‘From the ’50s to the future’
Lakewood, Colo.—Randy Pickering has an important date marked on his calendar — November 2020. It’s when he’s set to retire and will hand off two-location Pickering’s Auto Service to his three children, Trent, Brandon and Taylor, who represent the family’s fifth generation in the automotive industry. But first, there’s succession planning to take care of.
“Everything fell into place,” Brandon said. “If the three of us didn’t have different skillsets and interests, it wouldn’t have worked. Earlier on, none of us considered being part of the shop.”
Brandon, who handles the back office, got his start in the business by washing cars 12 years ago and eventually acquired a business degree with the intent of getting into hotel and resort management, but ultimately decided to invest his career the in shop’s office. His father began delegating an increasing workload and Brandon also brought payroll services and benefits packages back in-house after having had it outsourced.
Trent experienced a similar beginning, lending a hand during high school and then leaving the industry to focus on being a golf professional before returning nine years ago to write service, eventually becoming the service and operations manager.
“Trent handles the team and the daily customer and vendor interactions, which gives me anxiety just thinking about it,” Brandon said, laughing. “It’s perfect for Trent. I’d rather be in the office pounding away at numbers.”
Taylor worked toward a marketing degree while she interned at Pickering’s and came on board full time upon graduation five years ago. She now handles all of the shops’ marketing in-house.
“Taylor has a knack for branding and how to showcase who we are to our community, how to be involved in the community and how to track our marketing efforts,” Brandon said.
Trent added, “We all fell into it, and now we’re like a three-legged stool — we each have our specialty and we support each other.”
Their father had always told them that he was “OK” if they didn’t want to pursue the family business, Taylor said. “He didn’t care one way or the other, he just wanted us to be happy. He worked hard to provide for his family and he’s honored to pass it down.”
As his children became more involved, Randy Pickering expanded with a second location in Arvada to help support multiple, growing families. Longer term, a third shop is on the horizon.
Succession planning is underway, as is a rebranding of the business. First steps involved reaching out to a consulting firm to help their father pass along day-to-day operations and allow him to be more of an absentee owner. At present, they’ve developed a few strategies — such as owner-carry — to continue the transition, though they are in the process of narrowing them down.
“Because we’re a family, we have the benefit of ‘gifting’ and tax advantages,” Trent said, “and so we’re looking at what is the best next path for us and to support our parents for the rest of their lives.”
The business has been restructured for liability coverage, so that the assets that their father created are protected. “Once he fine-tunes his retirement goals and how he wants to set us up to support us, then the next steps will be defined as we work with different consultants and their strategy offerings,” said Taylor, who added that it’s important to have shop processes and systems in place so that if something were to happen, the business could essentially run on its own, which also increases its overall value.
“A business should be able to have a handbook of all of its procedures that makes it successful,” Brandon said. “It’s not the selling of an idea, it’s essentially selling your handbook.”
Many business owners are just “playing catch up” and aren’t thriving, they’re just surviving, Taylor said. “It’s never too early to start planning for the future and what you want out of your business. It allows you to focus more when you have an end-game in sight, whether that means selling to family, a partner, or going on vacation as an absentee owner.”
Rebranding for the future
For a business to remain viable and competitive, it must project an image and a focus to its customer base and evolve as the market evolves. Pickering’s rebranding efforts are intended to attract Millennials to the shop — a move away from its 1950s motif — and promote a tech-savvy image.
“We started to get a disconnect with the younger generation,” Brandon said. “If we want to continue this business into the future, we need to resonate with consumers.”
As a NAPA AutoCare Center, the shop’s exterior had been branded as such, along with a Pickering’s Auto Service logo, while the yet-to-be-updated interior is still reminiscent of an old-fashioned gas and service station with signs, sock-hop décor and “soda shop” furniture.
“We’re proud to be affiliated with NAPA,” Taylor said, “but our brand also has built a lot of equity in the community. There’s going to be a huge evolution of the automotive industry and, as a Millennial, the exterior and the interior needs to reflect that change with new meaning and messaging. Service and repair is increasingly digital — we’re now technology innovators — and that’s where the industry will continue to move. We want to bridge that gap and elevate the level of professionalism as vehicles become ‘smarter.’ Branding is a big part of it.”
While the interior is still to be redesigned, the new exterior signage and colors have been carried across all other aspects of the business, from its Kukui website to coupon offerings, in order to bring cohesiveness and brand definition.
“We have the best diagnostic technicians with the best equipment — we’re not working on carburetors,” Trent said.
“We’re going from the ’50s to the future.”