Shop owners are great multitaskers. You need to be good at it in order to run the operation—especially smaller, single-shop setups.
For Ray Gould, the ownership experience has been a multitasking practice on overdrive. For more than a year, he has been balancing three full-time duties: his shop, his family, and his military service.
“This last year and a half to two years have been a complete blur,” Gould says.
Let’s start in October of 2020, when Gould and his wife, Ashly, took over full ownership of the Valvoline Express Care service center in Denton, Texas. It’s a stout shop with four oil change bays, as well as additional bays for repairs and inspections. The staff of eight includes an ASE-certified technician. The business has been in Gould’s family since he was young.
“One of the things I really enjoy about working the family business is being able to have a greater impact, not just to the employees but to the greater community,” Gould says. “And I really enjoy the small business side of that.”
Upon taking ownership of the shop, the Goulds had additional preparation work to do. They had to plan the logistics of Gould’s ownership during an upcoming commitment for the U.S. Army Reserve. Within a year of shop ownership, Gould and his family faced a 400-day deployment. He serves as a mobilization commander for the Military Intelligence Readiness Command in support of contingency operations overseas.
Service in Multiple Capacities
Gould enlisted right out of high school, had a deployment to Iraq, worked with U.S. Border Patrol along the Texas-Mexico border, and shortly afterward decided to commit to serve through a 20-year period.
“I chose the warrant officer route,” he says. “Warrant officers are technical experts in the field. I've really enjoyed my specialty.”
He knew it would be a challenge as a new shop owner and a deployed military service member, but he wasn’t new to the shop environment. His parents owned the shop since Gould was 6 years old. And by the time of taking ownership, he had been running operations for years.
Still, the situation wasn’t short of challenges. One of the most important pieces was already in place: a great manager. Gould says that the shop manager is able to handle daily duties well.
Next, Gould wanted to set up the shop for as much remote access as possible while Gould worked from afar. He set up an app to take shop calls on his cell phone, as one example.
“Access the POS system to do inventory, ordering, things like that,” Gould says. “I have cameras that I can view remotely and digitalize timekeeping.”
Gould holds virtual video calls with his staff as often as he can to keep his thumb on the pulse of the business—all while working long hours for the Reserve. Ashly estimates that he puts in 50 hours with the Reserve and 30 hours with the shop each week.
Sometimes, Gould will squeeze in some face time at his shop. That means getting off from Reserve work at around 5 a.m., catching a flight to Fort Worth, heading to the shop for a few hours, and then catching a flight back to headquarters to resume Reserve duties.
For the most part, Gould relies on a strong operational structure that he’s put in place and builds on the foundation that the business had for years.
“I definitely have given a lot of latitude to the management and employees there. I'm not in the business of babysitting,” he says. “We have clearly outlined company policies and procedures, and I expect folks to follow them.”
The Balancing Act
Although it was a complicated start, being a shop owner has been the right opportunity. Gould says that he hangs his hat on the Golden Rule for customer relations. He views the work as an obligation and an important responsibility to work on customers’ cars safely and smartly.
“If you can really get people to buy in on that, the customer experience is changed forever,” Gould says. “And then things like price aren’t as important, because the customer will remember how they feel.”
Gould is looking forward to becoming the on-site leader at the Express Care shop, taking the location to new heights in a busy Texas marketplace. In July, he returned home to Denton to start that journey.
“There’s working the business and there’s working on the business, and that’s something that I found challenging,” he says. “Especially in this year, when I'm just trying to make sure that we stay healthy and maintain our reputation. Working on the business is a completely different animal. It takes mental energy and focus and solving complex problems to be better than the competition.”
More important is the role of family man. The Goulds include Ashly and their three children. There’s no denying that it’s been a challenge, but the Goulds are proud of their service to the country. Through it all, they’re supporting each other.
“We are extremely proud,” Ashly Gould says. “And just so fortunate that we have the opportunity to be a part of it. He’s a hard worker, and that’s definitely something I want to emulate.”
Gould says that he has been humbled by the opportunities at hand—even overlapping full-time opportunities. It’s tough to imagine that he’d have it any other way.
“I've been incredibly blessed throughout my life to surround myself with people who are better than me,” Gould says. “And that ranges from great parents to mentors, a wife who’s everything and more than I could have asked for. So I am a truly blessed man.”