The guys next door were pretty awesome, and we all enjoyed chatting and getting to know one another. That summer went by much too quickly, which meant I would be going back to school full-time. But as it happens, the shop needed someone to do part-time accounting work and that definitely piqued my interest. By the fall, I was overseeing the accounts receivables and payables. I felt pretty good about myself. Here I was sitting in an office at 18 years of age working in my field for a company with hundreds of franchises across Canada. The novelty soon wore off, though, when I realized all the excitement was happening at the counter. Needless to say, I gave up minding the books and quickly moved up front instead.
In 1986, I met Jim, who was a licensed technician at the Midas shop, and two years later, we got married. The next few years were all about managing the shop, which Jim and I did with a fellow employee. They were also about having babies: first came our son Chris in 1989 and then our daughter Jacklynn in 1990. (We welcomed both our sons Matthew and Michael in 1998—one in January and one in December, if you can believe that.)
With a business and two infants to look after full-time, not to mention the commute every day to and from our home just south of Barrie, Ont., we felt it best our children live with my parents. In the evenings, Jim and I would have dinner with them before making the hour’s drive home alone every night. I was 21 years old at the time and Jim was 27. Without a lot of money, we did everything we could to provide for our family, and that included making tough decisions like being apart from our children. When I look back now, I realize that if it weren’t for my parents, especially my mom, life would be very different today. My mother enabled me to do the things that gave my children and our family the opportunities we got.
One of the guys
Although we were a young family with minimal resources, Jim and I started talking about buying our own Midas. Back then, a Midas location was worth a million dollars in goodwill because the return was so great, but with a loan from my parents, we were able to work out an agreement with the shop’s owner—whatever we made above the gross revenue would be applied toward the purchase price. A year later, our numbers were way above what we had projected. As a woman, though, leading a business made up of mostly men presented a few challenges. When I first started working at Midas, I wasn’t offended when customers walked past me to speak with one of the technicians. But over time, I made it a point to educate myself about cars, turning to Jim who would walk me through what he was doing to fix a car or to explain why a part failed. I also took courses on brake repair at Centennial College. I knew being part of Midas was what I wanted to do, but I also knew it would be tough unless I could prove myself as being just as knowledgeable as the guys.
In the meantime, our deal to buy the shop fell through. Although Jim continued in his job as a technician, I went to work at a friend’s auto shop. Having stayed in touch with John Fisher, vice-president of corporate store operations at the time, he offered to show me the Midas store in Woodbridge, Ont., hoping I would be interested in buying it. With rent being a third of the sales, the shop was in big trouble. As a well-run operation, it should easily have been doing three times its annual volume. It was clear to John the shop needed an owner/operator who could turn morale around and connect with the community. Three days later, I made an offer to purchase the franchise. All I had to do next was find the money to close the deal. Turning to my parents and an acquaintance, I got the backing I needed. The only thing left was to tell my husband we were the new owners of the Midas shop in Woodbridge. This was May of 1996.
By our third year of owning the shop, we hit our projected sales target. Although we are quite proud of our numbers, not to mention the skill of our technicians who were at various levels of certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, we feel the secret to running a profitable auto repair shop is creating good relationships with clients. This is a lesson I learned from Al Martin, the previous owner of the Midas shop Jim and I used to manage. I like to say Al truly had the Midas touch. As the largest volume dealer in our network for many years, he was a force to be reckoned with and posted results that could never be replicated after he sold his stores. He always said he owed his success to building trusting relationships with his clients and vendors. Al inspired me in the way he dealt with people. He never looked at a job as simply completing a transaction, but rather being given the opportunity to make a difference in a client’s day. I wanted to work for an organization people like Al belonged to. He taught me your employees are a reflection of you, and that’s a lesson I relied on when it came time for me to lead a team.
The way I see it, I should never have to sell a customer a thing. Instead, they should decide to buy it because it’s the right thing for them. It’s a pretty simple concept—if I show a client what’s wrong with their car and they trust me, there is no real selling on my part. If a client brings their car in, it’s because they have a concern. If you assure them there isn’t one or educate them as to why there is, they will gladly pay you to fix the problem. By embracing this idea of building relationships, we’ve successfully grown our business and doubled our sales out of the Woodbridge store. Sometimes that entails working out a payment plan with a customer when they can’t afford to pay the full amount up front. I’m happy to do that because I know the next time the client needs work done, they will come back to me and so will anyone they recommend. Good faith and word of mouth are the best forms of advertising.
The success at the Woodbridge location helped me pick up the Midas shop in the north end of Etobicoke, Ont., in 2002. Although this was an established location with strong sales, I decided it would be a great buy because the property it sits on came with it. If I ever sell that shop, I will be Midas’s landlord and that’s just fine by me. I’ve got my eye on buying a third Midas, but I’m holding out for an opportunity that also comes with some real estate.