How One Operator Built a Booming Small-Town Franchise
A certain amount of things were new to Dave Repass when he opened up his Meineke shop in 2011.
That amount? Everything.
“I had no experience at all running a business,” he says. “I had never been the boss of anybody in my career.”
Repass had finished a fruitful career in another industry, managing sales and often working on the road. He had great interpersonal skills and a background as a lover of cars and their mechanical workings but no direct experience running a shop.
After Repass committed to opening up his Meineke, it was four years of preparation before he opened the doors. In the meantime, he commuted three hours from his previous job to his new home in Lewes, Del.
Both Repass and Meineke were curious if the town of Lewes—population: 3,000—could support a Meineke shop in the marketplace. His was the first big-brand, franchise auto shop in the area.
As it turned out, Lewes was a place for the shop to flourish, and the shop won Franchise of the Year from Meineke for 2019. Looking back on his eight years in the business, Repass says he’s just trying to keep building on his success.
“I am. I am starting to figure this stuff out,” he says. “We are constantly trying to become better.”
SHOP STATS: Meineke Car Care Center Lewes no. 1954 Location: Lewes, Del. Operator: Dave Repass Average Weekly Car Count: 310 (inc. 200 as oil changes) Staff Size: 19 Shop Size: 10,500 square feet in three buildings Annual Revenue: $3.2 million to $3.6 million
Opening the Doors
Repass opened the doors to his Meineke in June 2011 with six bays and the same number of employees. All of a sudden, Repass was responsible for things like bookkeeping, human resources paperwork and training. Most of it was new to him.
“Firing employees, I was a little worried about,” Repass says. “And hiring the right ones, going through that process. It was nothing I had ever experienced before.”
He says that having Meineke’s corporate support helped him get off the ground. That’s what led him to open a franchise in the first place rather than an independent shop.
A scenic town on the water’s edge, Lewes was due for an expansion, and Repass says that he launched his shop at the right time to build alongside it.
“We’re kind of like the perfect storm,” he says. “Because of the things we do in the community, when we did open, this area was just starting a little bit of a growth process.”
He built a second garage out in the back of his lot with five more bays. Then a third building went in, which is a bit less formal but can be used as four bays if needed.
Repass now has four dedicated lube techs. Two work at all times on oil changes and inspections. But all the techs do oil changes, he says, which come in at around 200 per week as a part of their overall clientele.
His total staff roster is at 19, and the shop is a family effort. Repass’ wife, Jody, is there every day, working on items like payroll, human resources and customer service. Their oldest daughter helps with social media, and their son helps out as a repair tech assistant.
And Repass’ father is pops in now and again to see how far things have come since those days tinkering in the garage.
Repass really embraces the public face of being a business owner. He says that at 6 p.m., after being at the shop, the day is nowhere near finished. He says that’s a part of what makes his business a success.
“It is being involved,” he says. “A lot of guys can write a check, but it is being involved I think makes a big difference.”
Like any good operation, Repass says he attributes his success to the people he’s put around him.
“It is everybody out there that we have working for us,” he says. “They're doing the work. They're keeping the customers come back.”
It takes some time to get those people in place. Repass says he’s let go of great technicians who just weren’t right for his particular business.
He says he put everyone on hourly payroll from the start. Without a performance-based pay scale, he had his techs focus on what’s needed— and what’s not.
“Truly never selling anybody anything they don’t need,” he says.
A successful shop also needs a strong manager. Repass says he has that in Tim Dale, who started with Repass on the first day. These days, Dale is the guy making things run smoothly.
“He is a remarkable man,” Repass says. “And I would not be where I am today without him.”
Another part of his business model takes place outside the shop. Repass says it’s a “feet on the streets” approach. That just means being a positive and active community member.
What’s good for the community turns out to be good for business, according to Meineke president Danny Rivera.
“Dave and Jody have created an enterprise in Lewes that’s so much more than just an automotive repair shop,” Rivera says in a statement to NOLN. “They are a large part of the local community; donating not just money, but their time, helping to support local causes from supporting the state police, veterans, and the USO at the Dover Air Force Base.
“The Repass family and all their employees embody that community spirit and that is why people keep coming back to their shop. Today 85 percent of their still-growing business is repeat customers.”
Repass says that’s how they’ve been able to grow in a small market. So much so that he’s purchased a lot for his next shop, which is about a year away from construction. In a few years after that, Repass hopes to be at five locations.
The repeat customer base has been the shop’s bread and butter, he says. He will see members of the same household in his shop multiple times in a year. Because after falling in love with Lewes, he set out to become a positive part of it, and people respond to that.
“Customers, our good repeat customers, will throw the keys on the counter,” he says, “and say they, ‘hear a funny noise. Call us when it's done.’”