There’s nothing more American than owning your own business. Some people simply aren’t cut out for the corporate life, working for executives and abiding by others’ rules. You have to dress and act a certain way, and you don’t always fit in with those around you, particularly if you’re the kind of person who prefers working with your hands rather than sitting behind a desk.
If you’re not the kind of person who enjoys the rigid structure of corporate life, starting your own business is the solution to freedom. If you have a particular skill set, such as the ability to diagnose car problems and repair them, opening an automotive shop is the obvious next step.
But opening an automotive shop is about a lot more than dressing in coveralls, grabbing your tools, and popping the hood. That’s probably where you want to be most of the time, but there’s a great deal of planning and preparation in order first.
As you get ready to start your own mechanic garage, here are a few essentials you’ll want to consider first.
1. Getting certified
Although you don’t have to be certified to open your own shop, it’s worth considering. Find an automotive & diesel technology college in NY or your state and consider enrolling to get a certification to fix vehicles of all types.
Even if you grew up fixing cars with your dad, and you believe you know everything there is to know about engines, getting a diploma is still smart. This certification can help you gain and keep customers. Many customers prefer working with a certified mechanic, and you can often charge higher prices as a result.
Additionally, there are always new improvements and updates to today’s technologies. You might learn about new practices or technologies that you didn’t know about before so that you can run a tighter ship. For example, there are incredible diagnostic machines that can tell you what’s wrong with a car by simply plugging it in.
2. Finding a space to work
After you’ve completed any education you intend to, begin looking for a space to work. Ideally, you’ll need a large, open workspace with an office in front. If you intend to only use the front to complete transactions with the customer, you won’t need a large space. However, if you intend to sell tires or other products, look for a larger area. You’ll also want a separate office space to do bookwork.
If you can’t find an existing automotive garage to purchase, you can always convert an existing space to fit your needs. Hire someone who specializes in this type of work. A garage has unique specifications and requirements that a typical building contractor may not be able to meet.
For example, you’ll need a lot of power, so enlist special electrical services to wire your building. You’ll also need a garage outfitter to install huge garage doors, an HVAC contractor to create strong ventilation, and a Ready Mix concrete supplier to pave the floor and driveway. Don’t cut corners on any of these installations, since it’s your livelihood on the line.
As you make changes to the space, contact your local city or county to obtain the proper licenses, permits, and inspections. The last thing you want is for your grand opening to be delayed because you didn’t have the proper permits.
3. Applying for a business license
You aren’t just fixing cars — you’re running a business, and as such, you need a business license. There are many different types of licenses you can apply for, including:
Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
And a few others. You’ll probably apply for an LLC, but it’s important to do research in your state to determine the best options before submitting your application.
4. Choosing parts suppliers
When you need new tires or carbide wear parts, you need a trusted supplier to deliver them. As any existing automotive shop owner will tell you, finding and keeping great suppliers can be a challenge. Whether the parts are always arriving late, they try to overcharge you, or the quality isn’t quite up to par, this isn’t a standard of service that you can accept in your new business.
Shop around carefully, and when you find a reliable, high-quality parts dealer, keep them. Remember that you can negotiate rates as well, to help keep your prices competitive. Most suppliers will raise their prices over time, so it’s important to do some negotiating in the beginning for more manageable rates through the life of your business.
5. Disposing of totaled cars
Not every car you encounter will be worth fixing. At this point, you’ll want to be open and honest with the customer, sharing your professional opinion that it will be better to move on to a different vehicle. If they still want you to fix it, you should, but give them the option.
If a customer doesn’t want to fix the car, offer to scrap it for them at no cost. It’s great customer service because they feel like you’re going the extra mile to help them, despite their car being totaled. However, it’s also advantageous for you because scrap metal recycling can yield good money that you can put back into your business.
Many vehicle owners will choose to scrap the car themselves to collect the cash, but if they’d rather wash their hands of it, you might as well collect on it.
6. Protecting your employees
It’s unrealistic to think that you can run the mechanic shop all by yourself. You’ll need a few other certified mechanics to help you complete the work and stay in business. Hiring employees is vital to your success, but it’s not always easy.
Every employer must take proper precautions to ensure that their employees are taken care of. Along with taking out a worker’s compensation policy and proper liability insurance, you’ll also want to set up employee benefits. Consider health, dental, and vision. You might also consider a life insurance prelicensing program to take care of your employees’ families should anything happen to your mechanics.
7. Networking with used car dealerships
Gaining loyal clientele can be difficult when you’re just starting out, particularly if you’re new to the area. Take advantage of marketing opportunities and community events to put your name out there and promote your business.
You should also network with used car dealerships. A family-owned and operated car dealership likely won’t have an onsite mechanic shop. When vehicles are traded in, they’ll need someone to inspect the vehicle and make any repairs before they can put it back on the lot.
Additionally, they may take your card and give it to their customers who ask for recommendations of a good automotive shop in the area. This gives one foot in the door and helps build brand awareness.
You’re steps away from climbing the corporate ladder to fulfill a dream of owning your own business. You’ll encounter many bumps and sharp turns along the way, but as you dive into this opportunity, you’ll find great fulfillment in everything you do. You can build a fantastic life this way and become a staple in your community.