‘Grass is greener’ at Grant
Morrison, Colo.—With more than $2 million in annual revenues churned out by six techs in 17 bays, Ben Grant’s mountain shop hums along with a 350 monthly car count and a recently raised labor rate of $125.
“I raised the rate 10 percent at the first of the year in order to compensate for increased property taxes,” says Grant, who opened Grant Automotive in Morrison, Colo., in 2000. “I also increased it to pay the guys more because good technicians are becoming harder to come by.”
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At a glance:
• Bays: 17
• Facility: 8,000 square feet
• Staff: 6 techs, 3 service writers
• Monthly car count: 350 (summer), 300 (winter)
• Annual revenues: $2 million-plus
• Labor rate: $125
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There hasn’t been any pushback from customers since the increase, and when asked why he doesn’t then raise it 15 percent, Grant replied, “I just needed 10 percent, not 15. It gave everyone a raise and left me where I was before, and I’m fine with that.”
Such a posture is indicative of Grant’s perspective of shop ownership and his way of conducting business: be fair, honest, reward staff, take care of every customer’s needs and don’t upsell.
‘Grass is greener’ at Grant
Grant’s employee benefits are comparable to a dealership’s, but there are also “spiffs,” such as bonuses, buying lunches (Grant will sometimes come in on his day off and treat) and a team culture in which everyone chips in whenever help is needed. The shop also typically takes four days off on holiday weekends.
“Everybody looks out for everybody, and because of that, when we have good months or a good year, I share it with everyone. They always get more than what they are expecting. If they go somewhere else, they’re often promised more and receive less.”
Grant is presently searching for an A-tech, which has been taking a while, but he would rather find the right tech than plug a staffing hole.
“We were looking for two, because I had a tech leave to go elsewhere, but after six months he came back, which is somewhat normal for us — people leave for a few months then come back and become a longtime employee. ‘The grass is always greener,’ but they always return. It’s a really good sign for what we do here.
“If everyone is playing ball and things are going well, they can make more here. The incentives are good. I hand out bonuses on a regular basis — that’s always ‘green grass.’”
Taking care of customers
Grant Automotive concentrates on taking care of all its customers’ needs, whether it’s an oil change or a transmission replacement.
One case in point is a customer’s Subaru with more than 600,000 miles that’s had a lot of work over the years, including a couple engine replacements.
“We just keep it going, working on it once or twice a year. It’s had a lot of work over the years, to the point where most people would have moved on, but the customer likes the car. My philosophy is if you like your vehicle — even though you’re putting as much money into fixing it than it’s worth — and it’s in good shape, it makes sense to service it.”
While the shop focuses on domestics and Japanese brands, it avoids European manufacturers.
“We always seemed to struggle a bit with European cars because we never saw many of them — they represented about 2 percent of our business and half of our frustrations — so we stopped working on them, even for oil changes, which we don’t make money on, anyway. Many of them have their BMW or VW mechanics that they’ve had for years, and would come to us for cheaper oil changes. Why do their oil changes if we’re not getting the rest of the work?”
Grant has begun investing more in factory scan tools because there’s more information and tests available.
“The aftermarket tools offer great products, and will give you 80 percent of what’s needed, but there are tests we’re unable to run, so we started switching over to dealer scan tools.”
Grant said the shop spends approximately $15,000 on factory diagnostic equipment annually, from updates to computers to scanners. His technicians own and use aftermarket tools as needed, then drill down with the shop’s factory equipment.
When it comes to technician training, Grant employs a little bit of everything, from online classes to parts supplier courses, for which he’ll purchase his techs season passes.
“Diesel Forward (formerly Central Motive Power) has some great diesel classes that are typically two to three days, which is a lot to ask a tech to take time away from the shop, so I pay their wages and fees.”
Working on the business
Grant turns wrenches when needed, but spends the majority of his time working on the business, rather than in it.
“Advertising is always a big focus, as well as accounting and general oversight.”
Advertising is primarily through local publication print ads and Google Ads. “We’re so busy in the summer that we do most of our advertising in the months that we’re slow. The months we need it, I really jump on it. We’ll run Google Ads until May or June, then turn them off.”
Grant had invested much thought about opening a second location in the past, but ultimately determined he likes to be “hands-on” with customers and in the facility.
“If a customer has a question, I like to answer it. Many of them have been with me for 30 years, having followed me from where I used to work.”
For someone who began working at a Subaru specialist shop when he was 15, where he eventually became manager for eight years, and then opened his shop 12 years later, Grant’s passion for the industry hasn’t waned.
“One day I’ll be an absentee owner, but right now I enjoy coming to work every day.”