Ozarks Tech school instructor transitions to shop owner, quadruples sales at previous quick lube
Ozark, Mo.—In the spring of 2009, Ashley Gilbert was finishing up his fourth and final year as an instructor in the Automotive Technology Program at Ozarks Technical College (OTC) and transitioning into a new full-time position as owner and operator of an automotive repair shop.
“I left my dream job to pursue another dream,” said Gilbert, who, with his wife and co-owner, Amy Gilbert, purchased a quick lube in Ozark and converted it into a full–service repair shop.
Gilbert, who has an automotive technology degree from Nashville Auto Diesel and experience as a technician at a local Ford dealership as well as his father’s at-home repair shop, said the decision to open his own shop was inspired by a trip he took to Kansas City for the ASA-MO/KAN Vision Hi-Tech Training & Expo in 2006.
“I never knew about the Automotive Service Association (ASA), but then I went to Vision and enrolled in technical training courses and it really opened my eyes to the amount of resources available to independent repair shop owners,” said Gilbert, adding that he has not missed a year since, and now sends his two repair technicians, and service manager as well.
“When I used to get dealership training through Ford, it was good, but it mostly applied to what to expect on new models coming out,” Gilbert said, “whereas Vision training is more real world, and getting that aspect was good, especially for running an independent shop that will see multiple makes and models of vehicles.”
Amy Gilbert, who has previous experience in sales and marketing, as well as an MBA, said she was equipped with the necessary skills to set up, organize, and run the business, but it was the management training courses offered at Vision that quickly got her up to speed on how those skills could be applied to the automotive repair industry.
Some of the insight she picked up at Vision included managing inventory and employee pay scales to strategies for pricing and selling parts and services, she said.
“I came from the jewelry industry,” she said, “so I was selling diamonds, and the difference is that when you are selling diamonds, people ‘want’ them, and in this industry, it’s ‘need’ money, which makes it a little tougher.”
Regardless, Amy Gilbert said, the approach to selling is very similar — “finding the need and filling it.”
And no different than sales in the diamond industry, Gilbert said it is much easier to sell when consumers are educated on the value and benefits of a specific product or service, which has been a crucial element to the success of Go Automotive.
For one, Amy and Ashley said they have spent considerable time rebranding and educating customers that the shop is now full service.
Since the shop was already set up with two quick lube bays, Gilbert said that he maintained them but also added four bays, specifically for repairs.
“We kept the quick lube because it generates 14 to 20 cars every day, and it gives us the opportunity to educate those customers on our full line of services,” he said. “It is the least profitable service and very time-consuming, but it is the most important aspect as far as the whole business goes.”
Gilbert said there is no appointment necessary for oil changes, and to help incentivize repeat oil change customers, he has implemented a punch-card promotion through Castrol.
“If a customer purchases a Castrol oil change, they get their sixth oil change free,” said Gilbert, adding that the $36.95 Castrol oil change includes topping off fluids, checking tire pressure, vacuuming the car, and washing the windshield. “Last year, we gave away $8,000 worth of oil changes through the promotion, but we know that for every one we give, we have gotten five, and we have not seen a negative impact financially. With this promotion in place, customers reconsider getting their oil changed elsewhere because they have a reason to come back.”
The lube bays require three to four employees at all times, he said, and with two general repair technicians, two service advisors, a part-time lube-tech, and Amy, who handles all the bookkeeping, marketing and sales management, there are 10 employees on staff, many of whom came from the Auto Technology program at OTC.
“All our guys here are fairly young,” said Gilbert. “They are getting really good, though, and I’ve had the opportunity to be a mentor and lead them in the right direction.”
Since purchasing the shop, Gilbert said, they have partnered with key vendors and invested in marketing and advertising, which has led to a large increase in sales.
“We’ve quadrupled the gross sales,” said Gilbert, adding that Springfield-based O’Reilly Auto Parts and Nixa-based Oakland Lubrications have been key assets to his business. Gilbert said he also works closely with area dealers for OE parts, including Friendly Ford, Thompson GM, and Corwin Dodge, as well as the Tulsa Parts Connection.
As for marketing and advertising efforts, Amy Gilbert said she has invested in three billboards in and around Ozark, as well as ad placement prior to movies at the Ozark/Nixa movie theater.
While these methods of advertising are primarily for branding purposes and difficult to track, Gilbert said her involvement in a local Business Network International (BNI) group has been the biggest asset to the business, and trackable. “For every dollar I’ve spent in BNI, I have gained $100,” Gilbert said, adding that she attends meetings every Tuesday morning from 7-9 a.m. “It’s a big commitment, but it’s been the best thing we could have done as a start-up business.” Gilbert said that with the recent addition of their son, Raylan, who is now 8 months old, they’ve had to adapt. “The baby has taken a lot of Amy’s time, and she plays an invaluable role here, working the front counter and handling all the books, so we have had to shift what we are doing a bit,” he said. “We are still making everything work, though, he added, “We have to — it’s our livelihood — there is no backup plan, we’re all in.”