Ratchet+Wrench - April 2024

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people with ADHD and autism navigate work in automotive PAGE 26 DOING IT HIS WAY Kyle Oestreich opens up about working as an auto technician on the autism spectrum.



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facing neurodivergent workers from the perspective of a pair of technicians— one with Asperger’s syndrome and the other with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

04.24 / R+W / 5
04.24 VOLUME 13 NUMBER 04 30 PROFILE The
Garagisti’s Sam Craven is a
entrepreneur with a
for auto
and a track record of
A look
FEATURE 08 EDITOR’S LETTER When improvement
better than innovation 11 BREAKDOWN Analyzing
automotive aftermarket 20 SHOP VIEW Midvalley Automotive Sunnyslope, Washington 25 MEASURE, MANAGE & MASTER Your success
39 CASE STUDY Using comebacks to build trust with customers 42 THE 35,000-FOOT VIEW Say this, not
DUTCH SILVERSTEIN ON THE COVER: Kyle Oestreich of Miracle Nissan and Infiniti of Augusta. Photographed by High Cotton Photography. Ratchet+Wrench (USPS 9957), (ISSN 2167-0056) is published monthly 12 times per year by Endeavor Business Media, LLC. 201 N Main St 5th Floor, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538. Periodicals postage paid at Fort Atkinson, WI, and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Ratchet+Wrench, PO Box 3257, Northbrook, IL 60065-3257. SUBSCRIPTIONS: Publisher reserves the right to reject non-qualified subscriptions. Subscription prices: $90.00 per year (U.S.A. only). All subscriptions payable in U.S. funds. Send subscription inquiries to Ratchet+Wrench, PO Box 3257, Northbrook, IL 60065-3257. Customer service can be reached toll-free at 877-382-9187 or at ratchetwrench@omeda.com for magazine subscription assistance or questions. Printed in the USA. Copyright 2024 Endeavor Business Media, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopies, recordings, or any information storage or retrieval system without permission from the publisher. Endeavor Business Media, LLC does not assume and hereby disclaims any liability to any person or company for any loss or damage caused by errors or omissions in the material herein, regardless of whether such errors result from negligence, accident, or any other cause whatsoever. The views and opinions in the articles herein are not to be taken as official expressions of the publishers, unless so stated. The publishers do not warrant either expressly or by implication, the factual accuracy of the articles herein, nor do they so warrant any views or opinions by the authors of said articles.
of the
is in your
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It’s better to go one inch wide and one mile deep when it comes to service options

An industry that seems to have lost touch with its consumers is professional sports. Leagues such as the National Football League and National Basketball Association have moved away from giving the fans a superior product and have instead put the increase of profit first, which has often left fans with a mediocre product.

Since 2021, the NFL has moved to an 18-week season, changed its playoff format, and added Black Friday and Christmas games. Last year, the PGA added six high-stakes events to the tour. And the NBA? It added an In-Season Tournament this season. Why? The gamble is that more events mean higher ratings and more revenue from ad dollars. The question is: do fans want more games or better-quality events?

This isn’t a problem isolated to professional sports, it’s prevalent everywhere you look. As Victor Broski pointed out in his March 19 column, consumers don’t want to be sold, they want to be valued. They want an experience. If you can deliver on that, you win.

And that’s where the intersection of your shop’s data and consumer and industry trends meet. Unlike pro sports leagues who know fans will come back no matter what they do, your customers may not if they don’t feel heard.

In this month’s Breakdown, Mike Bennett, shop owner and industry coach, talks about which trends auto repair shop owners can expect in the automotive aftermarket in 2024 (p. 11). It would be wise to review these findings against your observations. Despite what you read in the news, the data doesn’t lie, as my colleague Brandon Steckler says.

Understanding where your market is and where you need to meet them is mission-critical. In giving them the service options and experience they want from your shop, Dutch Silverstein’s column this month (p. 42) is one for your break room. It’s a short primer on how to make your communication with customers clear and without ambiguity. Often, it’s not what we do that impresses our customers, but what we say and how our words make them feel.

At the end of the day, customers aren’t looking for more from you. They always want a better experience. Find a way to give it to them.

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A look into the opportunities and challenges facing the aftermarket in 2024

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In 2024, the aftermarket auto repair industry stands at the precipice of a transformative era. The next three to five years hold immense potential, fueled by a confluence of trends that signal a period of growth and opportunity unlike any time before. With vehicle ownership rising and the demographic of serviceable cars shifting, the industry is poised to capitalize on the evolving market dynamics. Here are key trends and opportunities for shop owners and managers to navigate challenges and harness the potential that lies ahead.

The U.S. vehicle fleet’s growing size and advancing age are primary catalysts driving aftermarket demand. Reflecting on the latest data, we observe a notable surge in the number of vehicles traveling the nation’s roads, with an increase of more than 15 million since 2017. By 2025, projections indicate a staggering 290 million registered cars, SUVs, and light trucks operating across the United States. This escalation is not merely a number but a harbinger of the vast market potential awaiting aftermarket services, as an expanding vehicle population invariably signals a rise in the need for maintenance and repairs.

In 2023, the average vehicle age

reached a mature 12.5 years, with a remarkable 42% in the industry’s prime service age bracket of 4 to 11 years old and an additional 42% in the 11+ range. These vehicles are prime candidates for the aftermarket industry, more so than their newer counterparts, as they transition out of warranty and accumulate the inevitable wear and tear of time and miles driven. This maturing of the US fleet opens doors for aftermarket repair and maintenance providers to focus on specialized services and products tailored to this vehicle demographic. This trend doesn’t merely suggest growth; it demands a strategic pivot to meet the nuanced needs of an aging vehicle demographic. However, the growing and aging vehicle fleet also poses some challenges for the industry, such as:

• The increasing complexity and diversity of vehicle models and technologies require more advanced skills and equipment to service and repair.

• Consumer expectations and preferences will demand more convenience, quality, and value from aftermarket providers.

• There is growing competition from

OEMs and dealerships trying to retain or recapture customers by offering extended warranties, service plans, and loyalty programs.

The aftermarket must take decisive action to overcome these potential challenges. Businesses must double down on the training and education of technicians and staff, ensuring they are abreast of the latest vehicle technologies. Facilities and equipment will require significant investment and upgrades to accommodate growing and emerging technologies such as EV, hybrid, and ADAS-equipped vehicles. Enhancing customer service and marketing strategies will set businesses apart from competitors and foster enduring customer relationships. Additionally, the industry should harness technologies such as AI to compensate for gaps in the workforce, skillset, and experience.

Shrinking Service Bay Population

While the vehicle fleet is growing and aging, the service bay population is shrinking. In 2022, there were 1.11 million car and light truck service bays in the U.S., down 5% from 2017 and shrinking


as more legacy properties sell out of the industry through retirement. This means fewer places for vehicle owners to get their vehicles serviced and repaired, creating a supply-demand imbalance in the market.

The shrinking service bay population also challenges the industry, requiring it to become more productive and efficient. The opportunity will require more technician training while embracing technologies, including artificial intelligence, to bridge the talent shortage and lack of experience. Aftermarket businesses that can leverage technology to improve their operations, such as online platforms, mobile apps, and diagnostic tools, and AI, will be able to attract and retain more customers and increase their profitability.

However, the shrinking service bay population also poses some challenges for the industry, such as:

• The difficulty and cost of finding and retaining qualified, skilled technicians, especially in rural areas.

• The pressure and stress of meeting customers’ increasing demand and expectations, especially in urban and crowded areas.

• The risk and uncertainty of investing in new technologies, especially for smaller and independent businesses.

To overcome these challenges, aftermarket businesses need to:

• Recruit and retain talented and motivated staff by offering competitive compensation, benefits, amazing cultures, and career development opportunities.

• Optimize and streamline their workflows and processes by adopting best practices, standards, and benchmarks for quality and efficiency.

• Evaluate and adopt new technologies by conducting market research, testing, piloting, and seeking external support and guidance.

Shift to Foreign Nameplates

The aftermarket industry is also witnessing a pivotal shift in the landscape of vehicle branding, with foreign nameplates increasingly becoming the vehicles of choice on U.S. roads. In the decade stretching from 2013 to 2023, foreign nameplates accounted for approximately 54% of annual new vehicle sales in the United States.

While the current ratio of domestic to foreign vehicles on the road remains relatively balanced, a significant trend is emerging. By the onset of 2024, the domestic vehicle subset is anticipated to exceed an average age of 15.5 years. This trend signals a gradual but undeniable tilt toward foreign nameplate preeminence in the aftermarket repair sector as this older cohort of domestic vehicles begins to bow out of active circulation. This evolution presents a strategic inflection point for the industry—a clear horizon exists for heightened demand for expertise in foreign vehicles. With their distinctive parts, tools, and service requirements, foreign vehicles and owners demand that businesses develop a focus on specialization. Aftermarket businesses poised to meet the discerning needs of foreign vehicle owners—through the provision of high-quality components, competitive pricing, and superior service convenience—are positioned to carve out a distinct competitive advantage. Foreign Specialist represents the largest growth segment in the aftermarket. Those who adeptly navigate this shift, aligning with the nuances of foreign vehicle maintenance and repairs, will capture and lead the market in this new epoch of the automotive service industry.

However, the shift to foreign nameplates also poses some challenges for the industry, such as:

• The difficulty and cost of sourcing (and stocking) foreign parts, especially for newer and less common models.

• There is a lack of familiarity and experience with foreign vehicles, especially for older and less-trained technicians.

• There are potential legal and regulatory issues with foreign parts and services, especially for safety and environmental standards.

To overcome these challenges, aftermarket businesses will need to:

• Establish and maintain reliable and efficient supply chains and inventory management systems for foreign parts to ensure availability and affordability.

• Seek and obtain relevant certifications and accreditations for foreign vehicles to demonstrate competence and credibility.

• Adapt a marketing and branding message specifically tailored to foreign vehicle owners.

• Train/retrain service personnel to be able to communicate precisely to discerning consumers.

• Provide specialty tooling and the technical training necessary for expert service and maintenance.

The road ahead for the aftermarket auto repair industry faces both challenges and opportunities. The expansion of vehicle ownership, the aging car population, the influx of foreign nameplates, and the necessity to innovate operationally are not mere trends; they are the markers of a new era in automotive services. It is incumbent upon industry owners and managers to recognize these signs and act decisively.

The journey forward requires a bold vision and a willingness to embrace change. By understanding the shifting landscape and adapting to the evolving needs of both vehicles and consumers, the aftermarket auto repair industry can survive and thrive in the future. Let us approach this new year with optimism and commit to seizing the tremendous opportunities that lie before us. Together, we can ensure that our industry navigates the road ahead and sets the pace for the future.

*Statistical data via AutoCare Fact Book and the Lang Report 2024

04.24 / R+W / 13

Auto Care Association Certified as Great Place to Work

The Auto Care Association (ACA) has received Great Place to Work certification, according to a recent press release.

Great Place to Work gathered direct feedback from the over 40 U.S.-based workers ACA employs and found that 95% of those surveyed considered ACA a great place to work.

Factors such as approachable management, an organized structure, and providing adequate equipment and resources were highlighted as being especially helpful for ACA staff. Of those surveyed, 97% felt comfortable approaching management, and that the organization was effective in hiring people that are good fits.

“Great member service starts with a strong internal foundation,” said Lea Diamond, ACA vice president of people operations. “Our strengths internally


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are reflected in the level of service and care we provide to our members and the industry.”

Jacki Lutz Named Auto Care Association Director of Content

Jacki Lutz has been named as the director of content on the Auto Care Association’s (ACA) communications team in a recent press release.

Bringing over a decade of experience in automotive aftermarket marketing and communications, Lutz most recently served as the senior manager of global corporate marketing communications at Sensata Technologies, where she developed and implemented a new centralized marketing communication strategy for all of its business segments.

Lutz has been an active member of ACA, providing professional insight to the association’s Marketing and Communications Committee, the Young Auto Care Network Group, the AWDA Manufacturer’s Advisory Council, and the Women in Auto Care Executive Board. In addition, she has served as president of the Automotive Communications Council and collaborated with the boards of MEMA Aftermarket’s Marketing Executive Council and the Automotive Aftermarket Charitable Foundation.

Throughout her career, Lutz has received multiple forms of recognition, including the Auto Care Impact Award, inclusion in SEMA’s 35 under 35, membership in Women at the Wheel, and induction into Tire Review’s esteemed Club 3633.

“A vital part of being that kind of a dependable association for its members means being able to connect with them— all of them—and that begins with great communication,” said ACA President and CEO Bill Hanvey. “The addition of Jacki Lutz to our communications team will help the Auto Care Association to grow its connections with our members and share their stories in an impactful way with the entire auto care industry.”

opened the public People’s Choice Grand Prize Vote in a recent press release.

The competition aims to recognize both technical students’ and professional technicians’ commitment to the automotive trade, serving as inspiration for the next generation of technicians.

Finalists were chosen by a panel of celebrity judges, including YouTubers ChrisFix, Humble Mechanic, and Emily Reeves; podcast hosts JP Emerson, Micki Woods, and Cancelled for Maintenance hosts MBP, Shoreline, and Six; professional racing driver Sabré Cook; TV host John Gardner; radio host Frank Leutz; and Brandon Steckler, technical editor at Motor Age Magazine.

Now, one Future Technician and one Working Technician Finalist will be selected following a public vote held through February 28.

The winners will be awarded a trip to Glendale, Arizona, to attend Mecum Glendale 2024 and the TechForce National Partner Summit. In addition, they will receive a NAPA Carlyle toolbox, with each containing $8,000 in Carlyle tools. In collaboration with Hertz, the winners will also receive a week-long rental of an electric vehicle.

Each of the eight Techs Rock Awards runners-up will also be awarded a $500 AutoZone gift card as well as a GEARWRENCH Modular Tool Set valued up to $1,000.

“These Finalists are rockstars, dedicated to both their craft and inspiring others to follow their path,” said TechForce Foundation CEO Jennifer Maher. “By recognizing these individuals, we motivate others to pursue technical careers and further bridge the narrowing skills gap. Cast your vote now to help us celebrate the students and technicians who are shaping the future of their industries.”

Advance Auto Parts Store Opening Features Donation to Local Schools

TechForce Foundation Names Finalists for Techs Rock Awards

TechForce Foundation has named the finalists for the Techs Rock Awards and

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony at an Advance Auto Parts store in Skokie, Illinois, local schools’ automotive programs received $1,000 in donations from the store, according to a recent press release.

As part of the ceremony, the Advance team at 5226 Touhy Avenue

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presented Niles Township High School District officials with a gift card donation of $1,000 to supply automotive programs with equipment and tools.

The gift will be split between the automotive programs at Niles North and Niles West High School, with each classroom receiving $500 worth of equipment from Advance Auto Parts.

Each school’s automotive program features instruction in basic automotive repair skills for vehicles running on gasoline, electric, and alternative fuels. The two-course program teaches students about engine performance and repair, steering and suspension, fuel and brake systems, transmission, and more.

“Our team in Skokie is thrilled to celebrate the opening of our new store with this donation to the automotive programs at Niles Township High School District,” said Randi Goodfriend, Advance’s district manager. “We hope that this gift enhances the curriculum and instruction of these programs while encouraging students to pursue a career in the automotive industry.”

Christian Brothers Automotive Owner in Arizona Named a 2023 Franchisee of the Year

“The International Franchise Association (IFA) recently recognized Christian Brothers Automotive franchise owner John Carlson as its 2023 Franchisee of the Year, according to a press release.”

Carlson was named IFA’s 2023 Franchisee of the Year on Feb. 17 during the 64th IFA Annual Convention in Phoenix.

The award is intended to recognize individuals who have empowered the franchise business model. Parent companies nominate people who have displayed community involvement and entrepreneurial skills, cultivated healthy workplace cultures, and supported fellow franchisees.

Before opening his store in North Scottsdale, Arizona, Carlson played as a tight end in the NFL for seven years. After having several positive experiences with another Christian Brothers Automotive store in Arizona as a customer, he became interested in the brand.

“This award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of my incredible team at North Scottsdale, as well

as the invaluable mentorship from fellow CBA franchisees and the unwavering support from our Home Office leadership,” said Carlson.

Arizona Shop Owner Puts Community Involvement Into Full Gear

An auto repair shop in Cave Creek, Arizona, has launched a partnership with a local nonprofit to help the local community, CITY Sun Times reports.

Frank Leutz has three decades of experience operating repair shops in Gilbert and Chandler. Shortly after opening his newest store last summer, Desert Car Care of Cave Creek, he was motivated to do something different.

Upon reaching out to Foothills Food Bank and Resource Center, a collaboration was born in which Desert Car Care donates free automotive repair every quarter to a local family in need. For its first job as part of the campaign, a family had the front and rear brakes on their vehicle replaced, saving them an estimated $1,400.

Since starting the partnership, Desert Car Care has committed to helping Foothills Food Bank and Resource Center with fundraising events and serving as a dropoff location for food donations.

Leutz is still looking ahead to what else he can provide for his community. He hopes to begin hosting educational clinics for Cave Creek residents this upcoming fall and is developing plans to put on a jazz event. The business also displays art from local artists in its lobby, making it a growing staple in the Cave Creek community.

“This very unique partnership opportunity is an example of thinking outside of the box on how businesses and nonprofit agencies can work together to better the community,” said Leigh Zydonik, executive director of Foothills Food Bank and Resource Center.

Ford in Hot Water Over Allegedly Improper Takata Recall Fixes

Ford Motor Co. is having to re-evaluate repairs made for its Takata airbag recalls following accusations that the repairs were not done correctly, if at all, reports Detroit Free Press.

A federal whistleblower complaint claimed that the automaker loosened its requirements for technicians working on airbag recall fixes, allowing techs who usually only perform routine services like oil changes or tire rotations to do the recall work.

Ford has denied this, saying that those changes in requirements only applied to warranty work, not recalls–but to many, recalls count as warranty work, one longtime Ford dealer said. According to the dealer, the guidelines are written so vaguely that it doesn’t differentiate between warranty and recall work. Three dealers from different regions across the U.S. all told the Detroit Free Press that Ford techs consider recall work to fall under warranty jobs.

Following issues with another recall related to faulty door latches, Ford began to reduce reimbursement rates, upsetting many Ford technicians and leading to rushed jobs. After cutting rates for its techs, a backlash was sparked, as displayed by a change.org petition that garnered nearly 4,000 signatures.

According to Ford, any changes they did implement were a result of the NHTSA pressuring them to complete more recall jobs faster. Upon Ford’s initial recall of Takata airbags, dealers across the country became swamped with recall repairs, prompting the company to pull techs from other service departments to complete recall work.

“They’re not diagnosing a problem, they’re looking to make sure it’s installed correctly,” said Ford spokesman T.R. Reid. “That can be shown with descriptions and graphics so they can identify whether it’s done right.”

However, not everyone shares the belief that airbag repairs are simple. During a 2015 webinar, Stephen Ridella, who at the time was the director of vehicle crashworthiness research at NHTSA, described components of Takata inflators as being “complex and unique,” and that “only someone with specialized training should replace these parts.”

Ford has fined some dealerships thousands of dollars–some fines rising to six figures–in response to the problem, and said it is committed to having the over quarter-million vehicles affected by the issue reinspected.

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As automotive technology advances, here’s what services auto repair shop owners expect to add

According to respondents of the 2023 Ratchet+Wrench Industry Survey Report, over the next five years, 81% said they expect their annual sales to continue to grow with over half of shop owners saying they plan to invest in EV repair. When asked about ADAS investment, only a small percentage of shops were equipped for the service.

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Independent shop owners and managers face numerous challenges. These days, running a successful automotive shop requires more than just technical expertise—it demands a commitment to ongoing training and development for service advisors and technicians.

The Need for Training

The rapid pace of technological advancement means that the knowledge and skills required to service vehicles effectively are continuously evolving. Vehicles are becoming increasingly complex, incorporating advanced technologies and intricate systems. This complexity translates to a growing demand for highly skilled technicians who can diagnose, repair, and maintain these modern automobiles, and service advisors who can communicate these needs to customers.

Moreover, vehicle owner expectations are also on the rise. With access to vast amounts of information online, customers are more informed and discerning than ever before. They expect personalized service, transparent communication, and quick, efficient repairs. To meet these expectations and secure customer retention, shop personnel need to receive ongoing training to hone their skills, stay current with industry trends, and deliver exceptional customer service.

Benefits of Training Service Advisors

Service advisors are the face of the automotive shop, acting as the primary point of contact between vehicle owners and the service center. Investing in training these employees yields significant benefits:

Enhanced Efficiency: Training provides service advisors with the skills to streamline administrative tasks, manage appointments efficiently, and coordinate effectively with technicians, resulting in smoother workflow and faster turnaround times.

Improved Customer Experience: Well-

trained service advisors can better communicate with vehicle owners, explain technical issues in layman's terms, and provide more accurate timelines and estimates. Overall, this enhances the customer experience and builds trust, loyalty, and retention.

Increased Sales and Revenue: Service advisors that understand the value of preventive maintenance can identify additional service opportunities through interval-based maintenance menus and pairing related services to the prime item, thereby boosting shop revenue.

Benefits of Training Automotive Technicians

With the responsibility of diagnosing and repairing vehicles, automotive technicians are the backbone of any shop. Ongoing training for technicians provides numerous advantages:

Diagnostic Accuracy: Training enhances a technician’s diagnostic abilities, enabling them to pinpoint problems accurately and expedite repairs, reducing the likelihood of callbacks and improving overall customer satisfaction.

Technical Proficiency: As vehicles incorporate advanced technologies, technicians must stay updated on the latest diagnostic techniques, repair procedures, and tool usage to effectively address complex issues.

Retention and Motivation: Investing in technician training demonstrates a commitment to their professional development, fostering loyalty and job satisfaction. Welltrained technicians are more likely to stay with the shop long-term, reducing turnover costs and ensuring a skilled workforce.

Increased Sales and Revenue: Performing thorough multi-point inspection with every customer, every time, yields significant benefits to the customer and the shop. For the customer, it highlights needed maintenance to ensure their car is running efficiently and safely. For the shop, it identifies additional services that the customer needs, thereby increasing shop revenue.

Your Partner Beyond Products ™

Vendor Supported Training

As the shop owner or manager, it’s nearly impossible to provide every aspect of training that shop personnel need in today’s environment. Your best vendors recognize this need and step in to fill the gap as a partner that offers comprehensive advisor and technician training tailored to the needs of each automotive shop. These solutions often include both in-person and digital training options, ensuring flexibility and accessibility:

In-Person Training: Hands-on workshops conducted by industry experts offer immersive learning experiences for interactive skill development. These sessions may focus on specific technical areas or broader topics such as customer service and sales training.

Digital Platforms: Online webinars, videos, and eLearning modules provide convenient access to educational resources, allowing both service advisors and technicians to learn at their own pace and on their own schedule. These platforms often cover a wide range of topics, from technical skills to customer service techniques.

Vendor Certification Programs: Some vendors offer specialized training programs designed to familiarize shop employees with their products, equipment, and technologies. These programs can include certification courses that validate employee proficiency and enhance the shop's credibility.

The significance of training service advisors and technicians cannot be overstated. By investing in their continuous development, shop owners and managers not only ensure their teams remain updated at servicing modern vehicles but also cultivate a culture of excellence and innovation that sets their shop apart.

Whether through digital platforms, in-person workshops, or vendor-specific programs, training equips automotive professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in an ever-evolving industry, ultimately driving customer satisfaction, revenue growth, and long-term success.

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A look at Sean and Michelle Hartnett’s modern, industrial Washington shop

What started out in 2008 as an operation running out of their home’s garage has turned into a successful business for Sean and Michelle Hartnett, owners of Midvalley Automotive in Wenatchee, Washington. This past October, the two moved from a 3,500-square-foot, twobay shop into a facility they built on their own property.


The bottom half of the building’s exterior consists of black brick, with the upper part made of gray metal. The building’s eaves are deliberately aimed away from the bay doors to prevent snow from falling in the way.

The city required two pedestrian amenities, so Michelle had the idea to place a rustic-style bench constructed from the tailgate of an old Chevy pickup beside the door. A few steps away sits a free little library for people to drop off and pick up books as they please.


Owners: Sean & Michelle Hartnett

Location: Wenatchee, Washington

Staff Size: 10 Shop

7,840 square feet


Send a few photos and a brief description to submissions@ratchetandwrench.com and we might feature it here.


Past a front desk made of granite countertop and wood siding, customers enter the waiting area and are greeted with a table offering free beverages, surrounded by plants. Above it hangs photos of the Hartnett’s pets and a photo taken by Michelle’s brother.

Inspired by the style of lobbies in hotels and banks, the waiting area has cushioned seats and a fireplace, and tables Sean constructed from pipe and butcher

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of Lifts/Bays:
Average Monthly Car Count: 246 Annual Revenue: $2.5 Million

block provide the modern industrial look that the couple wanted to achieve.

“We really wanted to do kind of a high-end, comfortable, inviting waiting area,” says Sean.


New building means new equipment, including a Challenger 12K Lift reaching 15 feet high, and a brand-new Ranger parts washer that allows technicians to work faster.

Midvalley Automotive’s shop is designed to maximize efficiency. A threefoot walkway stretches down the middle of the shop allowing staff to traverse through without getting in anyone’s way, and Flexzilla extension cord reels mounted to the wall keep the ground clear of any obstacles. Heated floors make it easy to maintain heat as the bay doors open and close throughout the day.

“Sean’s put a lot of thought into the layout, efficiency, and what the techs would be comfortable working,” says Michelle. “I think he did a great job of designing it.”

22 / R+W / 04.24 JUMP START / SHOP VIEW


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Finding Your Tribe

One of the keys to success in life and business is aligning yourself with the right people

In February, I attended the Women in Auto Care Leadership Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was vividly reminded how critical it is to have positive, uplifting, supportive, and honest people in my life. I often quote Jim Rohn to my daughters: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I believe this is a straightforward way to assess your current situation—success or struggle.

If you are currently in a struggle scenario, ask yourself if you are spending much of your time talking to people who are obsessed with all the negative things in their lives—a dip in the stock market, the current election polls, or maybe your friends are all Arizona Cardinals fans. (No shade toward the Cardinals; they are the team with the most regular season losses through 2023—803, says Google, so it must be true!) Focusing on the light around you is tough when all you see and hear about from friends is dark.

On the contrary, if you spend time with people who help others in your community, meet regularly with people for networking or self-improvement, or meet weekly for fun, games, and laughs with buddies, you can better navigate the junk that inevitably comes along because you are keenly aware that there is balance.

Why am I going into all this? Because finding my tribe has been pivotal to my success in the automotive industry. None of us are on an island all alone. Often, we feel that way, but it isn’t true.

As a shop owner, I know it is a challenge to attend conferences due to time and budget constraints. However, connecting with others in the industry is a great way to surround yourself with people who will mentor and cheer you on to success. Make a budget (now) and save money to attend a conference or training each year. No excuses hold up for why you cannot participate in something. So many companies and groups are now offering virtual training. Women in Auto Care

has monthly Connection Circles on various topics of interest that keep people all over the industry connected and learning. Almost every region in the country has a division of the Auto Care Alliance, and they do smaller training events: MWACA = VISION, FLACA = Accelerate, MAACA = Super Saturday; your parts suppliers likely host training classes throughout the year. This publication, Ratchet+Wrench, has a great management conference every fall. Go to ASTE or come out to AAPEX/SEMA in November. Aside from increasing your knowledge, the point is to expand your circle of influence and “raise your average.” Having a group of likeminded people around you and ready to be your cheerleader or provide a shoulder to lean on is critical to continued success.

As a little bonus this month, here are some insights from the Women in Auto Care conference that I believe are beneficial for everyone:

• Unity within our community leads to mutual success!

• It’s critical to stand up for oneself while supporting others.

• Facing challenges head-on can boost our success.

• Achieving a balance between work and life is vital to productivity and engagement in our duties.

• Acknowledging our individuality is essential in striving to be our best selves.

• It’s important to pause, take responsibility, be empathetic, and act with intention.

• Most notably, enjoy the journey and remember that sometimes it’s necessary to claim your space proactively rather than waiting for an invitation proactively!

So, make plans to attend a conference this year, and if I am there, make sure you say hi!

Kathleen Callahan has owned Florida’s Xpertech Auto Repair for 20 years. In 2020, she joined Repair Shop of Tomorrow as a coach to pursue her passion for developing people and creating thriving shop cultures. Callahan is the 2018 Women in Auto Care Shop Owner of the Year, nationally recognized by AAA for three consecutive years, testified for Right to Repair on Capitol Hill, and is vice chair of Women in Auto Care.


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Navigating everyday life in auto repair when you’re on the autism spectrum

Kyle Oestreich is a skilled, detail-driven auto technician. He also has autism. Though he was diagnosed with ADD/ ADHD as a boy, he discovered he was on the autism spectrum accidentally. Oestreich says he knew he was a little different and his wife used lovingly to rib him about being autistic. “Originally, it was kind of just a running joke,” Oestreich says. His wife, who has a medical background, noticed the symptoms in her automotive technician husband, but he shrugged it off. It wasn’t until a service advisor he worked with, who also had a medical background, mention that he could be autistic that his ears perked up. “It kind of caught me off guard. I was like, ‘Wait, what did you say?’ She’s like, ‘You’ve got Asperger’s,’” Oestreich recalls.

According to data from Autism Speaks, an online advocacy organization dedicated to championing the inclusivity of individuals with autism, one and 45 adults in the United States lives with autism. Moreover, only 21% of people with disabilities, including autism, are employed. In the United States, it’s estimated that 5.4 million adults have autism spectrum disorder—the equivalent of the population of Minnesota minus Saint Paul.

Following the encounter with his service advisor, Oestreich took a personal inventory of his symptoms and little idiosyncrasies he’s experienced throughout his lifetime. He also enlisted the help of his mother, who provided her perspective via

email. Oestreich presented these items to his primary care physician, asking her if he might have been misdiagnosed with ADD/ ADHD as a boy, and if he he may have the markers for autism spectrum disorder.

“I mentioned all this to her, and she was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to read everything.’ So, let her read everything. When she got done looking at it, she said, ‘Yeah, 100%,’” he remembers.

For Oestreich, getting answers was a breath of fresh air, as having a professional opinion or diagnosis often does. It helped him to understand who he was in relation to the world around him and offered clarity as to why he performed the way he did at the shop where he works— Miracle Nissan and Infiniti of Augusta.


Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a global dysregulation of the nervous system. It contains a broad range of conditions that come through displays such as differently appearing social skills, repetitive behaviors, and through speech and nonverbal communication. No two people with autism function alike, as each person has their strengths and challenges. Those with high-functioning autism can lead lives not too different than the neurotypical peers around them.

Brian R. King, MSW, lives with autism and is a coach who has invested nearly two decades in helping individuals with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity

04.24 / R+W / 27

disorder. He refers to the grouping as AuDHD given that symptoms of both conditions can overlap. King says people with autism and ADHD can make fine employees, despite the dismal data on their ability to maintain employment, If the right structure is in place for them. “I’ve seen a couple of people on

Ratchet+Wrench Q&A



Zackary Felton is an auto repair technician working in heavy diesel. As a middle schooler, he was diagnosed with ADHD, and in high school, his symptoms began to disrupt his academics. He realized in high school that he wanted to be in the trades and eventually landed in the marine industry before moving to automotive 10m years ago. Felton told Ratchet+Wrench what it’s like to be a technician with ADHD.

How does having ADHD affect you in the workplace, positively or negatively?

There’s not much for positive besides my bubbly attitude. Some days are great, and then, on the contrary, some days are horrible. My ADHD causes a (mind) blindness or ADHD blindness. If you’re hyperfocusing for a long time—you’re trying to meet a deadline and you’re dedicated to it—when you hit a certain point, you run out of attention span. Your stimulus is degrading, and it becomes so overwhelming that everything becomes like a frosted pane. You can’t see, you can’t concentrate, you have to physically step away from what you’re doing to try to let your mind wander or think about something else because you’re so overstimulated that you can’t focus on what you’re trying to do.

the spectrum that were amazing at auto repair,” King says.

He adds that auto repair shops can be challenging environments for those on the spectrum given their introverted nature, communication challenges, and occasional time blindness and inflexibility. It requires shop owners to be more

Do you and your boss have some level of understanding when these episodes occur?

The longest I’ve been in a particular shop was three years, and they tried saying that my ADHD was holding me back from being a better technician, even though I was running circles around everybody else. I was able to focus on my production higher than everybody else, so we had a disagreement there.

I found that it’s easier for me to be open about (my ADHD) with the shop owner when I come in and explain to them, now that I’m older—I’m coming up on 30. I understand how my body reacts and how I deal with my ADHD. I have found that being very upfront with my bosses and being like, “When you see this, you’re going to be like, ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’” And that’s when you need to understand this is a medical condition that I can’t just snap out of; I have to physically go away for 30 minutes to an hour depending upon how bad my ADHD takes over. I have the paperwork, and all of my bosses have stood down. I’ve only had that one shop that was asking for way more than I could physically give.

What should you know shop owners know about, you know, managing someone who has ADHD and helping them in their shop life? People with ADHD are just normal people; they have a problem focusing for an extended period of time. There’s varying levels of ADHD. Some are simple like just being off track. Some have ADHD blindness, that brain fog that you get that requires a little bit more special attention. But they’re the same people and they’re the same technicians that you loved and you hired to begin with. You’re seeing a side of them that you’re going have to learn to live with, or you’re going have to let them go. A little bit of flexibility is a humongous thing.

encouraging toward them to get the best out of them. He advises auto repair shop owners to be cognizant of their team members on the spectrum—if they’re aware—and to seize the opportunity to lead with grace and acceptance.

“When you have somebody that needs to navigate the environment differently than you, that’s an opportunity for you to become educated and more empathic because you’re getting to know an experience you’re not familiar with, and hopefully enough where you can say, ‘Man, I don’t understand your struggle, but I can see you’re struggling. Is there anything I can do to make it less of a struggle? Happy to work with you on that,’” King says.


For Oestreich, having autism has helped him to be a highly efficient technician. He says one of the strengths gained through having autism is perfectionism in the bay. Nothing gets past him. Every car is perfectly inspected and precisely repaired.

“The end result in my mind is that it’s perfect. When it leaves, there’s no chance of a mistake, no chance of a comeback,” says Oestreich. “There are very little mistakes in repairs or diagnosis. Probably close to zero as you could get.”

When a vehicle hits his service bay, he gets into a deep hyperfocus that allows him to immerse himself in his work.

“Once you get focused on a job, you just get into it. You stay focused and you grind through it. You can be really quick at getting repairs done and in the flat rate world, if you can be quick, you can make some really good money,” he says.

He also has above-average working memory. Oestreich says he’s able to remember repairs he’s done on cars as far back as 10 years ago when he sees them again. “We’ll see a car and it’d be like, ‘Yep, it was this. I remember. We did this,” he says.

A trait often found in people on the autism spectrum is a high sense of moral justice and a dislike of unfairness. Oestreich is no different. He says it can be a strength when he’s advocating for his team in the shop, but on the same token, it can be a challenge because part of being autistic entails an inability to let things go until they’re resolved.

“(I can get) frustrated or fixated on things that are out of my control. That’s

28 / R+W / 04.24
"Figure out what helps keep that feeling of enthusiasm or happiness going"

probably the hardest thing. In my mind, my own moral code, I can’t get past that because it feels that shouldn’t have happened,” he says, adding that it once made him seem like a pain to work with in the eyes of management at a former shop.

King, like Oestreich, says he too must be careful in communicating. It’s something he’s had to learn to manage because if not careful, he can be easily misunderstood by those without the condition and seen as one without a filter when he’s only trying to connect.

“The No. 1 problem I’ve been trying to solve for myself is how can I connect with other people more easily because my whole life before that was offending people and not knowing why. I was so blunt. I was honest. If I had an opinion, I shared it,” King says.


Given that maintaining employment is a challenge for those with autism and ADHD, with 50% of the latter often losing their jobs due to the condition, the challenge for these individuals is whether to disclose their condition during an interview. Oestreich says he once told a potential shop about his Asperger’s and didn’t get called back. Ironically, he interviewed with them a second time under different management and got the job by not disclosing his condition. He says it’s a case-by-case situation and the technician with autism or ADHD needs to make a judgment call based on how they feel the interview is going. Sadly, this shouldn’t be, but some employers misunderstand conditions like autism

and ADHD, only having references linked to how the symptoms present in childhood. Oestreich says others with autism should instead find strength in who they are, lean into it, and accept themselves as they are.

“From my perspective, just accepting it, and embracing it, and saying, ‘Hey, look, this is the answer I’ve been looking for. It’s not a perfect world. But that’s my biggest thing—accept it and embrace it. Use that to give you clarity and answers, and then kind of use that to get whatever help you might think you might need.”

On the job, King says those with autism and ADHD need to do everything to make themselves at home in the bay, creating routines that make them successful. This can be having their tools organized in a way that makes them most productive or playing music that keeps them in a resourceful state.

“Figure out what helps keep that feeling of enthusiasm or happiness going. Do you need to listen to podcasts on certain topics that jazz you up? Listen to your favorite music. Move in a certain way. The environment is not always responsible for meeting your needs. See what you can do to bring the solutions with you,” King says.

He adds that for shop owners managing team members with either condition, showing grace when mistakes are made and having some humor about some of their little quirks can help them feel secure in the workplace.

“People (with these conditions) don’t always have a sense of time. They (may) lose track of what day of the week it is and come in on a day they’re not scheduled to work. That’s something maybe that can be treated with some humor,” King says.

He says for those who employ people with autism and ADHD, the key is to observe them, listen to them, and watch how they work. You might be surprised at what you discover in these employees. Because they thrive in routine, their thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving are so counterculture that their approach to work may help everyone around them in the shop.

“If there’s something they really love to repair … you’re likely going to find the more time they spend with (doing it), the faster they’re going to be able to do it, the better it’s going to be done. And they might even find workarounds nobody else has discovered,” King says.

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30 / R+W / 04.24 PROFILE Owner of The Garagisti Sam Craven helped establish one of the biggest real estate investment companies in Houston–but it wasn’t enough THE FINISH LINE  PROFILE



"How do I combine everything business and life all into

STARTING A BUSINESS COMES WITH A LOT OF TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS — something Sam Craven has learned firsthand from opening and running two of his own businesses. He was in the unique position of having experience from already launching and running a first business that he was able to put to use when he opened The Garagisti, a European repair shop in Houston, Texas.

Craven opens up about how he found his path toward auto shop ownership and the difficult lessons he learned along the way that made him the success he is today.


a Race, But a Journey

Craven has lived all over the state of Texas but has considered Houston home since elementary school. The passion he had for racing remote-controlled cars as a child was a precursor to what lay ahead for him: at age 16, he began racing cars in real life before going on to work on race teams as a professional racecar technician throughout college.

From working on race teams with Ferrari Challenge to Pro Mazda, Craven had the opportunity to travel across the country with them, fulfilling a lifelong dream of working around race cars. He took every chance he could to gain insight from the professionals around him.

“Working on race cars, and (with) the people who can spend $40-$50,000 a weekend racing cars, puts me around some pretty successful entrepreneurs, and I’d usually end up talking to them, bugging them: ‘What made you successful?’ ‘What’s your story?’,” says Craven, “and doing everything I can to learn from them.”

Upon graduating college with an engineering degree, Craven went into a sales engineering position but found himself spending more time than he’d

like sitting at a desk. He knew he needed to get out.

After a year of working in sales, Craven worked for a large manufacturing company based in Indiana where he oversaw a five-state sales territory. Around a year later, Craven started a real estate investment company with his father. Another year later, Craven left his job with the manufacturing company to focus full-time on his first business.

The company specialized in selling single-family homes to people interested in renting out properties, and it soon became one of the largest rental investment companies in Houston.

Much of the success he’s experienced with The Garagisti is credited to the experience he gained from the difficulty of operating his first business. After seven years, he burned out and considered pursuing a different path. He sold his share of the company to a business partner and took a few months to figure out what would be a better fit for him.

Opening the Next Chapter

There were many aspects he excelled at in his first business that he wanted to use in another way: customer service, sales, and building trust with customers. When he had the idea to combine these talents with a love for automotive, the seeds for The Garagisti had been planted.

“When I got out of that business, I’m like, ‘How do I combine everything I love about business and life all into one business?’” recalls Craven. “Well, I love cars—I love racing, I’m racing as often as I can—more importantly, I love business, and I love creating a memorable customer experience and building that trust with the customer. So I’m like, ‘This is the perfect way to bring together everything that I love in one place.’”

Upon embarking on the path of auto

shop ownership, Craven soon realized that an auto repair’s customer base is similar to that of real estate investment in one way: customers have low expectations and are weary of being taken advantage of. Craven credits this to gaps in knowledge between the provider and the consumer creating an uneven balance that can be easily exploited. In this environment, building a rela-

32 / R+W / 04.24 PROFILE

everything I love about into one business?"

tionship of trust with a customer is what will set a business apart from others.

“When we built our real estate business up, we built it up on the reputation that we’re going to take care of our customers,” explains Craven. “And that served us incredibly well, and we’ve done the same thing in the car repair business.”

After the trials and errors he went through with his first business, Craven

was weary of making further mistakes. Before even beginning the process of starting The Garagisti, he worked to identify gaps in knowledge he had and who he could turn to for insight. He enlisted a coach to meet with, who reviewed Craven’s plans alongside him. The coach pointed out the strong points of his plan and the weak points, helping him devise the best possible strategy.

“One thing being in business—with my previous business that I had for about seven years—taught me is that you don’t know everything. And as soon as you think you know everything, your butt’s about to get kicked,” says Craven. “So you better find some people to help you figure out everything that you don’t know.”

Since the beginning of his career, Craven’s willingness to learn is what has propelled him to success. Not only does he now get to chase his lifelong passion for cars but has learned how to set a business in place that can run efficiently even when he isn’t there, allowing for him to spend time with his wife as they prepare for the birth of their first child.

Running Like Clockwork

With both Craven and his wife owning their own businesses, it’s important for them to set aside time each year to be with one another. The two typically schedule a summer vacation each July, but when the opening date for Garagisti’s most recent location in Katy, Texas, was postponed by two months, Craven was only able to be present for opening day before embarking on a month-long trip with his wife.

When he checked in with his store manager to see how things were going, he didn’t have much to report; everything was running swimmingly. His staff shares the same enthusiasm and dedication to the business that he does, and he does his best to foster such an attitude so that everyone at The Garagisti can thrive.

“I don’t think I deserve all the credit for this business going smooth. I think a lot of that credit goes towards the managers and the people that I have,” notes Craven. “One thing that I know for sure is if you’re doing something you love, and you’re creating opportunity for a lot of people around you, that the money will take care of itself.”

04.24 / R+W / 33
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Creating upward mobility toward a winning career for your technicians

From college intern to right-hand man and mentor to all, Josh Burke is just one example of how Michigan-based MSO Troy Auto Care has been successful in creating career paths for its employees. By stating his career goals, he’s risen in the ranks and is prime to become an owner himself one day, if that’s the path he chooses.

If you don’t have career plans for your staff, it may end up hurting you. If they’re

not getting the training and challenges they desire at your shop, they will most likely end up going somewhere else and good techs are hard to come by these days.

Troy Auto Care owners and spouses, Donnie and Kristi Hudson; along with Donna Wagner, vice president of industry and media relations for ASE; share their keys for setting your staff—and yourself—up for success by creating a career path.

Understand What You’re Getting Yourself Into

Before you start setting career paths for your staff, you need to believe in what you’re doing and understand why it’s so important. It’s a huge commitment on your part, explain the Hudsons, both financially and time-wise. That said, if you’re not willing to put in the time and effort to better your technicians, they’ll


leave you for someone who will, Wagner and the Hudsons warn.

Recognize If They’re Successful, You’re Successful

It’s essential to push for continual training and advancement for your staff because, the more successful they are, the more successful you are, Donnie, vice president of Troy Auto Care, says. If they’re upto-date on the latest training, there will be fewer comebacks and more money in the end for your shop. Wagner agrees and says that staying on top of training is essential because the technology in vehicles is changing at a rapid pace and successful shop owners need their technicians to stay current to give the best customer service.

Get to Know Their End Game

This can be done as early as your first interview with someone. Shop owners need to know what their staff hopes to get out of taking a position with the company. Wagner says that, ideally, shop owners will discuss with techs and find out what they would like to do in the future and, based on that, create a plan to help get them there, just like what the Hudsons do with their staff at Troy Auto Care.

Donnie explains that they ask their technicians what their thoughts are on a career path and if they’re happy with what they’re currently doing and if that’s what they’d like to do for the rest of their lives. Some are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For those who express they’d like to do something else eventually, the Hudsons say someone from the leadership of Troy Auto Care will sit down with that person and discuss that further with them.

“Sit down with your techs and talk with them,” Kristi says. “Take the time to say, ‘Have you ever thought about your career?’ That might open their eyes. If employees see you care, that’ll change things.”

Set Goals

At Troy Auto Care, the end goals run the gamut from becoming a master tech to being a part of the business and having ownership in the company, Donnie says. Kristi says that they love to hear that their staff wants to grow and, when they do, the first step is sitting down together to lay out what exactly those goals are, both short- and long-term. An example

of a short-term goal could be getting a new certification or tackling a job that they’ve never done on their own before and long-term could be owning their own shop one day.

Give Them Tools for Success

Shop owners need to support their technicians with their career goals and one way to do this is to provide them with the knowledge they need to get them to where they need to be. Training is the best way to do this, but it comes with time and many times, financial, commitment. According to Wagner, shop owners need to help their staff out with both by giving them time to get the training they need and, if possible, pay for that training.

“To make money, you have to spend money,” Wagner says.

Donnie says that his staff attends NAPA training and goes to SEMA every year and he would like to take them to VISION. They also do frequent inhouse training and share resources that are available. Troy Auto Care supports its technician’s training fully by paying for it and even giving them financial support while they are at the training. He says they sometimes allow the technicians to bring their spouses.

For shop owners who feel they just can’t afford this, Kristi adds that there is a ton of free training out there and that if you can’t afford the full price, offer to pay for part. Showing you’re will-

ing to help get them there will make a huge difference.

Customize Your Approach

A career path for your technicians shouldn’t look the same across the board, Kristi says. It’s not the same for everyone because each individual will have different strengths and different end goals. That’s why every single technician who has a career path at Troy Auto Care has a unique plan.

“There’s no cookie-cutter career path,” Donnie says. “It needs to be tailored. So many variables play into it.”

Keep Open Lines of Communication

Goals change. It’s important to keep checking in with your technicians to see if they have new interests they’d like to pursue and how they’re feeling about the current path that they are on. Wagner says a good way to do this is to have what she calls a “stay interview.” Instead of an exit interview, you meet with employees on a monthly or quarterly basis to check in and see how things are going. Donnie says that they have weekly team meetings and every morning they have a morning huddle.

“Communication is key,” Donnie says. If someone is upset and feels like they’re not being heard or being challenged, they will move on, Donnie says. He adds that you need to interview your techs at least once per year to see what tools they need to grow.



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You get one. Maybe two. Maybe. That’s Kendall Warnock’s philosophy when it comes to chances with comeback customers. It’s David versus Goliath—independent auto repair shops fighting for market share with chain stores and dealerships—so it’s so important to know how to deal with inevitable customer issues,

the owner of A1 Automotive in Lincoln, Nebraska, says. Comebacks happen. It may or may not be your fault, but they’re inevitable. It’s how you handle it that decides your fate. After all, customers have plenty of choices for servicing their car. One bad experience could be the difference be-

tween retaining a customer for life or losing them for good.


Warnock has always had a customer is always right mentality.

“I don’t want anyone that comes into our small business to be able to say that

04.24 / R+W / 39 TOOLBOX / CASE STUDY
Regaining customer confidence when a repair needs re-addressing BY TESS OWINGS

they weren’t treated well or the service wasn’t great,” Warnock says. “Success to me is making sure that everyone that leaves feels great about the experience.”

Warnock grew up working next to his father in a two-stall shop with a dirt floor. For as long as he can remember, he’s loved fixing things and he’s always been good at it. Where he needed work was running a business, and he’s since become good at it with a customer-first mentality. He now boasts nearly $2.5 million annually in his five-bay shop.


Warnock says they don’t happen often, but comebacks happen at every shop–even the best of the best.

For example, Warnock says his shop has become more knowledgeable with Mercedes-Benz repair, though this wasn’t always the case. One time, a customer with a Mercedes-Benz came in and Warnock’s team used an available aftermarket part rather than the OE part. Warnock says he didn’t understand that the aftermarket choice of similar quality, so he suggested it to the customer since it was available and less expensive. A few weeks later, the customer came back. The part failed.


Although the customer approved the aftermarket part, Warnock took full responsibility.

“It’s my job to guide them in the direction of the best decision,” Warnock says. “In the long run, paying for the OE part would have been the better decision.”

Warnock ate the cost of replacing it with the OE part ($400), but he saved a relationship with the customer.

“I always point the thumb at me,” Warnock says of comeback customers.

Warnock says he always takes full, sincere responsibility, which is what has been key in him retaining his comeback customers.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s your fault or the parts supplier’s fault, it’s your fault. You own it,” Warnock says.

Warnock estimates that he’s retained 90% of his comeback customers. How? Here are his keys:

Transparent Communication

You need to be upfront and honest about what happened, Warnock says. Keep your customers informed about what

exactly is going on and how you are going to make it right.

Taking Responsibility

Own it. Don’t put the blame on the customer because that will result in a lost customer. Even if it was someone else’s fault, Warnock says he always takes ownership of the situation because the customer is always right.

Demonstrate a Positive Attitude

Customers will appreciate it if you are friendly and willing to make it better and are much more likely to come back if they enjoy their interaction with your team.

Genuinely Caring

A successful shop owner and team needs to put its customers first and really care about what happens to them beyond the walls of the shop. If customers can tell that you actually care about them, they will come back, even if you’ve made a mistake on their vehicle.

“You have to put your customers first,” Warnock says. “If you look them in the eye and say that you made a mistake and it’s on me to fix it, you will prove that you’re worthy of another opportunity.”

The best way to retain comeback customers is by avoiding comebacks all together, of course. That’s why excellent quality control is key in Warnock’s shop.

Thorough SOPs for making sure nothing is missed on a vehicle are in place in his shop and his entire staff knows the importance of doing all of the steps every single time.


Thanks to his excellent quality control, Warnock says he only had five comebacks in 2023. Because of his willingness to own the mistakes and make it right, Warnock believes he’s retained 90% of his comeback customers in his career. That being said, some customers are impossible to win back no matter how hard you try. After all, you can’t win them all.


Warnock wants all small business owners to understand that consumers don’t owe them anything and that they will have all the opportunities in the world to go somewhere else.

“You have to build trust so that they don’t want to go anywhere else,” Warnock says. “It’s consistent effort, energy, and connecting to customers as much as you can. Relationships matter.”

Competition in the automotive industry is fierce and shop owners need to remember that their customers have plenty of choices on where to get their car serviced. However, if you provide a great service and prove that you care, Warnock says you’ll come out on top.

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Do Your Words Confuse Your Customers?

How to improve your vocabulary to better manage customer expectations

In 1972, comedian George Carlin introduced America to the seven words you can’t say on television. While not as profane, I’d like to introduce you to my variation—the seven words you should never say to a customer.

1. Look. Customers think that when you look at something on their vehicle they won’t have to pay. After all, you only looked at it. If you haven’t discussed a strategy for addressing their concerns and the fees associated with that process before the process begins, you can’t blame them. Remember, anyone can look at a vehicle but only a trained professional can accurately evaluate their vehicle, determine the appropriate repair, and complete it in a timely fashion.

Substitute: Evaluate/Evaluation. “Once the initial evaluation is complete, I’ll contact you with the results. The fee for this initial evaluation is X dollars.” This sets the expectation that you are providing a service of value and, when the customer agrees to the price, (before any work has been performed) it dramatically reduces the possibility of push-back at the counter when the bill is presented for payment.

2. Find/Found. A frequent customer complaint involves bringing in their vehicle for a simple service, such as an oil change, and the service advisor presents them with a list of items that need addressing. The service advisor typically says, “Well, Mrs. Jones, when our technician performed our free multi-point courtesy check of your vehicle, he found the following items in need of service and/or repair.” Found items imply that you were looking for them and, in the minds of many customers, that’s extremely suspicious behavior. It screams of upsell.

Substitute: Noted. When your tech has completed his courtesy inspection and the service advisor needs to speak with the customer, refer to these items as what the technician noted as needing service or repair.

3. Diagnostic. If there ever was a single word that is the source of frustration and

headaches for the shop owner, diagnostic is it. Due to the influence of big box auto parts stores and many YouTube personalities, much of the public incorrectly believes that a parts store clerk using a cheap code reader can accurately diagnose a vehicle problem. This is why I recommend removing the word diagnostic your vocabulary. An accurate diagnosis results from a careful, methodical evaluation that includes testing various system components of the vehicle. You are providing rock-solid proof of a component or system failure along with the solution to returning the vehicle to proper running condition. The testing and charging appropriately for that testing is the hallmark of a professional.

Substitute: Testing or Evaluation. “The fee for initial testing is ... or the fee for the initial evaluation is ...” Note that a diagnosis is the end of a process, which leaves consumers thinking it’s “one and done.”

4. Yeah. Do not say “yeah” to a customer. Replace “yeah” with “yes.” Whenever possible, use phrases like, “Yes, we’d be happy to do that for you” (or some variation of that phrase) or “My pleasure.”

5. No. When possible, frame your answers in a positive light. Instead of “No, today’s schedule is completely booked,” say, “Great news, we can get you in as early as tomorrow. Would 8:00 or 8:30 work better for you?” Should someone ask a question about a service we don’t offer (e.g., ADAS) I answer this way: “While we don’t perform this service here, we have the resources available to us to have it done properly for you.” To be clear, I don’t mean to suggest that the word no can never be used, however, it’s used far too frequently.

6. Problem. We are problem solvers or problem preventers by trade. After all, that’s why they brought their problem to us. Instead, use challenge or issue. For example, “We have identified the source of your braking issue,” or “The challenge we now face is that the parts needed to proceed with the repairs are not available until tomorrow.”

7. No Problem. This is frequently said as a reply to a customer who says, “Thank you.” The proper response to thank you is “You’re welcome” (or some variation of that phrase), “I’m glad to have been of service”, or “My pleasure.”

Words matter. Our choice of words and phrases when speaking to our clients, along with how they are spoken, define the customer experience. If your goal is to be viewed as a professional, practice these words and phrases to speak and act with greater professionalism.

R. “Dutch” Silverstein, who earned his Accredited Automotive Manager Certificate from AMI, owns and operates A&M Auto Service, a seven bay, eight lift shop in Pineville, North Carolina. Dutch was a captain for a major airline earning type ratings in a variety of aircraft including the Boeing 767/757, 737, 200, 300 and 400 series, Airbus 319/320/321, McDonnell Douglas MD80/DC9 and Fokker FK-28 mk 4000 and 1000. After medically retiring, he transitioned his parttime auto repair business into a full-time occupation.


42 / R+W / 04.24
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