says. “And I think that if you know how to deal with people, the rest you can kind of learn.” 

She credits her husband with helping her adapt to the learning curves of the industry, acting as a mentor for her. Though Spencer says she doesn’t know as much about cars as others, she knows people and works to communicate what the best option is for their situation. 

Six years ago, Spencer’s brother left the business when his wife needed to move for medical school. His departure marked the beginning of a difficult time for the shop as they struggled to fill his place. 

 “We were burned out and tired and we felt like we were a hostage to our own business,” Spencer remembers. “And we were ready to give up, we were ready to sell.” 

Spencer and her husband’s confidence in the shop continued to dwindle until a year later when they once nearly doubled their typical revenue for the month. Spencer saw potential in their business and was inspired to know how to achieve those same numbers again. 

When Spencer and her husband met another shop owner who encouraged them at a NAPA conference they attended, they realized how much insight could be gained from connecting with other shop owners. Throughout the next couple of months, the Spencers met several other shop owners at different events and attended their first coaching conference.  

When they came back home, they were ready to see some changes happen. 

“I told my husband, I said: ‘I want to make this into a million-dollar shop. I want to stop letting this business hold us hostage, and I want to take at least one vacation next year,’” Spencer recounts. “And I said, ‘I want to be in Ratchet+Wrench magazine.’” 

By 2019, Spencer and her husband were able to accomplish all the goals she had. After hiring a new service advisor and shop foreman who helped turn things around, the shop also put more effort into advertising and saw an increase of 158% in gross sales from the previous year.  

They added three bays to the shop and were able to construct an office for Spencer, who no longer performs front counter work. For the past four years, Spencer’s husband has stepped away from the business and handed the reigns to her as it continues to succeed. 

Though the shop has seen success, Spencer and her husband had to work hard to reach a place where they could comfortably run their shop, instead of feeling that the shop was running them. She remembers coming in only a couple of days after having a C-section, and times when it was only her and Jerry working in the shop after having an entire crew call out sick, but they couldn’t let it slow them down.  

“I feel like we (have) finally gotten to the point where the business is running itself and not us anymore, that we're able to take vacations, we're able to have that freedom,” Spencer says.  

Though the hard work kept them afloat, it was by no means sustainable. It was wearing both of them down and is what caused their morale to deteriorate as they continued to stretch themselves thin. 

“You've got to take care of you before you can take care of anyone else,” warns Spencer. “People always say customers come first–no, you come first. Because if you can't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else.” 

An active effort to learn about things such as marketing, tracking close ratios and average repair orders is what helped save the Spencers’ business, and being able to bounce ideas off of other shop owners is what helped her realize all she still needed to learn and is one of the best tools she has had as a business owner. 

“We didn't know that there were other people that we could talk to that were going through the same struggles that we were,” Spencer says. “I just got off the phone earlier with another shop owner just running something past [us]–sometimes it's good to have a good soundboard and just know that there are other people out there that are going through the same struggles that you are.” 

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