Getting own shop/garage up and running

Tiny
RXDOG57
  • MEMBER
  • 1990 ALL OTHER MAKES ALL OTHER MODELS
Myself and a few friends want to get a small shop up and running for small builds to do flips like buying closer to stock vehicles mostly trucks & jeeps to add minor mods to resale what are the tools we need to purchase for suspension, tire, wheel upgrades like we need the laungdry list for a small mod shop
Do you
have the same problem?
Yes
No
Thursday, March 5th, 2015 AT 9:37 PM

4 Replies

Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
This is a dandy idea but you're going about this all wrong. First of all, I can tell you're new to this business just by the question you asked. The first thing you need to do is enroll in an Automotive course at a nearby community college. Please do not get suckered into wasting your money at the grossly-over-priced private, for-profit schools like Wyo-Tech, ITT, and places like that. I've worked with their "graduates", and they almost all washed out of the field because they had to be retrained on the job to learn how to do really basic stuff like balance a tire or perform a brake job. The best community college courses take two years but some are set up so you can spread the classes out to take longer and you can double them up to get done sooner. In these courses you'll see the tools you need and you'll get a feel for what you want.

Also, if you have to ask what tools you'll need tells me you aren't sure yet what you want to specialize in, if anything, and you don't know how these tools are going to be needed or used. There's a ton of legal issues that can easily put you out of business and get you in big trouble. Those are covered in Automotive courses. You don't want to try to learn those on the job unless you are lucky enough to find someone willing to take the time to train you. Please understand there are a lot of really good mechanics who never had any formal training, but every one of them will be lacking in some area, and the smarter ones know it. Going to school does not mean you'll know everything either. It gets you a really solid foundation to build on and you'll advance WAY faster than the guys who had to learn by trial and error. By the way, in school you learn the RIGHT way to do things. The instructors know full well there are legitimate shortcuts, but you have to learn the right way first so you will understand when it is acceptable to use those shortcuts.

The reason no one can answer your question is this is like asking for a specific list of qualities you want in a spouse. Everyone's toolbox is different. At the two places I worked, the new kids, me included, started with a basic set of metric and standard wrenches and sockets, screwdrivers, and a few sets of pliers. We all started with tool boxes with handles on the top! Anyone who showed up with a giant roller tool box was looked on with suspicion because we knew they spent all their money on the box and had no idea what to put in it. As you gain experience, you'll know when it's time to buy specialty tools. Also, you will always have the excitement of "needing" more tools but you don't want to already have cheap junk in your box. Buy something the tool truck guys will be willing to take in trade in the future.

Once you start working on cars, you're going to find out that short socket doesn't reach that recessed bolt and the deep socket is too long and it buts up against an obstruction. NOW you get the joy of visiting the guys who visit your shop every week with their tool trucks because you found a need for mid-length sockets. YIPPEE! MAC, Matco, Snapon, and Cornwell are the most common ones. By the way, don't ask these guys this question either. They make their living off selling you tools, so of course their answer will be you need one of everything, and two or three of "these". What you CAN do is ask each week what they have in their "used" drawer. You can find good deals on traded-in tools. You'll be okay at Sears too with Craftsman tools, but don't waste your money on department store junk. Cheap tools are fine for the person who tries to fix something on their car a few times per year before they wreck it enough to warrant bringing it to you. YOU will be making your living off these tools, so while you don't have to buy high-priced Snapon stuff, stick with name brand tools with lifetime warranties.

Watch out too for the huge tool sets all of these guys offer. They're designed to get the new guys excited when they don't have any idea yet what they're going to need. Every one of these sets has probably 50 percent tools you'll never need but you're paying for. To me it looks like they include all the oddball tools they'd never be able to sell otherwise, and they need a way to get rid of them.

Consider buying impact sockets meant for air tool use. Chrome sockets can shatter and will not have their warranties honored when used with air tools. There are black sockets too that aren't for air tools so watch out for those. I find chrome sockets real hard to hang onto when they're full of grease. Impact sockets are easier to hang onto, less likely to break because they're softer to absorb the shock, and they're usually less expensive because they aren't chrome-plated.

We had a saying at work too regarding tools. "If you need it once, it's okay to borrow it. If you need it twice, buy your own". I always let coworkers use my tools without asking because I knew they'd bring them back, and that meant that thanks to me, they didn't HAVE to buy their own, but there will always be a few mechanics who get real upset if you ask to borrow from them. They'd sooner borrow you their wives than their tools!

I have about 15 different socket sets, almost all by MAC. That's not because they're any better. It's because when I started in this business we had three MAC salesmen go out of business over about a four-year period, and they were making real good deals. I bought a really huge MAC tool box too for less than half price from a guy going out of business when I worked for a very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership. I specialized in electrical diagnosis and suspension and alignment. I was their only alignment technician for ten years. In my city we have always had trouble keeping MAC salesmen in business for more than a year or two. Our Matco man has been here since at least the late '80s. It is just the opposite in some nearby towns. Our Snapon guy is real high-pressure, just like most GM dealership salespeople, so he doesn't have many loyal customers.

One word of warning about partnerships. I know two former classmates who have been in business together for over 30 years, but that is extremely rare. Someone normally always feels their partner isn't doing his share of the work, takes too much profit, too many breaks, etc. If you're going to be a legitimate business, do it yourself with your friends as your employees. Most cities have people who will mentor you on how to start and run a business. You can ask at any Chamber of Commerce. Another good idea is to visit the owner of an independent shop in a city where you won't be in competition with him. Ask to take him to lunch, or at least take along a bag of cookies, (chocolate chip!) And feed him while you pump him for information. You can also build a working relationship with another shop in your area where you can complement each other while still being competitors. One example is rebuilding automatic transmissions is a very high-level specialty that most of us can't do. You might help the people at a nearby tranny shop with an electrical problem and they can give you a discount on building a beefed-up transmission.

The mentors will strongly push you to develop a business plan! I know this sounds like way more homework than you have in mind, but all successful businesses have one, and they're surprisingly easy to do. Heck, I put together two of them for my Automotive program. The more I typed, the more stuff I thought of and wanted to add. Building the plan just involves answering a list of questions, but as I learned, those questions make you think about stuff you never thought of, and will help you answer questions that are going to arise. If the plan is sound, and you stick to it, your business will be successful. You can find a simple list of questions to answer to put your plan together very quickly. Examples of questions that I can remember off the top of my head include:

1. Ahh, ... What are ya gonna do?
2. Who will do this work?
3. How will mistakes be handled?
4. Who will handle the check book and pay the bills?
5. How will the profits be used?
6. What is the reason you're going to do this?
7. Where will this work be performed?
8. What types of items and what quantity will be kept in inventory at all times?
9. How will non-stock parts be handled? (That's parts you don't normally keep on hand but were ordered, then didn't need).
10. Which, if any, community organizations will you support?
11. Where will you advertise and what will be the budget?
12. How far can employees go in handling customer complaints? At what point will you become involved?

At first glance you're going to roll your eyes and say this is stupid and a waste of time, but I found out it is what will keep you on track when problems arise. A banker will want to see this too if you go looking for a loan. It takes money to expand. Why wait for the profits to trickle in so you can expand ten years from now? Use the banker's money to get a head start once you've been going for a year or two. And guess what? You have to pay the banker back, right? You just answered question number 5. You can give some of your profits to the guy who helped you get going or you can give it to the government in taxes. Believe me, you'll be paying plenty of taxes already.

For the first question, the answer is not, "I'm going to fix cars". You're going to "purchase select used cars and light trucks that have the potential to have value added through repairs, maintenance, customization, and legal modifications. Sales and installation of custom products specific to each customer's request".

For the second question, a very good friend of mine has six employees who do all the mechanical work. He sells tires and service work and doesn't get dirty. He never really was a professional mechanic. He just "surrounded himself" with the best people he could find and pays them accordingly.

Be aware your first few years are going to be lean. All your taxes get paid first whether you made a profit or not. If there's anything left over, your employees get paid next. Way down at the bottom of the totem pole, you get a little paycheck if there's anything left over. Customers and employees are going to think you're getting rich, but in fact, you're the last person to get paid when the money's there. I worked part-time for my cousin for 30 years at his tv repair shop. There was one year when I earned just over $2000.00 for the year, and he went home with less than I did!

Rather than risk losing your interest and attention, just understand that anytime you are sitting and wondering how to handle a situation, this is when you drag out the business plan and read the appropriate paragraph. If the plan is written properly, you will find the answer and know exactly how to proceed.

Let me add one detail about those legal issues I mentioned. It sounds like you want to perform modifications that involve struts, suspension, and wheels. I've posted here many times that it is extremely important to me to maintain correct suspension ride height, and to not alter "scrub radius". Both of these things adversely affect handling, braking distance, steering response, and comfort. You can be sure lawyers and insurance investigators know all about these things. A lowered car feels like it can stop faster but that is an illusion. Your customer will definitely not be happy with you if his arms get tired with a raised truck after reacting to every little bump in the road during a half-hour drive. Changing the wheel width, outer tire circumference, or wheel offset will change scrub radius which was carefully designed-in. Among other things, that can change a car from one that can be easily-controlled when one half of the brake system fails to one that is horrendously dangerous and likely to cause a crash. These are things we all have to keep in mind that can make us party to any future lawsuit.

I have another friend who specializes in rebuilding smashed one and two-year-old Dodge trucks. He spends way more time than necessary on the frame rack to insure the wheel alignment comes out perfect, and he knows that ride height has to be exactly at the legal, published specs. All of the built-in crumple zones in the frame and the body have to remain exactly as they were designed. Those pesky lawyers love to find any type of these modifications that you were involved in. For the vehicle owner, the lawyers will shift the blame for a crash from their client who ran the red light onto your customer who was less able to avoid it due to those modifications, and they will be right when ride height and scrub radius are concerned.

It may not be obvious to you yet, but if you're planning on building street racers and doing tuning modifications, you're playing to an audience that is going to leave you because very few of those people pay for such services. They mostly do the work themselves with help from friends. I get asked way too often to help when engines don't run right, or there's terrible tire wear, a brake pull, and things like that, but I have no idea what someone else did ahead of me. I CAN figure out when something is wrong with what came from the factory because those vehicles are all the same and there's service manuals and classes to learn about them. You are going to have to charge for your time, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that if it takes you five hours at $100.00 per hour to figure out that your customer mixed up two wires, they are not going to be happy with you or spread positive feedback among their friends. People will remember the dollars and YOUR mistakes long after they forget the good you did for them. Straightening out other people's mistakes is usually a losing deal for you. If you want to pursue this line of service, in spite of the legal and insurance issues, you're better off to build a car, verify everything is working properly and meets all legal concerns, then sell it and be prepared to repair anything the customer comes back with whether it was your fault or not. Even better, buy tested and proven name-brand products and resell them to your customers. Put the responsibility for correcting their mistakes on their shoulders.

As a final word, we had a saying at the dealership that it takes more advertising dollars to get one new customer than it takes to keep ten current customers happy and coming back. In my city one of the GM dealers is constantly advertising for new customers because he has seriously ticked off most of his old ones. It's common to hear, "never again" from those angry customers. We have a few new-car dealers that need to do very little advertising because they have so much repeat business from happy customers and positive word-of-mouth advertising. You'll want to do whatever it takes to satisfy your crabbiest customer, within reason of course. Then it becomes a piece of cake to take care of everyone else. This is where you can learn from a good boss like I had, or another shop owner you become friends with who also has a good reputation. Just don't forget the chocolate chip cookies!
Was this
answer
helpful?
Yes
No
Thursday, March 5th, 2015 AT 11:56 PM
Tiny
RXDOG57
  • MEMBER
I did this as a side job in high school but I would only get to complete two small builds in 4-5 months so I guess a better way to phrase my original question would be is there away advance my production?
Was this
answer
helpful?
Yes
No
Sunday, March 8th, 2015 AT 10:15 PM
Tiny
RXDOG57
  • MEMBER
In addition to that I was also unclear on the mods but I realized that the possiblity of this being just my idea are slim to none I bought like wranglers ranchers and Tacoma's but the mods that are being done im going to use a 2000 tocoma bc most reacent one I completed take a basically stock truck and added new rims and tires all the way around and a rough country suspension and body lift if you can't tell I'm a southerner and would turn around and resale them I was looking for production advancement advice and looked at different brands and was just like interested in a way to increase what I was doing before however thank you for the advice you provided on me being a bit more vague than I should have been
Was this
answer
helpful?
Yes
No
Sunday, March 8th, 2015 AT 10:32 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Sorry to have ignored you for so long. I had a house fire a year ago and have to drive into town to use the library's wireless internet. I don't make it there every day.

The best way to make money doing this is to hire other people to do the work. Being a youngster, you have the luxury of starting out small, doing a few jobs well by yourself or with one or two helpers, and then learning what works and what doesn't. Once you're comfortable with the jobs you're doing, you can hire people to do the same work, but the way you want it done. If you cut corners and do shoddy work, before long you won't have any customers. If you insist on quality work and honesty, your business will grow on its own to the point you can't keep up without hiring additional people. There is just so much you can do yourself in a day. With employees, you make a little off each one, and in return you take care of them with good wages and good working conditions.

I have a friend who owns one of the more reputable shops in my city but he never was a mechanic. He just hired good people and he lets them do all the work, but to his standards. He uses much of the profits to buy new equipment and service information. That makes his employees more productive and everyone makes more money. At some point try to find at least one qualified girl to add to the workforce, especially if you get into doing upholstery work. They're more likely to pay close attention to fine detail like stitching, but in nine years three of my top students were girls. They're more likely to try harder, and the guys had a real lot of respect for them because of that. If you have a guy who can't get along with a girl on the job site, it's the girl you'll want to keep.

Once you know what works and what doesn't, it will take less and less time on each project. There will be less time wasted on experimentation and trial and error. The first few vehicles you sell are going to be the foundation of your reputation so don't cheap out.

I would really strongly advise you to forget the lift kits and lowering kits. Let the vehicle owners do that damage to their vehicles themselves. You don't want your fingerprints on anything that can involve you in someone else's lawsuit. Keep in mind too that what you're proposing to do is exactly what most people do themselves when they want this type of ride. You have to find a reason for them to want to buy your truck instead of building their own. There are a number of customizing shops in my area but none of them will mess with factory ride height. It really is that big a deal. The shops that do this type of work are well-known as butchers, and they have very few happy customers.

As another thought, you want to buy a vehicle, add value to it, then sell it at a profit. How about doing any needed repairs, preparing the body for paint, THEN sell it to include the buyer's choice of paint job, wheels, tires, and optional toys that you can offer to install. That way the buyer can order a custom vehicle just the way they want it. You won't have to paint it twice, switch the wheels, and things like that. They can choose to provide the vehicle with all the problems it already has, or they can buy a better one from you exactly the way they want it.

By the way, take lots of pictures of your work so customers can see the "before" and "after" of their vehicles or some similar to what they want. It's nice to give copies to the buyers but keep some for your shop's bulletin board in the customer waiting area.

Custom bodywork is another area to explore that is free from lawsuit worries. The problem here is no one is going to buy a truck from you that already has your custom paint job on it. You want to put on it what the OWNER wants. Very few people have the talent AND desire to to paint cars and trucks. I tried many years ago and gave up. What I accomplished in four weeks my friend came out and redid in six hours. He was a master at custom painting but he no longer has the desire to so it. That is a service you can offer that most people can't do themselves. My friend learned bodywork on the job. He missed out on a number of aspects of the business by not attending the community college course my school offered. After 20 very successful years, he eventually struck out on his own but his business failed within two years. He tried to do everything himself including closing the shop during business hours to run for parts. All the business expenses had to be paid from the profits of just one person, and that wore him out in no time.

That brings me to another point. While he was still in high school, my friend started sweeping floors at one of our premier body shops. This was where I observed for the first time a boss who insisted on quality work or you do it over. You will also want to work for someone else for a couple of years. You'll get to see your boss on the good days and the bad days. There's no better way to learn how you want to run your business than by watching someone else's mistakes and successes. I won't say you can't be successful starting your own business right out of high school, but that is the slowest and most tiring way of getting a business going. All successful business owners will tell you they either started out working for one or two other people first, or they wish they would have. A lot of people dream of owning their own business, but for most of them that dream begins well after they've been working for someone else for a while, then they realize, "hey, I can do that too"!

While at the dealership, I watched a few kids right out of high school start by washing cars and changing oil, but they didn't stay there very long. Those who did the best job they could got promoted very quickly and were sent to a lot of manufacturer training schools. I would recommend once you get hired at another shop, you can work on your first project at home. If you find you don't like doing this type of work or there are not enough potential customers to make it pay, you'd rather know that now while you still have a job and you're not committed to this venture. If you look around your area, you'll see there are absolutely no one-man shops of any kind where the owner is getting rich. They might be getting by, but that's it. There's no vacations and no time off. Tomorrow will be just like yesterday with little to look forward to. The people making money are either working for someone else who is obligated to pay the employees first, or they're making a little profit off each employee.

In the words of one of our more professional repair shop owners, "if I can't make a profit off of you, why do I need to have you?" You need to have the same attitude when you work for someone else. If you don't bring in a profit for your boss, he won't need you.
Was this
answer
helpful?
Yes
No
Monday, March 9th, 2015 AT 10:51 PM

Please login or register to post a reply.

Recommended Guides