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Shop Profile: Exponential Expansion

Thursday, May 7, 2015 - 07:00
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Techway Automotive is only four and half years old, but its growth has been—to put it mildly-- explosive. This Dothan, Ala., business started in a 5,000 square foot facility, but recently moved into a 33,000 square feet building. Take a moment to picture that in your head. According to owner Brian Ordway, his shop is now larger than most of the area’s dealerships, complete with 30 bays, some big enough to work on RVs.

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“There was no room to work,” he says of the original shop. “We’re pulling cabs off of diesel pickups, pulling engines out, rebuilding them, and it was cramped. Within our first year we realized that we needed a bigger building, but we had signed a three year lease.”

Still Ordway searched, till he heard of a business going bankrupt-- with a voluminous shop. “(A large national company) also wanted the building,” he reports, “but we won out since the landlord preferred working with a mom and pop company. The bankruptcy dragged on till my old lease was up, and my new lease isn’t even double what it was before. We also have the option to buy this building.”

But how do you begin to fill a building over 6 times bigger than your previous one? “I was scrambling to find lifts,” Ordway recalls. “There were only two lifts in the original building which weren’t in-ground. Right about the time the landlord gave us the keys to the new place, I found an auction in Duluth, GA that had 21 lifts for sale. I went up there and bought 6 Rotarys.”

The news wasn’t always overwhelmingly positive when Ordway decided to quit his job after being a service manager for various dealerships. “I decided to go out on my own-- against everyone’s advice, including my banker,” he laughs. “We opened the shop with about $15,000 in the bank and we were dead broke in 30 day, but we’ve made payroll every Friday ever since.”

With Ordway on the service counter, his wife Michelle handling the books, and his oldest son Brent and another technician taking care of the back, the business soon thrived. Currently Techway has 14 lifts, an alignment machine, and the overhead cranes left by the previous tenant, which Ordway uses to pull bodies off the company’s bread and butter: diesel pickup trucks.

Besides repair, they also rebuild engines where other shops favor ordering new ones. “(One shop) had pulled the head off this lady’s truck, told her she had a damaged piston, and would have to replace the whole engine,” Ordway relates. “With the head off, why not just rebuild it? We rebuilt that engine for less than $10,000; they were going to replace it for $16,000.”

ince Ordway goes the extra mile by using ARP head studs and installing all necessary engine updates, he’s working out a deal with a regional Ford dealer to build more durable motors like this, complete with Techway’s warranty. They’re currently in the process of buying cores.

“We keep everything in stock,” he continues. “We’ve got $200,000 worth of inventory sitting back here. If it’s under the hood of a diesel pickup we’ve probably got it. We do everything else too: oil, brakes, alignments. Whether it’s Asian or European, I’ve got quality technicians who can fix just about anything. We are ASE Blue Seal of Excellence, the only one within 75 miles; we just got picked up direct with a diesel supplier, and we’re in the process of going through the Bosch training where we’re going to be Bosch diesel service dealer.”

Ordway has also spent two and half years participating with the Automotive Training Institute (ATI). “We’ll soon graduate from their re-engineering program and become alumni,” he comments. “If I had known what they would do for us, I would have joined sooner. It’s expensive, I’ll say that right up front, but it was worth every penny.”

With its procedures and systems, ATI helped Techway set up a pay plan for the employees, establish human resources, and write a employee handbook.” We do a meeting with them once a week for about 30 minutes,” says Ordway. “We go over our weekly numbers and goals, what we need to work on. Our coach has been invaluable; I can call, bounce ideas off him, and he’ll give me advice.”

The expansion has also allowed for other opportunities. “I already sell a lot of diesel performance parts to the Ford dealers in the area,” Ordway reports. “I’ve started some internet sales and I’ve got a couple people trying to get that going. We’re doing about $30,000 a month right now, low gross, low profit, but that will expand. I’m in the process of hiring an outside sales guy to go out try to sell some of these parts to other shops because we buy in such volume. It’s kind of crazy how fast things have taken off. Nobody believes it when I say we’ve only been in business four and half years. And they’ll say ‘who’s you investor?’ There isn’t one; I’m like everybody else, working week to week.

“I once made the comment that it’s almost like no one takes you seriously when you’re in a small building,” Ordway laughs. “After we moved into this big building, every day we had new accounts walking in the front door. One company we picked up had 41 trucks. I guess some of the diesel truck owners are like hot rodders; they talk to each other, refer each other.

“Everybody asks me what has made me successful; I don’t know if I can give you one thing,” muses Ordway. “To me the first thing you have to do is take care of the customer. There are times I’ll give a customer something because they think that they are right even though they may be wrong. Sometimes it’s worth giving something away just to keep the customer happy, keep them coming back.”

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