Bob and Mitch Stout grow their automotive repair shop with plans for succession, renovation and possible expansion.
By Domenic Olmeda
Seeing your kids mature can be bittersweet, but Bob Stout, 55, has been enjoying the ride. The co-owner of Fuerst Automotive spent the last four years watching his son and B tech Mitch, 22, flourish at his location in Broadview Heights, Ohio. Today, as he focuses on remodeling the family business and potentially purchasing another property down the road, Bob is grooming Mitch to take on more managerial responsibilities.
Fuerst Automotive began as a one-man operation in 1968 but didn’t come under Bob Stout’s ownership until he and his wife Sheri purchased it in 1987. Since then, the pair has grown the facility from two to five bays and relocated to accommodate its booming success.
We invited Bob and Mitch to chat with us about how their connection helps steer the family business in the right direction.
How long has your son Mitch been involved with the location, and how did he get started?
Bob: My wife and I have owned Fuerst Automotive for 30 years, so he’s been hanging out since he was a little boy. In fact, he used to curl up and sleep under our service desk. He started full-time right out of vocational school and has been working here four years.
What’s his job description?
Bob: Mitch is basically a B tech, but I recently promoted him. I’ve been putting him through classes at Management Success [a company in Glendale, California, that provides training and consulting for repair shop owners and service advisors]. He’s our exit plan down the road, so I want to get him good to go. As soon as the family business is fully operational, I want him to step into my shoes and run it. Now, he’s graduated to assistant manager, so he’s still learning.
He’s our exit plan down the road, so I want to get him good to go.
Which duties are you trying to pass on?
Bob: I have him reviewing the vehicle inspections to ensure they’re complete. He’s checking in parts, verifying they show up on invoices [and] following through with what the service advisors are doing. He also keeps an eye on the progress board. I’m laying more and more on him in baby steps.
Is this in preparation for your future expansion of the family business?
Bob: Yes, we’re currently going through an architect and aiming to renovate the outside of the facility. It’s a nice-looking building, but we want to add another bay as long as the city permits it. We’re also going to put in an office and a lunch room for the techs, and once the shop becomes [autonomous] and Mitch has control, we might open another location.
How do you see your father-son roles at play in the company?
Bob: He’ll question me on things, and, obviously, I’m going to [do the same]. But, we work well together. I give him responsibilities, and he’s stepping up to the plate and making sure they’re done properly.
Mitch: I know that if I pitch ideas, like “Maybe we should start texting our customers instead of giving them phone calls. We’ll get faster responses,” he takes them into consideration and will put them out there. We’ll try them, and if they succeed, he’ll congratulate me. My dad is very open, and that’s why we’re a good team.
Do you think your bond is an advantage in the workplace?
Mitch: Yes, definitely. Since we’re a hometown shop, I know people like the fact that we’re a family business.
Bob: He has respect for me, and I have [the same] for him. I value his opinions, especially as a young millennial. I think it truly makes a difference.
How has operating together impacted your relationship and the family business?
Mitch: Our biggest thing is work stays work and family life stays family life. We don’t bring any situations from home to the facility. If we’re angry at each other, we’ll just come to the shop feeling positive and in a good mood.
Our biggest thing is work stays work and family life stays family life. Any situations at home, we do not bring to the shop.
Bob: We leave work at work and home at home. So, at 6 p.m. when we shut our doors, the location is closed. If we had a rough day together, we don’t bring that back with us. It’s as if we enter into a different life.
What do you enjoy most about being a team?
Bob: Your children get older and start moving on to different things. They get married and travel out of state and what have you. So, since Mitch manages with me on a daily basis, we have a close tie that will be there for a long time.
Mitch: We’re very hands-on. If I have any problems or questions, I go right to him. Or, he’ll come over, help me out, and we get things done.
What would you both say is each other’s greatest strength?
Mitch: Running the shop — it’s one of my dad’s main focal points. He also likes to do the marketing. That’s what he’s concentrating on.
Bob: Mitch’s leadership skills. We just had a meeting last night with our staff, and he attends them all now. I told my wife on the way home, “You know, he’s going to be a good leader, which will make him a great businessperson.” And, my employees respect him.
What advice would you give to other family businesses?
He contributes a lot of fresh ideas, and you need those to evolve.
Bob: Listen to your kids. Mitch brings a lot of youth to the workplace and has some clever recommendations. He brought up a suggestion yesterday. We have loaner cars for customers, and he asked, “Why don’t we use Uber?” So, he contributes a lot of fresh ideas, and you need those to evolve [for more tips on catering to your customers’ needs, read Why Surveys Boost Your Bottom Lines].
Mitch: Try to be open with each other. I know many father-son teams have complications because the dads tend to act old school. They just need to be more [receptive] to different things [and] changes to improve their facilities.
What are your hopes for Mitch in the future?
Bob: I want Mitch to take the bull by the horns. I’d like to see his young energy and creativity [expand] the operation — and not just for me and my wife [as a succession plan]. I’d love for him to grow in the community as we have. I also want him to be part of something he’ll be able to enjoy for the rest of his life and hopefully pass down to one of his children.