One of major league baseball's most challenging and sought-after accolades is the triple crown. To achieve it, a player must end the season leading their respective leagues in home runs, RBIs, and batting average. In 2022, the auto care industry honored a triple crown winner of its own—Troy Auto Care—fittingly a half-hour away from Detroit, where the last MLB triple crown was won.
“When we won that NAPA AutoCare Center [of the Year] … that was just amazing. We have been celebrating that all year and then Kristi gets the phone call that she won Female Shop Owner the Year through Women in Auto Care and then last week we get the phone call that we're the AAPEX Shop Owner of the Year. I was just like, a triple crown. I mean, that is just incredible, and I'm so passionate, I'm so excited about my team,” says Donnie Hudson, co-owner of Troy Auto Care.
Troy Auto Care opened in 1958 as two-bay Shell gas station. Co-owner Frank Hudson, who worked alongside his father for a number of years, says the elder Hudson impressed upon both boys to “always take care of your customers and always do the right thing.” That directive remains a foundational tenant of the shop’s culture, which went from a Shell shop to a NAPA AutoCare Center 40 years later in 1998.
“My dad was in the army [during] Korea, and he came out, he always said you treat your fellow person as you would want to be treated and be fair. And we took that all through business our whole lives, and it's worked very well,” says Frank.
And those aren’t empty words for the Hudsons. Within their three shops, there are 113 employees who aren’t referred to as such. They’re not even called team members. The Hudsons are too salt-of-the-earth for superficiality. In their shop, the people on their payroll are called family members.
“The culture here is family-oriented. Each week, we have team spirit day every Friday. We always have challenges. Our employees are involved with the decision-making. We have daily huddles, weekly meetings,” says Donnie. “I have a thing for my technicians, my managers. They don't get vacation time. They don't get sick time. It's all unlimited. They get what they need. I had a manager have a baby. He needed a few weeks. He's getting his few weeks off with pay. It's no problem because I know what they do for us on daily basis, and I'm proud that we can do that.”
Kristi Hudson says it starts from the shop’s hiring process. The Hudsons want every employee to have a stake in the company’s growth and longevity.
"We're honest with them, we tell them what kind of atmosphere we have, we tell them our expectations. Basically, our goal is to see that every employee that comes in here succeeds,” Kristi says. “Our end goal is to be able to have enough shops where we can let our key employees have a stake in that and help us out.”
For Frank Hudson, growth is about relational cohesiveness. Does everyone have the back of another?
"The big thing is teamwork. Can I get everybody to work together as a team?” Frank says.
Part of that investment starts with the management team, who provides ongoing training opportunities and foots the bill on tools for their technicians. Donnie says his technicians are salaried, so they don’t have to give up their time for training and conferences, but they want to grow, and the company takes care of all expenses.
"For AAPEX, we're [brought] 12 of our technicians out there and we enrolled them in classes, and we paid for them to come out there. We gave them spending money, and they went to their classes. We also are on board with auto tech training through the NAPA e-learning. So, we do online training, we go to the monthly training they're offered every month, and NAPA sponsors the classes and send guys there each month,” Donnie says.
The Hudsons are also passionate about their community and in finding ways to give back, whether to charities or in elevating the profile of the trades within schools. It's something they actively participate in and because of that example, their team members choose to serve alongside them.
"Every community event that we have, we always have a lot of our employees show up and help out, not because I told them to be there, but because they want to be there. So anytime we do things in the community, they want to be involved. Some don't even live in this community, but they want to be involved because they're part of the family,” says Donnie.
For Kristi, service has meant returning to her alma mater, Oakland Schools Technical Campuses, Oak Tech as the locals call it. She wants students to discover automotive in a way they may not have seen before, particularly for teen girls.
"It's making sure that the schools are recruiting them the proper way and making sure that they have the proper equipment and tools for the kids,” Kristi says.
She says when she attended Oak Tech, the equipment was donated and outdated, and to attract and keep the attention of today’s kids—all digital native and computer savvy—they need the latest equipment, particularly those that are computer-based, which kids today are comfortable learning on.
"Outdated donated equipment doesn't get me excited,” says Kristi. “If we can get them top of the line [equipment] like in my shop ... we can show them all the possibilities. You don't have to be covered in grease at the end of the day. You got scan tools and computers and iPads. They're technicians."
From this partnership, Troy Auto Care gains youth apprentices within with whom to give first-hand opportunities within the shop.
“We have seven apprenticeship kids that come out of high school then into that NAPA apprenticeship program, the two-year college program to be trained to be technicians,” says Donnie Hudson.
The Cherry on Top of the Trifecta
Of course, there's so much more to share about Troy Auto to further validate why the company and its owners have been so celebrated in 2022, first through NAPA, then Women in Auto Care, and finally AAPEX. For Kristi, who was told she couldn't work in the field because of her gender, she now carries the mantle of being recognized as one of the best within it.
"Just the fact that they chose to nominate me meant a ton to me. I was in the automotive field way back in high school, and I started to go to college for it and I was informed I was a female, and I was in the wrong field. So, I listened to somebody, and I became a firefighter paramedic,” she says. "Now that I’m back in the field, my big goal is getting the young students, especially the females, into this field and they need a voice behind them.”
She says that’s what the organization has given her.
“Basically, Women in Auto Care helped give me my voice back to stand up to people and say, 'No, this is what I want to do. I can do it.' And look, I did do it. Women and Auto Care helped me with that.”