Continuing the Legacy

April 22, 2024
Jessica Carrino wasn’t interested in taking over the family auto repair shop—until she gave it a try. 

Not everyone is interested in joining the family business. For a long time, Jessica Carrino wasn’t. When she started working at her parent’s shop after college, it was intended to be a short-term gig–until it wasn’t. 

Now, as co-owner of Sparks Tire & Auto alongside her parents, Ron and Sonja Tinner, Carrino has found a career in which she can thrive and be happy. She speaks with Ratchet+Wrench to talk about what made her decide to pursue the automotive path, and what that journey has looked like so far. 


A Sudden Redirect 

In 1986, Carrino’s father started working as a technician at Sparks Tire & Auto–the same year his daughter was born. He built a career there until he bought the business out in 2000 and became the owner. 

Carrino initially had no plans to enter the family business. She studied geography and architecture in college and had plans to work in home development and land design, but graduated during the housing market crash of 2008, making her job prospects slim.  

So, she came to work at Sparks alongside her parents. Her father was usually out in the shop while her mother worked the front desk. Carrino oversaw the shop’s marketing and took over some of the bookkeeping and found that working with her family made her feel right at home.

“My dad brought me on until I could find a job eventually. But I never left,” says Carrino. “He was stuck with me and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

After coming on, Carrino slowly became more involved with the business. Year by year, she would take on more responsibility and has become a co-owner alongside her parents in the past two or three years. 


Finding Her Voice 

Though they still own the business, Jessica’s parents let her handle most of the day-to-day operations at Sparks and have taken a backseat role. Carrino runs most decisions past her father, who has decades of industry experience to back up his perspective. 

“I’m like, ‘Am I making a mistake doing this?’ And if I'm about to, he will speak up and go, ‘I've done been there, done that: don't do it,’” Carrino explains.  

For every shop owner, having someone to turn to for advice is essential. Though Carrino is thankful to have her father, she strives to gain as much insight as she can. Her business coach–who has owned multiple auto shops and now runs a consulting firm–has also been instrumental in guiding her as a business owner. 

Growing up around the business undoubtedly offered Carrino some experience in the field, but as a current owner, she hasn’t shied away from changing things up a bit. Instead of having one customer service representative at the front desk, two service advisors handle the position, allowing Carrino to focus more on running the business. 

Having once worked at Sparks as a technician himself, Carrino’s father didn’t stop working on cars after becoming the owner. He was often out in the shop alongside his techs, ensuring that they were holding to the standards he expected. 

While the same amount of work is getting done at Sparks, Carrino has taken a more relaxed style than her father. Not being technically inclined herself, she’s usually inside her office handling other things and trusts her techs to get their work done. If something comes up or there’s an issue, they know they can come to her. 

“If they have to run home and let the dog out because it's a puppy or whatever, I'm okay with that,” says Carrino. “Some shops are like, ‘No, you have to do that on your own time.’ But I understand in today's world, that things have changed, and you kind of have to go with the flow. So I feel like I'm very much more laid back than some owners might be.” 


Creating a Culture Around People 

As a business owner, Carrino is not only worried about herself but her employees as well. To do her job well, both she and her employees must be able to thrive. 

It wasn’t long after Carrino began taking a more dominant role in the business that the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Though their car count took a hit, she knew she needed a reason for her employees to still come in and earn a paycheck.  

So, she used it as an opportunity to improve other parts of the shop that had been placed on the back burner. She sat down and figured out a plan with her team, and they soon got to work on remodeling the building. As a result, Sparks did not lose one employee throughout the pandemic lockdowns. 

“I don't think people really think about [those things] if they're not business owners,” says Carrino. “We don't just have to worry about ourselves and keeping the doors open. I have to make sure my employees’ families have food on their table, and that they're going to thrive and survive.”  

Carrino’s care for others is an attitude that stretches beyond her staff to her customers and is part of what makes her such a powerful shop owner. Whether it be developing marketing campaigns or explaining to a customer what needs to be done with their car, talking with consumers and establishing a memorable connection with them is something she both enjoys and excels at. 

Though Carrino’s current career doesn’t have much to do with what she studied in college, she credits that time with lending her valuable skills in business and communication that continue to benefit her to this day. She doesn’t have experience working as a technician herself, but growing up around the family shop offered her more insight than most into the industry. 

Now, being ASE certified in service consulting, she uses these skills to translate the technical language from the techs into simple terms for customers. 

“I'm not on the front counter anymore, but when I was, it was easier for me to relate to the customer, because I don't have that technical base. But I have enough understanding that I can translate for the customer,” she explains. 

Ultimately, seeing a customer walk away confident and happy is what Carrino finds fulfilling about her job; but she knows she wouldn’t be able to do it without the mentorship she’s had throughout the years. 

“As a teenage girl, I never wanted to listen to what my dad said; but as I've gotten older, anything that he says is knowledge that he's gained from being in the industry, so I take any advice I can from him,” says Carrino. “So just be open to learning new things, you're never too old to learn.” 

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).