Conservative business tactics pay off for Centennial’s Hotshots Automotive
Centennial, Colo.—With nearly two decades managing retail tire stores, Steve Pidcock said he’s come to intimately know the ups and downs associated with running a repair shop. So when he decided to venture out on his own, he came up with a conservative three-year plan to open Hotshots Automotive Inc. nearly debt-free.
“If I can’t save and buy something, then I won’t,” said Steve Pidcock, who opened Hotshots, a NAPA AutoCare Center, with his wife, Leann, in 2004. “That’s always been my ‘m.o.,’ but when the economy tanked it really paid off.”
Cutting his teeth as a drivability technician, Pidcock said he eventually worked his way into management. While working as a manager at Columbine Firestone in Littleton for 16 years and three years at the now-defunct Stonegate Great American Tire, Pidcock said he learned to focus on profit margins and fixed expenses.
To keep initial overhead low, Pidcock leased a small space within a Centennial body shop for three years while he looked for a permanent location. “I was afraid to put a sign up because of the volume,” he said. Eventually, however, he was able to purchase an empty, newly constructed 4,400-square-foot building right across the street.
In addition to the loan required to purchase the building, Pidcock said he took a small construction loan to finish the inside of the shop, which was paid off before he completed the project.
Most of the equipment that furnishes the five-bay shop was acquired from other shops or dealerships that went out of business. “I went to auctions and bought all of the equipment used, paying with cash out of pocket.” Pidcock said that many new shop owners spend too much money outfitting a shop with new equipment, even taking out loans to finance the purchase.
The equipment includes an Ammco brake lathe, Hunter DSP600 alignment machine, a Snap-on Solus, and three Rotary two-post lifts, two of which are heavy-duty and can accommodate up to 25,000 lbs. He added that he also purchased a new BendPak two-post lift, which he bought online, and a Coats 70XAF1 tire changer with an oversized turntable that can handle up to 19.5-inch truck tires, purchased new from NAPA.
“I planned the shop to have five bays, because the overhead is just right,” he said, pointing out that having four technicians working in five bays is ideal.
After managing technicians for many years, Pidcock said he’s fully aware that each is different and unique and has strengths and weaknesses, playing to each. “The key is to keep them growing and learning new things,” he said, adding that fostering a team environment encourages them to help each other.
Instead of simply paying them a flat rate, he said that he pays them a “progressive” flat rate, which is custom-tailored to the individual’s ability and strengths.
While Pidcock tended to the details of the work area, he said his wife designed the front counter, office, and customer waiting area.
The original design of the customer service counter, which can accommodate two service writers, cost $18,000, Pidcock said, joking that it wasn’t in the budget. After a redesign, he said they were able to come up with a similar design that included checkered glass tile.
Visible from the busy Jordan Road, the new sandstone building is attractive and outfitted with a colorful business sign.
Advertised on the building, which essentially functions as a billboard, is an ongoing promotion of the Pidcocks — “Tires at Cost.”
At the onset of the business, Pidcock said he tried to not offer tire sales because of lack of profitability, but came to realize that it is convenience for the customer that matters. The only costs associated with the tire install are valve stems, if applicable, mounting, and balancing.
Pidcock said he even encourages his customers to shop around for tires, who eventually come back to him, even if his price is a little higher. Using tires as a loss leader allows him to get the wheels off the car and discover other needed mechanical work, he added.
GCR supplies the shop with Bridgestone and Firestone brands, while American Tire Distributors is the source for Michelin and BF Goodrich, he said, pointing out that they’ll source whatever brand is needed to get the sale.
For parts, Pidcock said his Service Advisor Chad Hart relies on nearby NAPA jobber The Rock Parts Co., One Stop Parts Source for the Centric brake line and many other parts, and AutoNation’s Go dealerships for OEM parts.
When it comes to seals and gaskets, Hart, who has worked for several aftermarket parts suppliers, said he will only install OE.
Pidcock said he prefers to have his service advisors do everything for the repair order (RO) they’re working on, from communicating with the customer and technician to procuring the necessary parts.
Even though Pidcock has a strong grasp on how to run a shop, he said independent repair shop owners need a support system, which he said came in the form of upper management when he worked for Firestone and Great American. Now, he said, support comes through his involvement with Automotive Training Institute (ATI).
“Even an owner needs a slap on the hand or a reality check every now and then,” Pidcock said, adding that even though he already knew many of the fundamentals on how to run a shop, ATI helps keep him on track with items, such as fixed and controlled expenses.
Key performance indicators that Pidcock said he has a strong grasp of are car counts, gross profit on parts, gross profit on labor, and average RO for the shop.
Unlike a corporate environment, where it may take months to correct the course of a shop, Pidcock said he can plug his numbers into a software program available on ATI’s website called Portal and see where his shop is at in relation to benchmarks on a weekly basis. “It’s a diagnostic tool for your business.”