Perry Adams: In the Trenches with the Wrenches

Sept. 7, 2023
2023 Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Winner Perry Adams wants his team to win at work and in life.

Within five minutes of talking to Perry Adams, you’ll discover he’s bullish on his shop with a pride fitting for a Texan. In March, the Houston-based Adams Automotive released staggering sales figures showing its four shops posting an average of more than $595,000 each with its flagship location breaking $1 million for the month. As it stands, the shops could see a collective annual revenue of nearly $40 million by the end of 2023. 

Success on that level is built on a foundation of five words: know thyself, know thy customer. 

Staying true to his people, his patrons and his vision are among the reasons why Adams is the 2023 Ratchet+Wrench All-Star winner, sponsored by AutoZone and Mobil 1. 

Humble Beginnings 

Adams grew up a mechanically curious child. By age 10, he had disassembled his bicycle to figure out how it worked and at age 12, with his mother’s blessing, he spent $97 on a motorcycle kit to convert it into a minibike. A few years later, that modified bicycle would give him a broken leg after he ran into the back of a postal carrier’s truck. Nevertheless, Adams continued to tinker, learning how to tear apart cars in high school. 

Not sure of the direction of his future after high school, his father, who had a refrigeration school in New Orleans, Louisiana, invited the younger Adams to try the trade. Seeing that refrigeration wasn’t moving the needle for his son, Adams’s father encouraged him to pursue automotive. 

Adams graduated high school early and enrolled at Texas State Technical College in Waco, Texas, graduating in two years at age 19. That’s when he got his first taste of the auto care industry, working as a technician at a Ford dealership followed by an 18-month stint at an independent repair shop. That's when he got the nudge to try his hand at ownership. 

“It came into my heart that, 'Hey, I could do this’ because my boss came in early and left just a few minutes after I got there,” Adams recalls. “He would come in early and do his paperwork, and then he would leave and then he would come back about 5 (o’clock) and visit with the customers and pump gas. I looked at that and I thought he was making all this money—like every employee does.” 

One of the shop’s parts distributors caught wind of Adams’s ambition and tipped him off about a shop owner who had a few vacant bays at his gas station shop. He explained that Adams could strike a deal with the gentleman to rent space in one of the bays. 

“I went over and made a deal with the fellow, and I only had $600 saved up. I had my toolbox, I got a ‘doing business as’ Adams Automotive, and I got a desk and put it in one of the bays. I had my parts behind me, and I could put the nose of a car in and do water pumps and tune-ups and stuff like that,” Adams says. 

He would work from that single bay location for the next three-and-a-half years—adding three employees along the way—before an opportunity came for him to open his own shop. The proverbial rubber had then hit the road. “I found out what a good deal I had at the Exxon because all I was doing was paying rent,” Adams laughs. 

Divinely Inspired 

“I like to blame things on God.” That’s what Adams says when he gets a prompting that can’t be explained as anything but supernatural. He credits those divine nudges for the direction he received to build Adams Automotive.  

One of these nudges happened to Adams when he felt led to sell his Jaguar after seeing genuine poverty firsthand on a mission trip in India. He used the money from the sale to fund a Bible college. Adams says after that act of faith, God overwhelmed him with inspiration.  

“I handed that check to the founder’s son … and when I came back to Houston, ideas started coming,” Adams says. 

One of the ideas Adams acted upon was to get training for himself and his team with an auto repair shop owner in Austin, Texas. He shut the shop down for a day and commuted to the capital city. It was that encounter—which happened in the most stereotypical Texas fashion—that changed how Adams would forever do business. Sitting with his feet propped up on the desk, the shop owner looked over the desk at Adams and his technicians and said, “Y’all look like good boys. Are you looking at the whole car, or are you just fixing what the car comes in for?” Adams told him they were doing the latter, to which the owner replied, “Oh, boys. You need to slow down and get professional.” He trained Adams and his team on how to properly inspect a vehicle, and it became the standard to which Adams adheres to this day.  

As Adams raised the standard of service at his shop, another conversation with God challenged Adams’s faith. This time, it was turning away customers. When he told God he only liked to work in particular makes, God challenged his heart to exclusively focus on those vehicles. “That was very difficult because we worked on everything,” Adams says.  

Adams put his faith to work and used direct mail to target people with the vehicle makes he sought. As they rolled into his lot, he handled them with the utmost care, and his faith was again rewarded. 

“In two years, my business tripled, my profits tripled,” Adams says. “When you start working on the same cars, they all do the same things. We didn't have to go through that long diagnostic process to figure (each one) out … And then we started getting a reputation that we were experts, and we outgrew that facility.” 

For each shop he’s built, the same tactic is used—capture the niche market. It’s a combination of targeted advertising through direct mail and carefully selected television spots aimed at his audience that Adams can get new shops scaling rapidly. “We advertise to the top 1% on cable,” he says.  

When he opened his most recent location, Adams Automotive Cypress, the shop quickly generated $500,000 in revenue. Adams says when he opens a location, he wants to be the first shop people think of in that marketplace.  

“We wear them out with ‘Take it to Adams. Adams will take care of you,’” Adams says. “You have to spend a fortune on marketing. You have to do it, and it has to be consistent every month. Your voice has to be there.” 

 The Todd Hayes Effect 

Todd Hayes is one of the outspoken emotional brand champions of Adams Automotive (along with Adams’s wife, Patty, and son, Joe). Adams met Hayes in the 1990s when their children attended the same school. Hayes was running Mobile Car Care, a chain of auto repair service centers he founded in 1986 that Adams says Hayes eventually sold for over $20 million. Adams enlisted Hayes to use his energetic gifting to re-invigorate himself and his team, feeling they had become stagnant. Once Adams observed the motivational punch Hayes packed, he got out of the way. “Todd started to train me, and I turned him loose,” Adams says. 

Hayes helped to create the framework for the culture that would define Adams Automotive going forward—professional business athletes. 

“He began to change things and hire people, and I just turned him loose because I was miserable. I saw his gifting in motivation and training and all the sudden, we just started growing like mad,” Adams says. 

This attitude of being “in the trenches with the wrenches” as they’ve coined it has led to levels of growth and service capability that positions Adams Automotive within the upper echelon of independent auto repair shops nationwide. With fully paid benefits, unlimited hours and a compensation plan Joe Adams says makes their techs unrecruitable, the Adams team plays for keeps.  

“We're business athletes. We’re not in this as a hobby,” Adams says. “We are here to serve the customer. It's more about the customer than it is about our convenience.” 

All In Together 

The buy-in from the team at Adams Automotive hinges on more than money and benefits. One relationship-building tool the leadership team uses is daily meetings called Take 5. These occur seven days a week at 6:45 a.m. Team members who are working that day—and some who are not—gather for an engaging discussion on a range of topics designed to inspire them, celebrate their wins and improve their personal and professional lives. Adams doesn’t miss one. He’s there even on Sunday before he heads to church. 

Another is what they call Moneyball. These informal huddles take place within a group chat app. It’s part encouragement, part friendly competition between each of the shops under the Adams Automotive umbrella. Within the thread are posts from each shop leader sharing their first morning sale, their weekly sales totals and more. Text messages begin flowing in as early as 3:45 a.m. It’s something the team does every day to fire one another up. One such message was posted by Hayes at 4:33 a.m. on Monday, June 5: 

“Mon-slay. Alive, motivated, determined and ready to slay the day. Monday has arrived, and it's time to embrace the Mon-slay (instead of Monday) spirit. As dedicated professional business athletes in the auto industry, you possess the drive motivation, determination to conquer any challenge that comes your way. From the moment you step into your shop, bringing your vibrant energy and readiness to tackle the day's tasks, remember success awaits those who seize each opportunity with passion. So, let's kickstart the week with enthusiasm and show the world what it means to be professional business athletes who are always ready to slay.” 

Sharing the Blueprint 

Throughout 2023, the Adams Automotive shops have posted record-breaking numbers that are jaw-dropping by industry standards. Adams credits his customer service team for leading the way in making customers feel welcome and prepared to come to Adams. “They call the customers, make appointments, load the weekend with appointments,” Adams says.  

And even with a team of 108, he continues to aggressively recruit. His recruiter, who used to perform nationwide recruitment for a national chain of auto repair shops, searches high and low for the best talent. Adams says he feels he has to be an example to the industry on all sides of the business. This has led to high interest from other shop owners in the Adams Automotive way—instilling the training, attention to quality, high caliber customer service and top-notch hiring practices. To better serve the industry, Adams built Hayes a training room where shop owners from around the nation fly in with their teams to train with Hayes on-site. The goal is to share the Adams blueprint for shop success. 

“Not only are we helping the industry by leading by example but showing them how to do it,” Adams says. 

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