Next generation is on its way up
Englewood, Colo.—Saul Reisman, 28, is quickly making a name for himself.
He was just recently recognized by SEMA in its “35 Under 35” listing as a “young industry talent eyeing the future.”
He has more than 120 educational YouTube videos posted on his shop’s website that have gained him broad notoriety.
And, in April, he jetted to Tel Aviv for the 2017 Forbes Israel “30 Under 30 Summit,” comprised of top young innovators who are bringing disruption and game-changing transformation to business.
“I was among people in the transportation and mobility-related fields from around the world,” he says, “and they know who we are?”
Saul’s Automotive, in Englewood, Colo., expects to do more than $1 million in revenue this year, which is more than double the average of shops the same size, Reisman said. “Monthly car count is 120-150 and the average RO is $750, up from $450 two years ago. And that includes oil changes and all the basics.”
Not bad for someone who had no formal automotive training, but has a knack for fixing cars with a Masters in Physics from University of Colorado Denver.
At the time of Parts & People’s interview, contractors were demolishing walls and making room for an additional eight bays to his five-bay business.
“I was never trained as a mechanic,” Reisman said. “I’ve always had a passion for cars and everything I learned was from breaking it in my driveway.”
When he graduated from school, his immediate job offerings were military or government related, both of which weren’t appealing. While he had a lot of knowledge base fixing cars, he didn’t have applicable business skills.
The automotive shop idea began to germinate by trying to solve the industry’s “bruised public perception of classic, archaic failures” in service and how it can be changed.
“Six months later, we did $400,000 in revenue in my driveway,” he said, which included service on a Lamborghini Gallardo. “For the customer to have confidence to work on their $250,000 car in a driveway spoke volumes to us and told us that what we were doing was working and being supported.”
The business “took off like wildfire” and he hired technicians with 20 to 30 years experience — ‘A’ players — who he could learn more from. “I was 22 and wondering how I was going to pay someone $100,000 to turn a wrench.”
Seven years later, the business has grown from a driveway, to a two-car garage, an expansion to a four-bay shop, to today’s burgeoning facility.
His secret? Employ the best technicians possible and keep them learning. “We’re always in classes, whether the training comes from Snap-on, Borg Warner, or John Elway Chevrolet. It’s allowed us to keep ahead of technology and education — after that, it just comes down to conducting your own research and following through with customers.
“Education is so important in this industry. And if our customers can also become educated, they’ll also make better decisions.”
All of Saul’s Automotive techs are required to be ASE-certified. Technicians that are sourced through private, for-profit schools are re-tested. “Those programs are in it to make money, not necessarily to make technicians, which is degrading to this industry — they’ll even sell them the tools, too. I’ve had techs come out of those trade schools who were immediate failures, which is very unfortunate. Not one of them is still on my staff.”
The broader problem is a generational mindset to get an MBA and a white-collar job, so that now the industry is lacking technicians, he said.
Reisman recently hired a friend he’s known since grade school who used to wrench with him in his driveway. “I know his work ethic, he’s smart and he can do the job. It’ll take two years to train him into the position, but it’s worth it because we can’t get the best of the best out of the schools today.”
Once the new arrival completes his internship (with enough compensation to cover living expenses) under the guidance an ASE Master-certified technician, he’ll “easily be making $60K-$100K a year.”
“I have guys who are 23 and 24 making $78,000 because they take knowledge and get the job done,” Reisman said. “Some schools only teach by the book and manual and don’t apply the scientific process: develop a hypothesis, test it and analyze results.
“When a Bentley comes in and needs a $9,000 gauge cluster, they don’t tell you that you can take it apart, use an adjustable rheostat, and make an adjustable ohm meter in the dashboard to fix the cluster for $17.
“We need out-of-the-box thinking, so we’re building our own techs.”
Concern for industry culture, expanding technology
Many people in the industry are “about making money” and not enough about safety and technology, Reisman says. If Silicon Valley and car manufacturers brought their engineers together, then all the transportation and mobility safety systems that Americans call “nanny systems” — lane departure assist, active braking for cruise control, for example — can also work together, rather than being independent systems.
“If you walk off a curb in Europe, your phone’s bluetooth is networked to surrounding vehicles so they’re already changing lanes well in advance of approaching you,” he said. “Technology has to come together and work together, and that’s where America is failing right now. We’d rather have 20 nanny systems than integration.”
Of the 30,000 vehicle-related deaths every year in the U.S., 96 percent are human-caused and preventable, Reisman said. Of the 4 percent that remain, more than 90 percent are mechanical failures. “Less than 1 percent are actual accidents and unavoidable collisions.”
ADAS service and repair liability
Recalibrating ADAS and its sensors have liability concerns for independent shops, whether they know it or not, Reisman says.
For example: “When a Ford F-250, the most commonly modified truck sold in the U.S., has a simple leveling kit installed, it changes the angle of the lane departure awareness sensors so it won’t pick up the presence of a car beside it. The shop will be liable if an accident occurs as a result, and that’s a problem facing the aftermarket right now.”
Shops will have to make sure the systems are in compliance, though it will cost more to make those modifications for customers. “If a customer refuses beforehand to pay to bring a vehicle’s systems into compliance after a modification, we have to show them the door — we won’t do it. It’s not worth our risk, but, unfortunately, there will be some shops that take the business.”
As ADAS and sensors continue to proliferate and become integrated into vehicles, the autonomous car is not far off from being fully realized, Reisman said, and shops should be prepared to service them.
“It took 70 years for 90 percent market saturation of the telephone, TV took 40 years, CDs were 20 years, and cell phones took eight years. Autonomous cars? They’ll take three years. Already, a Budweiser semi-truck recently hauled a truckload from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs under full autonomy with no one on board — it’s coming sooner than you think.”
Long-term shop goals
As business continues to grow, Reisman’s five-year business plan calls for opening 10 shop locations nationwide in major metropolitan areas.
“We have people shipping their cars across the county, like a Rolls Royce that came in from Indiana last month, because they want quality and they don’t care what it costs,” he said. “Owners call and say they’re shipping us their Bentley, and when we ship it back, they say they have friends who are waiting for our service.”
His goal is to open a Westchester, N.Y., location within 16 months, because his shop’s analytics receive its highest density of demographic phone calls from there and the Northeast in general. Next locations include, in order, San Francisco, Southern California and Dallas.
“They’re seeing consistent, unreliable service. An auto repair shop’s average customer drives 2.1 miles to get serviced — why? Just because it’s ‘convenient?’” Reisman says. “Our average client comes from 41 miles away, and that’s taking into account 90 percent of our customers live in the city of Denver.”
Reisman wakes up at 4 a.m. every day, runs up to 10 miles, hits the gym and is at work by 7 a.m. “I try to work five hours a day in the shop — primarily diagnostics, which is where I can put my best value.”
He also spends approximately 15-20 hours a week working “on” the business, rather than “in” it, which took a long time to get to. “Of the seven years in business, I didn’t have a day off for the first five. Once the expansion is complete, we can do 40 cars a day — we just have to make sure our quality is there.”
Colorado-specific brake service and replacement
Englewood, Colo.—Customers who regularly travel up and down I-70 in and out of the mountains from the foothills and beyond place a lot of wear on their brakes, so when it’s time for replacement, Reisman installs high-performance Power Stop brakes with drilled and slotted rotors for cooling and slots to sweep away gas and dust.
“As car guys, we would think that people coming in for upgraded brakes are driving Subaru WRXs and other fast, sporty cars,” he said, “but, in reality, we install more Power Stop rotors on Toyota Siennas, Highlanders, Honda Odysseys and Dodge Caravans than anything else. If they would rather not downshift, we can support them with a high-quality brake and they can hold the pedal the whole way if they want to.”