Employees-first mantra boosts sales
Fort Collins, Colo.—When Bryan Gossel took the first step to improve the performance of his repair shop, BG Automotive, he hired an industry consultant, the Automotive Training Institute (ATI). He admitted, however, that it took him three years to heed their advice.
Gossel said he eventually swallowed his pride, hired the right shop personnel, got out of their way, and went to work on improving the business. The net result was more than a 900-percent increase in gross sales, he said, setting a pace for the shop to hit $2.5 million this year.
“I’ve learned to always put people first,” Gossel said. “Whether its employees or customers, never put money before people.” Gossel said this belief is a common thread among all the successful shop owners he has come to know through industry networking.
Along with participation in ATI, Gossel also serves on ASA Colorado’s mechanical board; participates in the Transformers, a Colorado Springs-based group of 11 shop owners from around the country; and is a member of the Automotive Repair Business Owners (ARBO), a group of six shop owners in northern Colorado.
“I want to raise the bar for the auto repair industry,” he said, as market conditions are getting harder for the independent shop owners. “The more of us that do it well make the industry better.”
Hire right and pay well
During his first three years of ATI, Gossel said he refused to hire somebody who was “smarter” than him or someone who could make more money. He said he kept hiring the wrong type of employees.
“It was a tough pill to swallow,” Gossel said with a chuckle. His first big step was to hire a general manager, Phil Christensen, who had experience running a tire store. “I was afraid to pay Phil that amount of money up front,” he said, adding that he was also unsure he wanted to hire extra technicians for fear of not being able to feed them work.
After overcoming his initial hesitation, he said the hires eventually paid off. Christensen is still managing the shop and its employees today, he said. The crew now includes two service advisers, a parts specialist, and four technicians.
“Hiring the right people is key,” he said. Any business must have the four major personality types in order to succeed, he said, pointing out that all candidates take a personality test through Wonderlic during the interview process. The 30-minute test produces a 36-page report that indicates if a person is a driver, thinker, motivator, or supporter.
The mantra that Gossel learned through ATI is to “always be hiring” techs and advisers. This enables a shop to accommodate growth and make up for attrition, which is inevitable, he said, citing a situation he had a few years ago when three people decided to move on to other jobs in a single week. “You always have to be out there talking to people and filling the employee pipeline.
Spreadsheets, not wrenches
Although the path to shop ownership usually starts in service bays, it’s not necessarily the recipe for ongoing success.
“I’ve been out of wrenching on cars for the last four years,” Gossel said. “That was hard for me, especially giving up working on cars.”
Before joining ATI, Gossel said, “I never really looked at the numbers and what it took to be a successful business.” Now, a personal coach reviews the shop’s numbers with Gossel weekly.
Although the cost to join ATI is substantial, Gossel said the ROI is high. Gossel’s coach gives him “homework” weekly looking at key performance indicators and benchmarks within the business. “I have somebody who holds me accountable.”
Benchmarks that Gossel said he pays close attention to are car counts, labor hours per RO, effective labor rates, parts profit margins, and average dollars per RO.
For marketing statistics, ATI’s website vendor Kukui is able to integrate their website, bgautomotiveinc.com, to the shop’s RO Writer management system. This reveals to Gossel exactly how new customers are finding their way from the digital world to the shop’s front door.
“The customer will touch you three times before they come see you,” he said. “You have to handle those touches perfectly.” For this reason, he said he invests heavily in customer service training, in particular, phone skills, he said. The shop measures these results, he said, with a conversion rate of 25 percent.
Recommended through ATI, Gossel said he’s come to discover the power of offering customers preventive maintenance services through BG Products supplied locally by Kenz & Leslie.
“If there’s such a thing as a mechanic in a can, that’s the closest thing,” Gossel said.
To illustrate his point, Gossel recalled a situation with one of his customers who owned a Subaru, powered by a four cylinder with noisy valves. After being told by the dealership that the problem could not be fixed, he sought out the advice of BG Automotive.
The shop’s technician used a can of BG’s Quick Clean in the motor oil that cleans engine components and restores performance. The final oil change also included a can of BG’s Motor Oil Additive (MOA). This combination made the engine run smoothly, he said, solving the problem.
The shop also uses all of BG Product’s fluid exchange machines for flush and replace services, he said, with two transmission machines, two power steering, two induction service machines, and the BG Frigi-Clean flush for A/C systems.