I recently had an interview with Dan Cricks, who has been in the auto repair business for 34 years, including as a shop owner for over 18 years. He has been sharing his knowledge about growing sales and profits in the auto repair business since 2002 on his website, www.autorepaircoach.com
Eric Lawton: We’d like to know how you began your career in the automotive repair industry. Did you start by helping shop owners? What drove your passion for this field?
Dan Cricks: When I was 14, a family friend, who owned a repair shop and service station, asked me to work for him on the weekends. I spent a year or two there learning the business.
During high school, I worked for a family friend named Jim. Jim owned three successful service stations and became a mentor to me. I watched and learned the ways he ran his business. After high school, I worked for Ford Motor Company for many years until Jim approached me with a potential purchase of his business. At this point, I began to learn that the repair industry was in my blood. Jim and I could not negotiate a deal but fortunately someone from the oil company contacted me to tell me about a great shop for sale with a very motivated seller.
I purchased my first gas station in 1988 and then a second one shortly after, but soon realized the industry was changing and I had to change too. I bought a repair shop, a six bay shop, but by 1999 realized that changes were required again if I was to be successful. I committed to either make those changes or get out of the business
EL: What changes did you see?
DC: I began to crack the code and other people noticed too. At this point, the recession had hit the auto industry and business was down quite a bit, yet I was seeing a growth of 20 percent.
The first year, I grew my business 21 percent. Business continued to grow by 20 percent the year after and 23 percent the following year. Someone told me that I ought to be helping other shop owners, and that’s when I began speaking.
In 2001, I was invited to Phoenix, to present in front of hundreds of repair shop owners. After that, I went to Clearwater, Florida to speak to another group. I soon learned that I could teach others success. From my perspective, shop owners are some of the hardest working people I know, but many don’t know the smart way to work. I saw that I could help shops with marketing, promotion, and retaining customers.
EL: Can you tell me one of your favorite success stories?
DC: I’ve had a number of shops that I’ve been able to help to change their business and change their lives. I remember a while back, a note I got from a shop owner who thanked me, telling me for the first time in seven years he was able to take a vacation with his family because he could afford to do it. His wife sent me a note, “Thank you so much for what you’ve been able to do to help, it’s made him so much happier!” I like when shop owners enjoy going to their business, because now they make a decent dollar doing it.
I had another guy that when he started working with me, had a shop that was doing about 650,000 dollars a year that no one could locate. He sent me a note a couple of years later saying, “This year we’re going over two million dollars in sales. Thank you for your help!” When he first started working with me, because of the amount of money he was making, he was living on the 3rd floor of his sister’s double. He took the attic and converted it into a couple of rooms, and she let him live up there. Well, once we got his shop to the two million dollars, he sent me a note telling me about how he had just built a brand new home in an upscale neighborhood, a 35,000 square foot home. You know it’s not all about, “Look at how much money this guy’s making”, it’s about making a difference in his life.
EL: How do you reach people?
DC: I do webinars, teleconferences, in-person events, and marketing boot camps. I have my monthly newsletter, “Straight Talking”, and an internet tv show with monthly episodes. I’m celebrating my three-year anniversary with that.
EL: What are some general advice and current philosophies you live by?
DC: I’ve been going after shop owners to tell them, “Look, you really have to have an online presence today”. Consumers are using the internet to make decisions as to which businesses they will frequent. Even if a business does radio, TV, magazine, or mail advertisements, customers still want to look up a company on the internet.
EL: Internet rules are changing aren’t they?
DC: They absolutely have. A big change I’ve been communicating that is coming from Google is, “Stop using stock photos on your website.”
Customers want real photos and they can tell the difference. Unfortunately, a lot of repair shops have stock photos on their website and I’ve been telling them for months to use their own photos; take photos of their shop and put them up there. And now Google is saying, “If you’re using stock photos, it’s going to hurt your search.”
I encourage all of my members to put their picture on their website — and that should be one of the first things I see — and the phone number, and how they can get to their shop. Customers also want to see what a person looks like. To me, if you are afraid to put up your picture, you lose trust.
EL: We give that same advice… What continues to inspire you?
DC: Making life better for shop owners. Giving them time with family, vacations, and buying a home. You know it’s not all about how much money this guy’s making, it’s about making a difference in his life.