Mike’s Auto Clinic
What motivated you to start Mike’s Auto Clinic?
Mike got interested in auto mechanics in High School. He grew up in a family, like mine, whose cars were always breaking down. This frustrated him and so he decided to learn about cars and how they worked. He had always dreamed of owning his own shop.
When did you start your business? 2004.
When did you realize you had a talent/interest in your particular area? High School.
Do you do this full-time or part-time? Mikestarted out part-time as a way to supplement his income (when he worked for other shops) and when he bought his own shop he went full time.
Since hiring employees Mike now has more freedom with his time, although his management skills are still needed almost daily for the business to succeed. The goal is to train a manager so that the business will become self sufficient one day. That way we don’t need to be involved at all and are free to start other businesses.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
Do your homework. Do market research. We have learned SO much. One of the most important things is that it still takes an education to start your own business. We were fortunate to find a program that trained owners of Auto shops. We felt fortunate to find such a specific program to our business. It has contributed to most of our success.
One of the most important things we learned at this training was to get out of working IN your business and work ON your business. For this to happen, Mike had to hire mechanics instead of being the mechanic. He had to hire a salesman instead of answering all the calls. Many shop owners resisted this saying they couldn’t afford to hire someone. We soon figured out that you can’t afford NOT to hire someone. He began to manage and run the business and that contributed to great success.
MARKET! There are so many other shops in town who rely on people simply to DRIVE IN. They don’t do ANY sort of marketing. Take a look at the most successful businesses in the world. They still spend a majority of their money on Marketing. McDonalds for example – IS there any doubt it is one of the most recognizable businesses out in the world? And we still see commercials, billboards, coupons, and specials constantly from them. You need to be in touch with your customer base especially those who have already bought from you. Open a line of communication.
It is not the product or service that necessarily sells, but the system. Again, going back to McDonalds…anyone’s uncle can make a better hamburger than McDonalds. But they have a system that works and sells.
Back to my first advice…stay informed! Keep reading up on trends and business ideas. What are the most successful businesses out there doing? Is everyone tweeting but you? Stay up to date and informed.
What would you tell someone just starting out?
- Save your money. Don’t start your business in debt. Try to stay out of debt. Don’t quit your day job. Start small and build. PLAN, PLAN, PLAN.
- Start a policy manual and keep adding to it.
- Repeat successful actions!
- Talk to others in your industries. Some of our greatest marketing ideas came from other shop owners we met at conventions or conferences. They are in other states and don’t mind sharing ideas. Don’t go re-inventing the wheel.
How do you market your business?
We are always thinking ahead about what our next marketing project will be. We do a mail out monthly. If we are late by even a few days we can immediately see a drop in sales. A drop in sales is almost always because of our lack of, or tardiness in, marketing.
We mail out postcards, tri-folds, newsletters (4 times a year) and at Christmas we mail out Christmas cards (hand signed and addressed..yes I should be working on those right now! We have 1250 to do!) I go online and google other shops and see what they are doing. I am also a facebook fan of other shops and follow what they are doing.
We twitter and facebook, although we are still learning how to attract customers to follow us. Early next year we are going to new phones with technology to enhance these opportunities.
We also look for opportunities in the community to interact. We are members of the Better Business Bureau and I attend the luncheons every once in a while.
We look for events to attend as well. We have a kids Soccer fair that we attend each year and host a game for the youth. We have sponsored a soccer team and a robotics team. We started an annual customer appreciation BBQ where all the customers come in for a free lunch. Next year we will have a presence in the local parade and advertise the BBQ in the parade.
If you write your own article as a press release you get free advertising in the local newspaper. We have done this several times.
Little Story:Mike’s mom is the curator of the local museum and they had an old Coke machine. We got her to lend it to the shop (it fits with our 50s decor) and all the proceeds go to the historical society. This was a great human interest story that appeared in the local paper. Mike has written articles on driving safely, etc. Now the paper will occasionally call us and ask for a quote or spotlight us in an article.
We order football helmet magnets each year with the football schedule on them. The fans are very dedicated here so these are a hot item.
Sometimes Mike will just “pound the pavement” and go up and down the street and talk to different business owners introducing himself, handing out a flyer or magnets and asking them to put a few of his business cards out for their customers. Sometimes he will take a box of donuts to a business with a card from him.
Like I say, look around, do research, see what others are doing that is successful. I am always thinking of new ideas. My next idea is to go to these local fairs, carnivals, local city days and set up a photo booth. We will take photos of people and give them the photo with a little note in the corner that says “sponsored by Mike’s Auto Clinic”. I am stealing this idea from one of our friends in Chicago. He also had a hat rack, wigs, and sunglasses for people to put on in the photos just for fun.
Do you have questions for other entrepreneurs?
I always love talking to other entrepreneurs and hearing their ideas and bouncing ideas back and forth.
Any special offers to share with our readers?
PLENTY, however our business is a local, service business so you would have to be here to purchase. If you are in the area let me know and I will personally get you a special offer! Contact Mike’s Auto Clinic here.
Can we come back and interview you again in a few months to find out what “next steps” you’ve taken in your business adventures?
Please. This was fun. Running a business can be fun and rewarding. It doesn’t have to be stressful.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Plenty, but I am sure I have babbled on long enough.