Shelley’s Precision Auto Center Co-Owners, Jerry Payton (left), Paul Payton, and Christy Tullock, office manager, have worked hard to earn the shop’s five-star ratings on social media sites such as Yelp and Sure Critic. Technician Kevin Gracom performs a cooling system pressure test on a customer’s vehicle.Jerry Payton prepares to run a smog check on shop’s new ESP System1 Gen 3 smog analyzer, which includes an Imclean DAD.

Shelley’s is back and better than ever

Paul Payton buys back ailing business and builds up clientele and car counts

Thousand Oaks, Calif.—Shelley’s Precision Auto Center is celebrating 50 years in business, thanks to Paul Payton, co-owner, who originally bought the then-thriving shop from Roy Shelley in 1995, then sold it in 2006, and, in 2013, bought the then-ailing shop back.

“I was always mechanically inclined and always wanted to do something in that field, and own a business,” Payton said. “I started working for Roy, who was like a second father to me, when I was 15. He took me under his wing and by the time I was 21, I was pretty much running the shop.”

Payton bought the business when he was 29, and about 10 years later, he was able to buy the property the shop is on to secure his future, which he said worked out well.

“Things were going fine,” he said. “Then, a friend offered to buy the shop, and I was ready for a move, so I took him up on his offer but kept the land, moved to North Carolina, and opened a shop there with my son, which is still going.”

Payton heard that the new owner of Shelley’s was having health issues and the business was ailing as well, so he visited him, struck a deal, bought the shop back, and moved back to California.

“I also brought on my brother, Jerry, as a partner, who is an ASE Certified Master technician, and I have two more techs, who continually attend local training classes, and an office manager.”

By the end of 2016, Payton had doubled the car count, doubled the business the previous owner was doing, and exceeded any numbers he personally had ever done.

He attributes the success to a number of factors, chief among them, the quality of his service, which is reflected by customer referrals, and good reviews on social media, earning the shop a five-star rating on Yelp and Sure Critic.

“Right after I bought the shop, I sent out postcards to our customer list letting them know that I was back and offering a discount on their next service, which brought repeat customers back and a lot of new business from word of mouth,” he said.

Currently, the 2,500-square-foot, five-bay shop has an average monthly car count of 500 vehicles, with an average repair order of $275-$300.

“We’ll have 50-60 cars in at any given time: in the shop, in the back lot, they’re everywhere – we pack them in,” he said. “And our average RO could be higher, but I don’t believe in selling any service that isn’t needed. That’s a good two-year plan, but I want to keep customers for the life of the vehicle.”

The shop is a NAPA AutoCare Center, an Official Brake and Lamp Adjusting Station, and a STAR-Certified smog inspection and repair station, and all of which Payton said have helped increase his business.

“We have a MAHA dyno, an ESP System1 Gen 1, and recently leased an ESP System1 Gen 3 with a Dell OptiPlex PC, and an IMclean DAD,” Payton said. “We decided to lease instead of buy because it includes everything, even a laser printer, and we don’t have to purchase a service contract.”

Payton said as vehicles have become more technical, he has needed to purchase more high-end diagnostic tools, and a higher level of training is required.

“I have found diagnostic tool training to be readily available, and, of course, we keep the software updated regularly,” he said. “We have a Snap-on Modus, Verus, and Solus, a Snap-on D-TAC Elite diagnostic charger, battery, starting and charging system analyzer with flash reprogram mode, and we’re considering buying a Ford IDS.”

Another issue that Payton has experienced more of is the cause of some electrical problems, noting that failing PCMS, BCMs, and TIPMs are often the problem. 

Payton said he prefers using OE parts whenever possible, but also buys from NAPA, WORLDPAC, Fast Undercar, Warren Distributing, O’Reilly Auto Parts, and local dealerships.

Each bay is equipped with a laptop and the shop uses AllData, ProDemand, Identifix, and iATN online data services, and Mitchell 1 for service writing and parts ordering. 

The shop has relationships with several local body shops, for which he performs electrical diagnostics, such as check engine light diagnostics, and possible blown head gasket diagnostics and repairs.

“We also have some fleet accounts, and we perform minor repairs on diesel engines, both of which total about 5 percent of our business.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.