How did I get started in the auto repair business in general?
My start in the auto repair business was because of a woman, of course, a very long time ago.
I grew up in restaurants. My mom was a restaurant manager; she was a bartender and she worked her way up to managing a couple of restaurants for a guy, so I grew up in those restaurants. My mom always had huge customer service ethics, so that’s how I thought the world worked.
I always thought I’d end up being a manager of a restaurant or a hotel or something of that nature. I wasn’t too far off–I started off working in restaurants at age 14 and by the time I was 19 I was a manager and also a bartender on the side. I was just having a good time, you know, it was really easy to make money and have fun doing it. I loved my customers and they loved me. Being sort of naïve, I thought that was how the world worked–people give you money and they’re happy to do it.
I met a woman when I was 19 or 20 years old. I wanted to marry her, so I asked her parents for permission. When they said, “No,” I was beside myself. I couldn’t believe it. They said, “No.” They told me the reason was because I really didn’t have a future, I didn’t have anything to offer, and I wasn’t really going anywhere–that I was just a bartender. Technically I was a manager at a nice hotel/restaurant, but that wasn’t really anything in their minds. I needed a “real” job, and that was that.
Well, I used to go into the Honda motorcycle shop all the time. I raced motorcycles with my buddies. Two of them were mechanics and worked at the Honda Shop. This dealership had motorcycles on one side and cars on the other. One day I went in to get some parts for my motorcycle and they had a job that came up in the parts department of the motorcycle side. I thought, Well, you know, it’s got to be a good career. I liked motorcycles as much as I liked waiting tables and bartending, so I took the job and made a big, whopping $7.50 per hour. About a month later a position opened up on the car side and that was big bucks–about $9 per hour. I was excited and transferred over there.
That was really interesting, because the parts department was right next to the service department. One of my good friends was a service advisor. I didn’t even know what that job was, all I knew is that we would sit there and joke around and act like 20-year-olds all day long. When someone as annoying as a customer would either call or show up to pay for their bill or ask questions it was a huge inconvenience and we didn’t get to have fun anymore. I would listen to my buddy tell the customer whatever they wanted to know.
After a few months of this I started thinking, I could do that job better. Now the guy was my buddy. I wasn’t going to do his job and take his job from him, but I had known from my years in the restaurant business that people deserve good communication, especially when they spend a lot of money. When I was a waiter, a $100 dinner was a lot of money. I knew that if you do a good job you’re gonna get a $20 tip, which was pretty good.
And I’m listening to them talk about tiny belts and water pumps and spark plugs and all these things–these people are not happy, and they’re not getting any good service. They do not understand anything and they’re asked to spend $1,500 – $2,000. This is absolutely asinine to me–a little was lost on me.
Working for this dealership I must have run into the owner’s office a million times, trying to tell him how I thought that we could make the place better. I must have been a year or two into it when he finally sat me down, closed the door and said, “You’re a really nice kid, you do a really nice job, but we’ve been here a long time. We do a really good job here. If you want to stay, that’s fantastic. But you really don’t need to come in and tell me every week the next greatest thing. I’ve heard it all.” And he opened the door for me and let me walk out.
I was really sort of taken aback. At that time I thought, Well maybe I should just move on.
So I went to work for a Honda dealer next to my house. It was a big group, a huge group; they owned 30 to 40 dealerships all up and down the West Coast. They’re really progressive. I went to work in the parts department again, because it was what my background was. But somewhere along the line they bought more dealerships and I was given the opportunity to run the service department. Mind you, I had never even written service at this point, I had just listened to it, but the general manager and I became friendly because we both liked motorcycles and he had a lot of faith in me. I was 27 years old when I got my first service department.
When you’re in a small department and you’re the manager, you’re the writer too and you do it all. That’s how I got into the business. From there I progressed up and went through all the dealership ways. I was 30 by the time I made Parts and Service Director and taught other people how to sell automotive service to all of their service advisors.