As a young mechanic I frequently dreamed about owning my own shop someday. It wasn’t till I had about 15 years experience as a professional mechanic that I really started to seriously consider starting my own business.
When I finally decided it was time, I started reading books like Gorilla Marketing by Jay Levinson and Small Time Operator by Bernard B. Kamoroff. And I started planning what equipment I needed to buy and how I was going to finance it.
The key to starting your own shop is planning. I spent a couple of years planning and gathering shop equipment before I ever opened the doors. Back then I read somewhere that small businesses that planned at least 18 months prior to opening had the best chance of success.
One of the first things you need to think about when you’re planning your shop is what type of shop are you going to operate? This should depend on what kind of auto repair experience you have.
If you’ve been a Toyota dealer tech most of your career, you should probably think about starting a shop that specializes in Toyota’s. Back in the old days, auto repair shops worked on everything that came through the doors.
Not anymore. The key to success today is specializing. One to three makes is how I would do it today. Asian, domestic or European. Pick one and become the known expert on that make of vehicle in your area.
And to really do it right you should specialize in only Toyota, Honda, Nissan at most. Not all Asian car lines for example. There’s just too many models of cars in each line today to be competent on all of them.
There are other types of specialty shops you can start if you don’t want to be restricted to working on only a small number of makes. You could start a shop that only works on brakes for example.
The key is to become the best at whatever auto repair niche you choose in your local area and you will become known as the go to shop over a period time. You can’t help but be successful if you apply this formula.
The Equipment necessary to open your own shop can easily cost over $100,000. The key is to not get in over your head with debt when first starting out. I started buying shop equipment 2 years before I ever opened my shop.
I was lucky I lived in a major metropolitan area and on weekends I would go look at used shop equipment and if it was cheap and in good condition I’d buy it and go put it in my storage shed until I was ready to open my shop.
So over this 2 year period before I opened my shop I accumulated every major tool I needed and paid cash for all of it. The great thing about this was the day I opened my shop I was debt free.
Looking back, this was a blessing. If I would have had unlimited funds I probably would have spent thousands of dollars on a lot of the wrong equipment when starting out. In my case being short on start up money was a good thing.
Most likely when you’re first getting started you’ll be the only employee. The first person you should hire will be a helper. Because when you’re trying to build the business and fix cars at the same time it can get overwhelming.
When you have a helper you can have him or her do menial tasks that will free up a lot time for you to do more important things. Not to mention you won’t be totally exhausted by the end of the day. And you’ll make more money in the long run.
One thing to never cut corners with is your business accounting. Hire a good bookkeeper and pay your bills on time. Especially your taxes and your parts suppliers. You just don’t want trouble with the government. Or getting parts.
And finally is shop management. Most auto mechanics don’t know much about running a business. Part of your planning before opening your shop should include shop management training. You can become a member at iatn.net and network with other shop owners there on the best places to get training and other issues related to the day to day running of an auto repair shop.