Small Town Success

July 28, 2023
After a move and two decades, Lou Stornello returned to his calling: Running a shop.

Lou Stornello has always loved the feeling of running his own shop, but when he moved to Beaverton, Michigan in 1999, he left behind the shop he had to work as a technician.   

20 years later, he knew it was time to return to his role as a shop owner and took over T & J Automotive–an established business that he and his wife, Tina, helped launch into success it had never seen.  

Stornello sat down with NOLN to talk about how his business got to where it is now: opening a separate facility dedicated to oil changes due to the volume of business they now receive. 

Born to Run a Shop  

Stornello owned his first shop in Flint, Michigan in the late 1990s. He and his wife lived on the east side of Flint before making the decision to move to Beaverton in 1999. Following the move, Stornello hoped to open another shop, having enjoyed the work he was doing.  

Not finding many options for sale at the time, he gained a job as a technician at a shop in Gladwin, Michigan, and stayed there for 20 years.  

In 2020, Stornello decided he wanted to do something different, and got in touch with the now-former owner of T & J Automotive.  

The previous owner had difficulty getting around due to hip issues, and being the only one there, was unable to work quickly. Looking to retire, he accepted Stornello’s offer for the shop.  

“The gentleman that was working here before was pretty much working on his own,” Stornello recounts. “So we churned out quite a few more cars.” 

The business continued to pick up, with Stornello completing more business in one week than the former owner could do in a month.  

Stornello also made an effort to be visible in the community. 

“That definitely helped, getting into some advertising and doing some stuff around the local community and stuff,” Stornello says.  

Not only did it help with promoting T & J’s image, but Stornello says that it helped him network with other business owners in his small town that were able to help guide him. 

A Natural at Networking 

Networking has been one of Stornello’s most useful tools. Other shop owners have provided insight for him at roadblocks, even meeting someone through his parts supplier that was able to help him navigate several issues. 

“… He set me up with a guy, and he helped me out with getting a grip on how to handle certain things, and how to keep track of things or stuff like that, to make sure I'm actually making money at the end of the day,” Stornello remembers with a laugh.  

T & J has seen so much success that the business had to start turning away oil changes due to the volume of repairs they were performing. Stornello had the idea to expand the building, but zoning issues with the city prevented him from being able to.  

Just across the street from T & J was another shop that was out of operation. Stornello decided to contact its owner, who was going to enter the tow truck business and sell the building, placing the perfect opportunity in Stornello’s hands. 

As T & J’s expands and grows, Stornello also has had to grapple with a shortage of available talent. Being in a small town, he’s found the best way to find talent is by utilizing the network he’s built. 

“I talk to people and tell ‘em I’m looking for people, y’know, tell ‘em to spread the word,” he says. 

Enjoying the Ride 

Though there’s undoubtedly much to learn about the industry, that’s part of what motivates Stornello. He thrives off constantly learning, with he and his team making time to attend classes on emerging vehicle technology and trends to stay informed. 

Not only is Stornello happy to work for himself and retire on his own terms, but he’s also proud of building a business that he can call his own. 

“It’s my shop, so there’s a lot [of]...almost, like...kinship. Where you feel like it’s almost like your baby. Y’know, you gotta take care of it, love it, try to grow it. Make it behave,” he adds with a laugh. 

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Courtesy of Justin Krizman
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