We recently performed a survey of automotive trade school students and 98% said they wanted to be a shop owner. I am sure if you asked this question 40 years ago, the results would have been the same. Owning a general automotive repair shop is the ultimate goal for any automotive technician – it has been this way probably for more than 100 years.
When you are in your early 20s, you know the goal but the path to making a dream possible is almost never clear. No doubt 40 years ago, the same obstacles were in the way for shop owners. But with recent changes in technology and even the economy, the path to shop ownership is even tougher.
School of Hard Knocks
In the past, the path to shop ownership usually started at a new car dealership. A potential technician started out as a porter and moved their way up the levels of C, B and eventually A mechanic. But the dealership service department life has its limits. After a few years, many future shop owners got bored
or hit the warranty-rate pay ceiling. The choices were to become the shop foreman or become their own boss and
start their own shop.
Other shop owners tell the tale of how they started with just a shack, floor jack and a dream. Some shop owners built empires, while some never left the shack.
Yes, it is still possible for a young technician to become a traditional shop owner. With hard work and determination, it is still possible to make the transition from employee to owner. But business models are changing along with the customers.
For some newly graduated technicians, the path to ownership of a brick and mortar repair shop will happen. But some young technicians are planning to specialize in re-calibrating ADAS systems, drivability diagnostics or even mounting and balancing tires on site.
Some are planning to completely skip the idea of owning a brick and mortar business. They realize a sign on Main Street is not how the majority of customers find a shop in the age of social media and online reviews. They realize that being able to pick up a customer’s vehicle is not a burden, but an advantage.
The good news is the dream of shop ownership is not dead. The bad news is it’s harder than ever to become a shop owner. New federal and local regulations are making things tough for any small business. This is why it is critical for older shop owners to help technicians who want to be their own boss. They just need your wisdom.