Knocking on opportunity’s door
Denver—From technician to advisor and now general manager for Urban Autocare in Denver, Phil Carpenter has been busy in an accelerating automotive career. The devil is in the details, and he manages, hires, and locates prospective employees with a nose for particulars and talent.
He developed his appetite for cars like many have — holding a flashlight as a child as his father wrenched in the driveway. Those early beginnings led to auto shop classes throughout high school, and by the time he was a senior, four of his eight courses were in automotive technology.
“My older siblings had all gone to four-year colleges and weren’t using their degrees, which didn’t motivate me to take a similar path (since that time, they have become a professor, lawyer, and professional actor),” said Carpenter, who always “felt at home” working on vehicles.
He enrolled at UTI and its Audi Academy Program, then for more than four years, he worked at Audi dealerships until he was hired by Brian Sump, owner of Avalon Motorsports, in 2007. At the time, the business was primarily online performance parts sales for Audis and BMWs.
A higher gear
Avalon eventually grew into a service and repair shop, moving to Colfax Avenue in Denver with a BMW technician, where its success grew and Carpenter was rapidly promoted from technician to service advisor to manager. His career found another gear in June 2014, when Sump purchased Autotailor in Denver from Brent Wells, who Sump knew well from a WORLDPAC SMART Group.
“Brian told me it was a different game because it was all makes/all models, and asked if I would run it. I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Staffing the right employees
The previous shop had been in business for more than 20 years, came with two techs and collected $600,000 in revenues the year prior to being acquired. Today, the three-bay, 1,900-square-foot business, having been renamed Urban Autocare, will hit $1,200,000 in sales, with two advisors, Carpenter, and two techs, though they normally carry three.
Urban Autocare sources techs from Indeed and Pickens Tech, which has been a developing a relationship. At the time of Parts & People’s interview, he had been searching for a third tech for three months.
“We’re picky. I would rather hire one time. We’ve resolved ourselves to the need to have a ad continuously running based on what position we might need to fill next, whether it’s for five- to eight-year experienced tech, a master tech, or a European specialist.”
He added that they collect resumes and conduct interviews even if they aren’t hiring.
“We make contact and connect, then be straight forward with them and let them know there isn’t a position at the time, but we’re always growing and expanding. We organize potential candidates’ resumes and interview experiences into files according to skill levels, so when there is a need, we might be able to reconnect depending on their situation. Sometimes it’s a long courting process. We spend $450 a month on Indeed, which might sound like a lot, but it’s much less than the cost of not having the right person in your shop.”
Urban Autocare’s team works well together, Carpenter said.
“We hire as a team and we fire as a team. We typically look for a candidate with a base in automotive technology education, such as from Lincoln Tech or Pickens, then we focus our energies on how they work with others. We want to know their general attitude toward life. If they don’t have a background in automotive, but express a desire to get into it, we’ll ask what they liked to do as a kid — we seek answers such as, ‘Well, I liked to take apart microwaves and I played with my bike,’ that shows curiosity and wanting to know how things work at a young age. If we can find someone with a technical mind, has some knowledge with a good attitude and can work well with others, then we can teach them other skills.
“But I can’t teach attitude — I’ve tried, but it’s exhausting.”
‘Attitude’ and culture
Urban Autocare’s “attitude” and culture spin on the axis of collaboration and a positive mindset.
“A lot of our employees end up being friends with each other and hang out after work,” Carpenter said. “We’ll call each other out, too, if we see a pattern of behavior or performance that’s not up to our collective high expectations, rather than letting it go for too long and having it result in a unhappy situation. We teach that weekly. We’re all adults and we should be able to talk to one another. I’ll perform mediation and coaching when necessary, but I’m not a babysitter — I have five kids and I don’t want to do that here.”
Carpenter is presently in the process of closing on another local shop that will become a second Urban Autocare, after he located a suitable location and facility. The acquisition is expected to be in March, though details aren’t available to be reported on at this time.
Benefits of ASA Colorado
After attending ASA Colorado’s annual Summit training event for the past two years, Carpenter became enamored of the association’s goal and mission to assist the region’s automotive service and repair industry, and began researching the national organization and local chapter. He’s now a board member.
“I liked the concept of trying to do whatever it takes to help the industry work together and make it better. Independent repair isn’t easy, but we’re all resolved that there are more than enough cars to go around for everyone.
“If you take care of people, you’re going to be busy.”