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Shop profile: the negotiator

By being forced into the role of bookkeeper, this owner’s eyes opened wider than he ever imagined.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 07:00
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You might call what Bill Garcia experienced an epiphany, a eureka moment. With the loss of his bookkeeper, the owner of Bill’s Quality Auto Care in Simi Valley, Calif., a Motor Age Top 10 shop in 2012, decided to look through the books himself. What he found wasn’t shocking — his bookkeeper was good — but it was surprising.

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“Bookkeeping was something I really ignored for a long time, and I’ve been into it for about two and half months now,” Garcia admits. “And brother, you ever feel really ashamed? Thank God it was in the hands of someone who gave a damn. It’s been tough for me, but it has been an eye opener. This entire process will behoove the whole company.”

By combing through budget minutia, Garcia has discovered hidden savings. Take his contract with the company that supplies and maintains the shop’s uniforms, towels and rags. “We’ve been doing Quick Books since January of 2003,” says Garcia. “We’d been doing business with this uniform company four years prior to that. So I went back to that date, I looked at how much money we spent with them. I looked at the cost trend; one of the things that really opened my eyes is that I’d let a couple guys go and the bill actually went up. What the heck was going on?”

Turns out the company had charged more because some uniforms were embroidered. “I said ok, you charged me full retail price for uniforms that (we’ve) had for 3 and half years,” Garcia reasoned. “Can’t you get your ROI (return on investment) out of that and give me full retail on those things?”

He also asked them to reconsider what they charged in towels, since the company used a formula that out of 200 towels supplied each week, his shop would lose or destroy 25 towels at 40 cents a towel. 

“Long story short,” says Garcia, “I got my bill negotiated down about $200 a month.”

It was mostly little things, like area rugs. “We have three [generic] grey mats and one logo mat,” reports Garcia, “and (the carpet cleaner) charged me almost as much for the one logo mat as the three greys. Do they clean differently? Things like that added up to over $50 a week. I’m paying $11.34 a week for this logo mat, times 52 weeks, that’s a $600 floor mat. I’ve had that thing for four years; that’s a $2,358.72 floor mat. You can’t give me a little love on this? You ROI on this hasn’t been good? I get it; everybody wants to make a profit, but tell you what, bill me full retail for the floor mat and then charge me laundry like you do the grey ones.”

It’s hard to argue with such logic, and Garcia seems to revel in it. “I refuse to hire another bookkeeper until we nail this down,” he explains, “So I’m kind of going through my trial by fire here. I can hire somebody to help compile it, but I’m going to do it myself. It’s like when you don’t want to go to the gym and get on the treadmill for an hour; you’ll find any excuse not to do it. But when you do it, you never regret it. I don’t carry a briefcase right now, I carry a banker’s box, a cardboard file box. The guys at the shop are making fun of me.”

But as Garcia points out, since Bill’s Quality Auto Care operates on profit sharing, this benefits everyone. “Every time I find a spare buck, everybody wins,” he says, like dropping an unused phone from his cell plan. “When I start looking over the books, I have a whole list of things; what my payoff time is on certain pieces of big equipment, what can be renegotiated.”

Garcia advises all business owners to at least take an occasional look at the books. “Most of the time I’m so busy dealing with the day to day.  I don’t sell work — I barely know how to use my shop managing program — but I go out and see what the techs are doing, I look for classes for them, I run to the cylinder head shop, on and on. But now that I’m buried in the bookkeeping, after I’m done I say, ‘I’m glad I did that, I’m tired; I need a beer!’”

This March 3 marked 20 years in business. “When I first opened I had my checkbook and my little solar powered calculator,” recalls Garcia. “That’s how I did everything in my 712-square foot single bay shop in the middle of nowhere. Now we do about $2 million a year. We have families to support, we’re members of the community. We’re very proud of all that but when you look at all your duties and responsibilities you say, man I’ve got to do this right.”

For example, how to better communicate with the client. “That’s what makes our job never ending,” he concedes. Bill’s has a shuttle, which Garcia has had occasional to drive. “You learn so much. People say incredible things when they’re riding. I’ve come back and said, ‘Forget that tune-up; this lady has major drivability symptoms.’ When I hire a shuttle driver, I tell them a lot of times they have more face time with these people than anybody. The impressions they give or get are very important. Sometimes I’ll do it. I’ll have some of my service advisors do it, but it’s a key position.”

So Garcia will continue to micro manage, at least for now. “But once I get good at this,” he gleefully asserts, “I can’t wait to hire someone else to shuffle papers!”

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