Mountain View’s new owner succeeds with help from industry leaders
Thornton, Colo.—Mike Torres, a technician-turned-shop-owner, openly admits that he made costly mistakes early in his first attempt as an entrepreneur. Now, after seeking the advice of industry trainers and mentors and some soul searching, Torres was able to succeed and is off to a fresh start at his new shop, Mountain View Automotive, a NAPA AutoCare Center and AAA-approved auto repair shop.
In a recent visit with Parts & People, Torres reflected on his path to becoming a better business owner — and, he said, a better person.
“I was nothing more than an aggressive technician,” Torres said of his initial experience at Dakota Ridge Auto, a shop he co-owned with two business partners, and that within two years was awash in red ink and high employee turnover.
Being a proficient, well-paid ASE Advanced Master Certified technician wasn’t necessarily an asset as a manager and business owner, Torres said, as he found himself constantly looking over the shoulder of his technicians.
“One day, my three techs came in my office and said that if I came back into the bays one more time they were all quitting,” he said.
After two years, it was so bad, he said, at one point he didn’t come to work for two days and was ready to walk away from it all. “That was the moment that I realized maybe the problem was me.”
Networking, mentors, and training
It wasn’t until Torres participated in a RLO Training Bottom Line Impact Group that he said he began to make some real changes.
“My biggest hurdle was my personality type and management style,” he said. “They gave me tools for self-help and turned me around. I learned how to get my people to rally around me.”
The message from RLO trainers, he said, boiled down to “fix yourself or get out of the industry.”
Participating in RLO’s 20 Group taught Torres to network with like-minded shop owners and seek out mentors, and eventually become one himself.
“I believe strongly in networking with other shops and banding together for a common goal,” he said.
Among the shop owners who have influenced and advised Torres are Brian Bates and Randy Pickering, and former shop owner Douglass Kirchdorfer. “Those are the people who went out of their way to help me,” he said, adding that Bates, in particular, helped him change his viewpoint and put him on the right path.
Along with 41 other shop owners, Torres said he also participates in a NAPA Business Development Group for select NAPA AutoCare Center owners. “They are also a big part of my success,” he said.
Torres said Mudlick Mail helped him learn the value of direct-mail marketing, “and understand that consistent marketing will drive revenue. You can’t give up after one to three tries.” Torres said he sends the same households a direct-mail piece each month, with coupon offers and occasionally $25 gift cards. He also advertises in local publications and pays attention to his SEO online.
Success takes hold
“My job is to get the cars in the door and keep the lights on,” Torres said, not work at the service counter or in the bays. “Quality employees are the key to making my business successful.”
As Torres began to implement the practices he learned through training and networking, he said he slowly began to reduce his presence in the daily operations at Dakota Ridge — and, to his surprise, profitability steadily increased.
That’s when he began thinking about opening another shop, he said. But before doing so, he said, his business partners wanted proof that the shop could run without him if he was going to leave to open another location.
“I stopped coming to work as much and it kept running itself, with higher and higher profits,” he said. “I later realized I actually worked myself out of a job.”
Torres said he ultimately came to the conclusion that working at Dakota Ridge, after seven years, was no longer a challenge. He then told his partners he felt bored, and that owning multiple shops at that time was also probably not for him. So when his partners last year told him they wanted to buy out his share of the business, he accepted.
Acquiring Mountain View
Proceeds in hand, Torres said he set about looking for a repair shop to own and operate, and soon learned that one of his mentees, Sean Forest, was interested in selling his shop, Mountain View Garage in Thornton. In a cash transaction, he bought the business from Forest last August, renaming it Mountain View Automotive.
Shortly after purchasing the business, Torres said he was notified that the 10,800-square-foot building that houses the shop was purchased by a new commercial real estate investor and his rent was going up. However, this turned out better than Torres expected, since the new landlord offered him substantial funds for building upgrades and an option to buy it in just a few years.
Among the immediate improvements Torres made were the installation of central heating and cooling, interior and exterior painting, necessary roof and structural fixes and new signage.
Addressing tools and equipment
“I know what it takes in terms of tools, organization and equipment to be a productive technician,” he said, adding that he turned to NAPA Tool & Equipment representative Jason Prim.
Since tire sales are part of his business plan, and were non-existent at Mountain View, he purchased a Hofmann Monty 1620 rim-clamp tire changer and a Hofmann Geodyna 3900S wheel balancer from NAPA. He also bought a tire spreader for patch repairs, a tire dunker to locate leaks, and other tire tools. A new NAPA-branded 7.5 HP piston air compressor supplies the shop with air, he said.
After a safety walk-through with his garage insurance provider, Torres said he went to work addressing potentially hazardous working conditions and OSHA non-compliance items.
All the lifts were inspected and serviced by Beck’s Automotive Lift Service, he said. After the assessment, a lift had to be removed and a pair of new two-post 10,000-lb. Rotary lifts were purchased from NAPA and installed by Beck, he said.
Other notable upgrades included installing a technician work station with a computer, printer and an oil-change-label printer; extending the overhead exhaust system; and adding ample bottled and bulk fluids, filters, belts and hoses, and shop supplies.