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2007 Top Shop: Peak Automotive

Solving the Partnership Puzzle
Friday, August 31, 2007 - 23:00

Solving the Partnership Puzzle

Think back to your college days and you might remember an instructor pointing out the most difficult ownership structure to maintain: the partnership. Great minds may think alike, but where they depart oftentimes can prove insurmountable, even terminal. Making this terribly difficult arrangement even more challenging, some business partners choose to be married — to each other.

But that's not always a bad thing. Couples like Brian and Kim Walker, owners of Peak Automotive in Apex, NC, have demonstrated that the key to a great marriage also can be the foundation of a successful business. That key: Quality of life matters as much in the shop as it does at home.

When the Walkers opened Peak Automotive in 2002, both realized they had a lot to learn, and quickly. They immediately applied themselves to courses from Management Success and the Automotive Training Institute (ATI). Soon after, they found themselves fully literate in each of the aspects of business operations, including gross sales, return on investment and profit margins. However, their real business education had just begun.

They found one of their major obstacles — if not their most difficult — was balancing their business and professional lives. The Walkers handled this by defining their roles in the shop and in their marriage.

With that done, they next turned their attention to the business itself. The Walkers adopted a strategy of working "on" their operation instead of "in" it. The distinction: In the former, you manage your business. In the latter, it manages you.

Taking this step effectively meant downsizing their shop — spending more time on fewer cars. The Walkers began managing their car count and placing more focus on shop flow and procedures. They soon learned that this strategy not only increased customer satisfaction, it also made the technicians and staff happier as well.

In fact, so successful was their new business plan that the Walkers decided to open a second Peak location in Raleigh in 2006. They found a prime location in an urban center by a busy street. Six months later, the shop closed.

A failure? Not exactly. Call it a learning experience. The Walkers discovered that running a business at multiple sites impinged on their family life. They also found they preferred to run one "extraordinary" shop instead of spreading themselves too thin and ending up with two mediocre locations.

But that doesn't mean there won't someday be another Peak Automotive. If the right opportunity ever afforded itself at just the right time, the Walkers say they might bite. The right opportunity would have to afford them the chance to expand the operation they've already built — one with what they see as a family atmosphere where clients are confident to refer their moms, sisters, friends, co-workers and "every other person for whom they care," according to Kim.

For now, that's the kind of shop they'll keep — one that regularly collects kudos from customers and community alike.

The automotive media has shown its recognition, as well. For the second year in a row, Peak has scored a place in the Motor Age Top Shops competition. That's good news that can be celebrated — at work and at home.

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