When Alexandra Alexopoulos and her husband, William, started renovating an old Shell gas station into a repair shop, convenience store and gas station combo, little did they expect the business to become like a family. During the two phases of renovation in 2015, the husband-and-wife team stepped in to tackle extra repair work and learned running a business means more than sitting in an office.
Alexopoulos married into the automotive industry, took her background in fashion design and became the stay-at-work mother to her team at Randolph Automotive Servicenter in Randolph, Mass.
From starting a family in the ‘80s to now running one 2,720-square-foot repair shop and 2,500-square-foot gasoline and convenience store, she has altered not only the shop’s appearance, but also how customers are educated. And all of this is done with a total staff of five people in the shop (15 total). Today, the business does $1.4 million in revenue and the repair shop accounts for $750,000 of that.
I start reading the industry news when I’m eating my breakfast. I typically read two hours per day and the other hour is scattered throughout the day. It’s very important to keep up on new trends in the industry. Recently, I’ve had my eye on self-driving cars because if they become more popular in Massachusetts, then our shop’s services will have to adapt. We would have to divest time for training a new skillset.
The arts and cooking industries also often pique my interest. I often try new recipes and bring it in for the team. They’ve become my guinea pigs, and in a sense I’ve become like a mother-in-law to them. When asked how many children I have, I always include my team in the total.
I get in around 9 a.m. and start my day filling out any paperwork from the night before. Usually, the bankroll, emails and payroll pile up for the morning. I like to be able to get my banking done early. Before leaving at night, I place documents on my desk in the order of most important to least important. I place customer bills on the top, usually, because they take me the most time to do and then any certifications for our technicians. Then I scroll through my BlogIn app, which presents a newsfeed on my phone of what’s happening in my LinkedIn and emails. The app is quick and gives me a preview of every industry blog, rather than a full article.
I married into the auto industry and started learning the business as a bookkeeper. I can do our daily books and my husband is all about the numbers, but at the end of the day, I’m the creative part of the operation. I bring numbers to fruition.
I’m constantly creating new sales promotions for the customers and that takes up about an hour of my day. Then, there’s another hour spent researching our competitor’s tactics. I often drive by their store and see what signage is being placed around town and listen to advertisements on the radio. Sometimes customers come in and tell us about other local deals.
I like to visualize the business and bring my artistic background to the forefront. For example, I’ve set up a community wall in our waiting area where local artists can display their work for a month at a time. I helped design our waiting room to feel like a home with comfortable red leather chairs and warm, tan colors. To promote the repair shop business, we added TVs at the gas station pumps where I display commercials for our seasonal products like tires for the winter and spring wiper blades.
Another new project involved taking time to boost our tire sales. As a provider of PUMA and Hercules tires, I knew we needed a way to show the customer their options. So, I set up an elegant display rack that holds the two tires and a pamphlet book in the middle. We put that stand in the entrance of the convenience store where a lot of foot traffic goes in and out all day.
I don’t sit in my office all day. My office is on the second floor and overlooks the whole property. I spend most of my time in the convenience store or walking around the repair shop to learn what’s happening. I check in with my employees and customers I recognize, as well as learn what new repairs are being done by our technicians. We just got a new tire balancer so I spent time learning about that. There’s a whole slew of new issues and expenses that came along with the business remodel. Take mopping the floors—it seems simple but now that we have so much space we needed to get a floor scrubber.
I catch up with the customer whenever I am away from my desk. During my breaks, I like to visit with customers or cover for my employees. My lunch might not be until 3 p.m. depending on how many appointments are booked for the day. Since we have only one receptionist, I’ll cover her lunch to take the opportunity to get to know the customers.
I’m busier in the morning so I can be available later in the day to be the chauffeur or help out in the shop. I make it a point to treat our customers like family. I’ve always been a people person so I like to get to know the customer on a personal level with whatever information they’re comfortable sharing. I need to take time to educate the customer on their repair and build a long-lasting relationship. We recently added tablets in the waiting area for customers to use. The tablet is bolted to the table so it always acts as a type of welcome station. The tablet allows the customer to see details about their car and then choose their own specialized services. Their ability to show the customer photos and emails strengthens trust in the services we provide.
Every other week we have a 30-minute huddle meeting at the end of the day with the team. During the renovations, we only conducted brief meetings but the longer meetings help us become a lot more efficient and save time and money in the long run. We go over and file complaints, talk about goals and everybody shares their opinion. If there are complaints then we are able to immediately address it and email the customer.
Even though I’m spending more time in the shop, my community involvement is still important. Prior to the renovation, I was extremely involved in the community as the president of various committees. Now, I’m still involved but only on the boards. I was the past president of the Randolph Chamber of Commerce and now I’m just on the board. I leave around 6 p.m. or sometimes as late as 8 p.m., so I’m still able to participate during the day since most community meetings take place in the morning or after hours in the evening. I’m also able to take phone meetings and don’t necessarily have to leave the office.
Being involved in the community has shaped my leadership philosophy. My time spent with the Dynamic Divas of New England, an organization that helps women connect, instill confidence and excel their businesses across the New England area, taught me the three E’s of leadership—educate, encourage and empower. The most important—education—has led me to implement a program with Universal Technical Institute of Massachusetts. A student from the college comes in to work in the repair shop every other week. They focus on what they’re learning in class and apply it in real life.
I always say to a customer, “If you have a son who wants to learn more about the business, then bring him in and I’ll answer any questions.” Trust is probably the No. 1 aspect in building this business and that starts with getting to know your community.