On the verge of losing his business, California repair shop owner Tim Stussi enrolled in a business class. "Before I’d actually feel bad telling people everything that needed to be done to their car, because I thought, ‘Why would anyone pay that much,’" he told a reporter from the Contra Costa Times. "I didn’t realize until later that people would allow us to fix everything on their car if we were straight-forward. It was a light bulb moment."
Below is the article as it appeared in the Contra Costa Times website.
Confidence Fueled Auto Shop Turnaround
By David Morrill
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 03/12/2010 11:48:03 AM PST
Updated: 03/12/2010 11:48:03 AM PST
WALNUT CREEK — A year and a half into ownership of Diablo Automotive Specialist in Walnut Creek, business couldn’t have been better for owner Tim Stussi.
At least that’s the impression that he portrayed on the outside in 2004, but it was a facade.
In reality Stussi was bleeding through so much cash that he had to borrow against his house. The pressure was immense. His confidence was shot.
"Nobody knew what we were going through, because we kept the problems seamless and invisible to everyone else," he said. "But we came close to losing this business."
It wasn’t until he enrolled in a business training class that he realized he needed to change his practices. He had to change his philosophy and have more confidence that the service he had was what customers would want.
"As soon as we took the class and made the change, we stopped the bleeding really quickly and have never looked back," Stussi said. "We’re doing extremely well right now."
In 2009, revenues were $705,000, up 15 percent from a year before. The business averaged 38 invoices a week. In 2010, the projected numbers are 41 invoices per week, and $789,000 per year.
It was when Stussi was able to get over his apprehension about giving customers a thorough diagnosis of problems that his business made a turn for the better.
"Before I’d actually feel bad telling people everything that needed to be done to their car, because I thought, ‘Why would anyone pay that much,’" he said. "I didn’t realize until later that people would allow us to fix everything on their car if we were straight-forward. It was a light bulb moment."
Stussi learned that when people pick out a place to take their car, often times the cost is not the first criteria on the list. Convenience, comfort, quality of work rank higher.
Linda Colberg, who has had her cars serviced by Stussi since he opened says it’s the intangibles that he brings to the table that his customers admire.
"We never question what he’s charged us because he always explains what he’s doing and asks if we have any questions," she said. "Anybody who has car problems, I talk about Tim to them."
He admits that his $45 oil change isn’t the best deal. But he would rather make a small profit than be a loss leader.
"If you do a thorough examination and explain to them exactly why you’re charging what you do, people respect that," he said.
Stussi has heard the stigma about the automobile repair industry being filled with dishonesty. He believes it’s unfair.
"I think there are people that are dishonest, but I think it’s a small percentage," he said. "I think a far greater percentage work hard, and care about the service they give the customers."
One issue that other service centers fall into is that their employees are paid a flat rate commission. This often entices them to upsell their additional services. Stussi, instead, pays his four workers an hourly wage.
"I pay them for an 8-hour day whether we have work or not," he said.
Stussi admits that running a business wasn’t nearly as easy as he thought.
"I had those rose colored glasses where I thought how great it would be to have our own business and control my own destiny," he said.
His typical work weeks instead became 11 hours a day, five days a week. And he didn’t take a vacation in the first six years.
"It was a job that was hard to get away from," he said.
But in the end, he feels like the dedication has paid off.
The amount of money used to buy the business was paid off in six years, and he was able to pay himself and put money into retirement and his son’s college fund.
If the uptick continues, Stussi expects to be looking for a bigger garage and adding more staff in years to come.
"We are not the cheapest guys in town, but people continue to bring cars to us because we’ve earned their trust," he said.
Name: Diablo Auto Specialists
Owners: Cathy and Tim Stussi
Address: 2149 North Broadway, Walnut Creek
To read this article on the Contra Costa Times website, visit http://www.contracostatimes.com/business/ci_14664119.