Sometimes timing is everything
Wheat Ridge, Colo.–Osvaldo “Ozz” Barrera, owner of West Highlands Auto Repair, will sometimes drive his customers home after they drop their cars off for service.
“Most of them don’t know me,” he said. “They ask how long I’ve been with the company and I’ll just say, ‘Since the beginning.’”
It’s not because he’s shy, but instead because he believes in the power of putting people in the right place.
“James Moreno, my service manager, is the face of the company,” Barrera said. “He’s responsible for our reputation and is great with people, so that role is perfect for him. I don’t need to be recognized, just successful.”
Having showed up in Denver with just $300 in his pocket and the promise of a job after graduating from Colorado Mesa State University’s automotive education program, Barrera’s journey to ownership has been riddled with successes and failures, some of which he attributes to simply learning to grow up.
“I was cocky when I first started,” he said. “I got fired from a few places and eventually left the industry for a few years to do sales, but I wasn’t happy. My wife encouraged me to get back into automotive, and I did, but with a completely different mindset.”
He went to work for a dealership and did very well as a technician for nearly five years before an incident with his service manager made him realize that it was time to start his own shop.
“I was doing side jobs early in the morning on Saturdays and eventually my service manager put a stop to it,” he said. “At that point I’d saved up $20,000 and was just waiting for the right time to make the leap into ownership — that incident just happened to be it. I knew right away what I had to do.”
So, at the age of 30, he started his first shop, leasing a two-bay facility, which he eventually bought in 2004.
Larger facility in 2011 and demographic changes
In 2011, Barrera expanded and bought a five-bay, 2,400-square-foot facility just south of the Highlands in an area of Denver that had yet to economically blossom.
“In 2011 this area was still in a slump and I was able to get this shop at a good price,” Barrera said.
Anticipating the coming economic boom, he pumped $100,000 into the facility immediately after purchasing it to clean up the appearance. A few years later, as he predicted, the neighborhood did boom and became more prosperous. With that prosperity came higher-end cars and higher-end clientele.
“We have to keep up with our demographic,” he said. “We still see a lot of Subarus in this area, but as it continues to evolve, we’re seeing far more European makes and models.”
He’s aligned the shop with TechNet and his staff attends classes through CTI and WTI, as well as training offered by O’Reilly Auto Parts and OneStop Parts Source. The shop also invests in Identifix as its information resource — which Barrera said turns “a C-tech into a B-tech, and B into A-tech” — and uses Snap-on Motus, Edge and Autel scan tools for diagnostics, the last of which he said is excellent for diagnosing European makes and models.
In addition to training benefits and relying on Advance Auto Parts as its main parts supplier, the shop benefits by being able to offer its customers TechNet’s two-year/ 24,000-mile nationwide warranty, Barrera said. “It’s a big selling point for us,” he said. “We’ve had to use it in the past and Advance came through – they paid the labor and cost of the part without issue.”
Barerra also decided to become a RepairPal network shop when he moved to his new facility. He said it’s a beneficial partnership because customers who come in after finding the shop on RepairPal have an idea about what they’re going to pay, and RepairPal stands by the advertised quote.
“Just like a customer has to qualify us, we have to qualify them. Business has to be beneficial for parties on both sides of the fence,” Barrera said. “RepairPal takes a cut of profits on each job, however. It doesn’t happen often, but when the quote from RepairPal has been wrong, they’ve reimbursed us the difference.”
‘Grow Your Own’ technician way of the future
West Highland’s Auto Repair is family-owned and operated. Barrera’s wife, Maria, is the chief financial officer, his brother, Adrian, is one of three ASE-certified technicians at the shop, and James Moreno, service manager, is his brother in law. Barrera said while it’s a great shop culture, he’s aware that he needs to continue seeking young talent and “grow his own” technicians moving forward.
“We can’t do this forever,” he said. “I’m keeping an outward focus and waiting for the opportunity to get some young talent in here to teach them right. When the timing is right, we’ll not only look at expanding, but we’ll get another employee to grow with us.”