A tornado-like windstorm and tech turnover give this Colorado couple an opportunity to transform peril into profit.
By Domenic Olmeda
What happens when you combine a massive, roof-ripping storm with an unexpected staff turnover? In the case of Holly and Eddie Lawrence, you receive a $600,000 increase in revenue from 2015 to 2016 and a brand-new roof free of charge.
How does this add up? The couple, which co-owns Mobile Transport Repair (MTR) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, attributes its success to a proactive business strategy and the mutual love and support that’s only possible after 11 years of marriage together.
Eddie began fixing vehicles in 1996. He started working from his mobile service truck and subcontracted to a large fleet customer. As time went on, he added new fleets and trained techs to work out of his trucks. Then, after 15 years of doing strictly mobile work, he purchased his shop, which “opened up a substantial amount of business,” he says.
Eddie didn’t do it all alone, however. As MTR grew,
he found himself stretched too thin. So, Holly pitched
in and now works at the location full-time, turning this Colorado couple into a dynamic duo of shop owner savviness.
We had the chance to chat with these two and discover the steps they’ve taken to build on the $1.8 million of revenue they reeled in last year—despite a few bad seeds on their crew and Mother Nature throwing a wrench in their plans.
Earlier this year, you had a windstorm with tornado-like force rip off half your shop’s roof. What happened and how much time/business did you lose?
Eddie: We lost our roof on Monday, January 9, at 11 a.m. We then had a temporary one installed, which allowed us to return to work on Thursday, January 12. The unusual circumstance was that we had just installed it two months earlier because of damage it sustained during a summer hail storm. However, the roofing company stepped up and got to work immediately at no cost to our business. It took about four weeks to get the permanent one installed.
Holly: There was a lot of emotional loss watching the building take a destructive hit. It’s amazing we were only down for three days. No one was hurt and no customers’ vehicles were damaged. In the big picture, we were very lucky.
In the videos you posted on Facebook the day after the storm, the interior of the shop looked like a hot mess. How did you get everything cleaned up so quickly?
Holly: The roofing company sent over an emergency clean-up crew. It removed the bulk of the debris. Our staff kicked in and helped a lot, too. We’re still finding pieces of insulation, though.
You also survived a big turnover in techs last year when you replaced several people. What happened and how’s the new team working out?
Eddie: We went through four techs in a relatively short period of time. I refuse to tolerate non-team players, and I’ll confront a situation as soon as it presents itself. This gives everyone the opportunity to correct what’s going on with themselves at that moment. The staff we currently have is solid. We’re all striving to reach the same goals.
Holly: When Eddie has to let someone go, the team understands he has given every chance possible for that person to succeed. Our employees know we truly care and do not have another option.
After dealing with some bad seeds in the past, have you changed anything in your hiring process?
Holly: I do an initial phone interview. If I don’t feel like I’m getting a positive tone factor on the call, we won’t proceed with an in-person follow-up. We’re also implementing working interviews for our “C” techs.
Eddie: After Holly talks to the applicant on the phone, either I or my service manager ask him or her technical questions. Then, we invite the person in to talk with our lead tech as well. This way we can feel out their knowledge and comfort levels. We‘re currently working on a training proficiency guide for techs. I look forward to having a step-by-step checklist in place.
Mobile Transport Repair
- Location: 3435 Astrozon Court, Colorado Springs, Colorado
- Shop size: 9,000 square feet
- Number of bays: 9
- Number of staff: 14
- Average monthly truck count: 240
- Annual revenue: $1.8 million
How do you typically find qualified workers? Are you in a state of continual recruitment like most shop owners?
Eddie: We keep an ad running on Indeed. Holly saves all the resumes for future needs. It’s difficult to find quality, high-tone workers. We’re playing around with the idea of hiring someone to focus solely on training “C” techs. We’re fortunate to have amazing people working with us who keep the shop steady during transitional periods.
What types of benefits do you offer your employees?
Holly: Our benefits include healthcare, where we pay 100 percent of one and $200 toward another option, and supplemental insurance, where we offer a $30 credit for one. We also include sick, vacation and holiday time, as well as paid training, employee team building and meals. We keep the breakroom filled with food, snacks and drinks.
How do you build and maintain a strong crew in general?
Holly: We’re doing more now than ever to keep our crew engaged in the business. We offer flexible hours, and the team building activities are also a big hit. We do a fun game for a monetary reward at almost each meeting. Plus, we have a cash grab draw when techs go above their goal. This week, I’m giving out MTR Thermos-style cups because we really want to make them feel appreciated. At our Thursday meetings, we also have an open forum where we try to resolve any complaints. We like to call out issues and discuss them openly.
What types of team building activities do you offer?
Holly: Last quarter, we took the crew to the shooting range for an afternoon of target practice. We closed the shop early and brought food. It was really fun and also a great way to test who we want on our Zombie Apocalypse Survival Team if ever needed! This quarter we’re planning a bowling get-together. We also do potluck “happy hours.”
How do you advance education for your techs?
Eddie: We do an electrical class with a fellow shop. As long as they’re within reason, we send our techs to any classes they show interest in. We’re always looking for continuing education possibilities.
We send our techs to any classes they show interest in. We’re always looking for continuing education possibilities.
Do you offer training incentives?
Eddie: Yes, we give a cash bonus or an hourly wage increase for each certification completed. We need to create more.
What’s the quickest and easiest way to increase productivity and efficiency?
Eddie: Keep the techs so busy that they don’t have idle time. If they’re producing, they’re happy. We also have bonus tiers in place, which help motivate them.
You had a profitable 2016, up by $600,000 from 2015, when many shop owners experienced a decline in business last year. To what do you attribute your success?
Eddie: We really strived to grow and diversify our customer base. For example, to stave off the usual holiday slowdown, we sought out fleets that are busy during this time of year. These businesses included cargo, mail contractors and food and beverage.
How was this accomplished? Outside sales?
Holly: We increased our outside sales and marketing. Since our daughter sells Girl Scout cookies, we like to deliver boxes of them in marketing buckets. I have to say these are the best received gifts. We also include pens, notebooks and fruit in the packages. We deliver them to our existing customers and potential new ones.
You started several new marketing strategies in 2017, such as wrapping your car in advertising and billboard promotions on the highway. What else do you have planned this year?
Holly: We wrapped the car, and it looks amazing. Plus, we redesigned the logo—so it stands out more. We’re planning to do direct marketing at truck stops by handing out bags with snacks and giving out pens and such along with person-to-person surveys. We also implemented a policy to do daily follow-up calls to existing customers and all unscheduled diagnosed repairs.
You have an ambitious goal of nearly doubling your business in 2017. How do you plan to do it?
Eddie: We’re shooting for $2.5 million this year. We’ll build up the mobile end as well as add to our production staff in the shop without watering down the techs’ workload.
Holly: I’m mentally preparing to go even further. We’ll implement more mobile trucks and increase marketing to achieve this growth.
What’s been your best return on investment in the last six months?
Holly: Purchasing another service truck and pushing the mobile end of the business.
What are the key ingredients to your success?
Holly: We offer personalized service. We match each customer with a tech who suits his/her needs. Follow-up calls and our personal visits also set us apart. Our mission is to make things right and offer service in abundance. That’s key.
Eddie: We will not fail. We don’t have the option. There’s too much on the line. We believe in who we are as a business and as people. We have the responsibility to carry this to the next level for our family and team.
How do you become a great leader?
Eddie: I lead with compassion and understanding. I always put myself in my customers’ and employees’ shoes. I also rarely react to a situation, excluding when the roof blew off. I strive for results and in turn train my staff to be more solution oriented.
We will do a lot to save [a customer] if it’s within our power. If we’re at fault, we will make it right. Period.
Changing your mindset from reactive to proactive is something new for you. How did this decision come about, and how has it altered the way you operate?
Eddie: In the past, things would slow down, and then we’d run around trying to drum up business. Our goal now is to seek out the work ahead of time and preschedule jobs. Also, as a conflict arises with customers, we like to deal with it and resolve it as soon as possible.
How far will you go to keep a customer?
Eddie: We will do a lot to save one if it’s within our power. If we’re at fault, we will make it right. Period. We’ve given back the costs of invoices, and some really bite hard. A lot of times it’s due to miscommunication, so we call the customer as soon as possible to open up the dialogue.
What are your biggest day-to-day challenges?
Holly: Speaking for Eddie, I‘d say keeping him from burning out. Eddie has been in the industry for 26 years, and dealing with fleet managers and employees can be difficult. Trying to keep everyone busy and making sure that everything flows smoothly is a day-to-day process.
What are the greatest obstacles you’ve overcome?
Holly: Staying true to our goals. Each step of growth has created a lot of challenges. The first and most difficult one was hiring a service manager with a salary. Keeping up with a growing payroll and letting some employees go along the way have been big trials.
A low-toned tech is doing more damage than you’ll ever know.
What have been the toughest lessons you’ve learned as shop owners?
Holly: There’s a significant amount of pressure to take care of everyone. Recently, it’s become increasingly clear that we need to run the shop as a business. In the past, we were not making tough decisions in a timely manner because of the friendly relationships we had with our staff.
Eddie: Not tolerating a negative employee because he was a good tech. As soon as I got rid of him, all the other techs made up the difference in billed hours and positive attitude. A low-toned tech is doing more damage than you’ll ever know. Once the worker is gone, you’ll see the harm he or she was causing internally.
What’s been your best decision or idea so far?
Eddie: Bringing on Holly full-time. Having another person who shares in a common goal has been extremely beneficial. We work well together. We have the same mission to succeed, and we’re both fully vested.
Holly: We’ve talked about how far ahead in the game we would be if we had the guidance of Management Success in the beginning. It took 15 years of Eddie doing this on his own. He started out as a one-man mobile truck, so, if we could do it over again, we would’ve found Management Success sooner and purchased a shop. Buying the location was a game changer.
What’s your spouses’ greatest strength?
Holly: Eddie blows my mind every day. He’s constantly focusing on growing and sustaining a thriving shop. He cares about the staff and customers, and he operates with ethics and passion. Eddie sacrifices so much time working toward getting the business operational. He has vision, and that’s an amazing strength.
Eddie: Holly’s greatest strength is her belief in me. She started this journey with me from the beginning and never gave up. She brings fun to the shop and a sense of caring and compassion.