The 2018 Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Awards: Melissa Brunson

Sept. 5, 2018
As someone who has played virtually every role at Adams Autoworx, Melissa Brunson is now bringing everyone to her level as general manager. The results speak for themselves, with annual revenue up $1 million and ARO up $100 over one year ago.

When customers leave an auto repair shop, they don’t remember the work done on their car—they remember the smile that greeted them the moment they first walked into the store.

At Adams Autoworx, that smile belongs to Melissa Brunson.

“You’re supposed to love people in every aspect of life,” she says. “You have to try to be a caring person.”

Really, no matter what role she serves at the shop, it all comes down to just that: caring more. Ever since being hired in 2005, as Brunson has received promotion after promotion and gained more responsibility at Adams, that’s the attitude she brings. Whether it was answering phone calls as a CSR; organizing shop paperwork as an administrative assistant; streamlining the parts ordering process as parts manager, or drastically elevating the shop’s ARO as service advisor, Brunson cares about taking herself and the people around her to that next level.

And ever since shop owner Bill Adams promoted her to general manager of 10 employees in 2017, Brunson has applied that work ethic in every business segment she’s perfected over the years.

“When we got to the end of last year, I said, let’s take the things she does best, like managing and administering and controlling work orders, to give us the highest probability for success with client,” Adams says. “She’s found the secret sauce.”

In just one year as general manager, Brunson has proven that she does, indeed, own the secret ingredient to success. Over the past 12 months, annual revenue at the Castro Valley, Calif., shop has risen by $1 million to $3 million; ARO has gone up over $100; average opportunity has increased by a staggering $1,900; and CSI has skyrocketed to 98 percent. Virtually everyone at the shop is in sync, and Adams credits most of that to Brunson’s leadership.

“She’s put herself in more of a point guard position instead of being a quarterback,” he says. “She’s always 2–3 steps ahead of everyone.”

That’s likely because Brunson always looks for ways to improve processes, customer retention and employee engagement. Mastering that trifecta has allowed Brunson to look down the road and think long term when it comes to courtesy vehicle inspections, parts ordering, phone answering skills—you name it, and Brunson is coaching her team how to perfect it.

An attentive leader, Brunson views her team as a finely tuned machine that must be properly maintained in order to function at the high level the shop has now grown accustomed to—and that includes when stress is high, motivation is low. A “verbal encourager,” Brunson finds that cultivating relationships with her team members empowers them to let their guards down and confidently confide in her whenever they need encouragement to meet Adams Autoworx’s standards.

“I try to make sure everyone knows they’re appreciated for their time and effort,” she says. “I’ll show up with coffee or tea and say, ‘I know it was a struggle yesterday, but keep a positive attitude. It’s a new day.’”

She’s transferred that attentiveness to customers, as well. Simply listening to a customer and asking questions allows so many opportunities to establish connections, she says. Where their children to go school, when they started a new job, a past poor auto repair experience—remembering those kinds of details establishes the kind of trust that leads to a $750 ARO (Adams Autoworx is a general shop with no specialties, in case you’re wondering).

That approach worked brilliantly for her as a service advisor, and now she’s coaching the front office on her ways, as well. All three service advisors were hired and coached under Brunson’s watch, including a former grocery store clerk and CSR who recently sold $54,000 of work in a single month. Evaluating each service advisor, Brunson studies how each employee learns best and then forms a selling process based on his or her strengths.

Brunson extends that diligence to the back of the shop, as well. While improving each service advisor's sales skills has undoubtedly boosted ARO, so has improving courtesy inspections under her watch, as they have increased the average opportunity on a sale by almost $2,000.

On top of that, Brunson has established a disciplined, profitable parts ordering process that narrows down necessary parts and ensures the part is ready for the tech when he or she needs it. So, if there’s a strut assembly, Brunson works with the technician to buy the parts needed, as opposed to multiple pieces, in order to “get a better part and pricing that benefits everyone in the long run.”

Preaching all these processes and mindsets is one task—empowering those around you to succeed is much more daunting. But for Brunson, it doesn’t seem that daunting; simply being a “caring person” is the secret ingredient, the beginning and end of running a profitable operation.

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