From Succession to Success

May 30, 2023
How one shop owner took the reins during an abrupt transition.

For future shop owners inheriting the business from a family member, having a tangible succession plan and being eased into ownership is the ideal process. Proper planning is advised, but often, life gets in the way. That’s what happened to Nichole Bennecoff, who found herself suddenly thrust into the shop owner role with no prior guidance.

In 2018, Nichole Bennecoff was thrust into ownership of The Subie Guys, a Traverse City, Michigan-based Subaru repair shop, when her father abruptly exited the business. She entered the business with her mother and younger brother---a technician content only with turning his wrench. She was left to navigate uncharted territory. “I had no idea what a KPI (key performance indicators) was when I started that journey,” says Bennecoff. “You only know what you know, right?”

The Challenge

Without a clear succession plan passed down from her father, Bennecoff had to learn the ins and outs of running an auto repair business on the fly. Though she loved business, she didn’t know the auto care business and invariably had to deal with a steep learning curve.

“It was a lot of digging and learning and trying to figure out where we're at as a business and what our status was at that time,” Bennecoff says.

Beyond learning how to operate an auto repair shop, she had the challenge of being in the shadow of her father in the eyes of the customers, who noticed his absence from the business.

“When my dad had been the face of the business, his personality and how he treated people was a big part of the business's success, which I think you see a lot with family businesses,” Bennecoff says.

Lastly, she found herself face-to-face with the problem of zeal without knowledge.

“It can be really overwhelming when you have the desire to do something, but you do not know where to start,” she says. “I asked around … [did] a lot of Google searches, read trade articles, and read Ratchet+Wrench stories of other shop owners and what they did.”

The Solution

One of Bennecoff’s first moves was to get a snapshot of the shop’s financial health. She hired a bookkeeper to review the shop’s financials, which were found to be “not completely up to date” she says. Next, she enlisted the help of a few coaches along the way—Gerry and Laura Frank, Bill Hill and Leigh Anne Best, and Mike Tatich. Finally, she immersed herself in individual and collaborative education, like reading industry publications and attending trade events.

"[I did] a lot of research and digging for resources,” Bennecoff says. “Then I went to my first Ratchet+Wrench conference and I was just blown away … I was thinking, 'Whoa, this is so much bigger than I even had any idea about, there's so much to learn.' It was humbling and scary, but that was what started me on my journey, and in the last four years, it's been a very fast growth.”

The Aftermath

Since taking over the shop full-time in 2018, Bennecoff has taken The Subie Guys to its most profitable time in its 24-year existence, growing revenue on average of 20% to 22% year over year. She attributes it to understanding the business, how it works, and following proven methods, like tracking KPI to set goals for the shop.

“It's the humility to accept that you don't know everything, but there are people who do know a lot more than you. So, find the people that do know, learn from them, but be gutsy enough to do it. Once you're aligned with people that can help you, your chances of success are drastically increase,” Bennecoff says.

The Takeaway

Succeeding without a succession plan is difficult, but possible. Once you step back, take inventory of the business, and figure out where your strengths and weaknesses lie in growing the business, then you can make the necessary adjustments and create a profitable shop.

“Before it was like, the cars come in, we work on them, we get paid,” says Bennecoff Once you learn the factors, you start to see that you can do things on purpose.”

She also relied on setting goals, which works like gamification. In getting her team to buy in, Bennecoff was able to elevate the productivity of the entire shop and get that momentum behind her.

“We never set goals in our business before, nothing that was tangible. So being able to share key KPIs with our team that first year when we started doing that, we had the goal up on the board, and everybody was working together to reach our sales goal for the year. And for the first time, you start to see the light bulb go off in people's minds. To me, that's life changing." 

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