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PHL The Hathaway Group
The Importance of Culture and Leadership in Luxury Auto Repair

Today’s guest is  Ryan Von Steinen from JB Import Automotive and Repair. He has been a part of this business for the last 10-plus years and has been a huge part of the success they’ve had over that time. JB important, however, is not a new business. And they opened their doors back in the 1970s in St. Pete, Florida.

So they’ve been around for quite some time, just  Ryan’s passion for cars that was developed at an early age. But he also has a knack for leading a team. And it’s been a big part of JB’s important change in the game when it comes to how your car is serviced. And their approach is something that other businesses could adopt, whether you’re in the service or selling a product. Now in my chat with Ryan, we discussed this approach of transparency and communication and the importance of culture in a business. And we also talk about some of Ryan’s favorite cars. This is an episode that I enjoyed. And I hope you do as well. So if so, share with a friend or two, who you think might enjoy it as well. All, here we go.

Listen to the podcast episode here!


Hey, Ryan, welcome to the show, man.

Hey, Donnie, thanks for having me here. Appreciate the opportunity.

I’m excited to kind of learn more about your business. So your business is JB Import Automotive Repair and you guys are located in St. Pete, you said downtown St. Louis, downtown St.Petersburg. I  like to tell people six blocks north of Tropicana on 16th Street.

And we’ve been there since 1979. So it’s a long time– the business

So you must be doing something. If you’ve been there that long.

It’s been a long run. And I feel we’re making huge ground here. In proving ourselves because St. Pete’s just growing so many unique opportunities with the city.

That’s cool. So how long have you been involved in the company? Because you don’t look old enough to be there from 1979?

I’ve been there a little over 10 years. I’m a partner in the company. Now two gentlemen have owned it since late 99, or early 2000. So I’ve been there for about 24 years. We’re going to work together for several years going forward. But, ideas move into that myself.

How did you how did you get started in cars? Where does this passion come from? And tell me about that.

Cars are my whole life. But there’s a moment when I was a kid that I remember that got the wheels turning, and many people have had power wheels. And when they have power wheels, there’s a low and a high button. And I grew up in Michigan, and we got it for Christmas, we were riding in the basement.

And when my dad flipped that switch to high, and then I drove it and experienced that speed rush. I feel that was a pivotal moment for me about five or six years old that changed things, which just led to, an obsession in my teenage years and taking lots of auto tech Auto Body classes in high school. And then I went on to an automotive school, but it’s a university, because I wanted to get a degree.

So I have, an applied science degree in high-performance automotive, okay. And once I got out of that, I’d spent time in customer service with, soccer and indoor sports. And I realized pretty quickly in the car industry that I didn’t enjoy working on the cars, but I enjoyed working with the people. So I transitioned to the front end and have kind of been doing that for 16,17 years now.

So it started as a passion for, the cars itself. Is it a passion? While maybe it’s not for the mechanics of the car? Or is it just, what the car can do?  The speed and that feeling?

I think if I’m talking about us collectively as a group I mean, we all fixing things. And I’ even have that same mindset. But I  taking a step back and working on the things with the shop instead of the things with an individual car.

It’s a group where everybody’s on a pretty similar path with that as far as in cars, and then some of us take it to another level with motorsports and stuff and that’s been a huge passion for me in life. , I don’t watch football or baseball. Just watch endurance racing and Formula One. So  I’m assuming you’ve watched it, I forget what it was called. The Netflix series. 

I haven’t and this is a weird bit about me I don’t, I don’t watch TV. Okay, so, I feel there’s probably a lot of drama in it. And I’m, for sure. I know the sport pretty well,  keep up pretty well. Also, I have a six-year-old so it’s just hard to the time, I’ve heard lots of good things. It has done incredible things. Performing the one in the United States humongous gainer down here so it’s got a lot of positive things. It’s just not my cup of tea. 

That’s interesting because to me, it’s behind the scenes there’s there’s drama and stuff involved here but it’s the behind the scenes of the sport itself. That’s it that I  about,  other sports football and baseball and stuff.

Well, in that way for someone who’s not into Formula One. It’s given a big glimpse because it’s so and it’s coveted or covered much of the time. So it has been a huge thing for many people. It’s just something I’ve been watching since Mica Hakan in the late 90s.

Okay, so, it’s been a passion. And I’d, kept up with reading technical articles, because it’s interesting to me. So do you go to any of the races?

The ticket price is, I would say about 4x of 10 plus years ago,  the last time I went, it’s four times as much.

Wow.

So it becomes really expensive to do it. And, there’s there’s not a proper road course, I guess, circuit of Americas and Texas but the other two  Miami and Las Vegas are not interesting courses to me. 

I wouldn’t pay the money to go to those courses, just because they’re not interesting courses to me inside the racing obsession. I love tracks.

So the other ones are street courses the streets of towners, which is cool for many racing series, because they’re able to race close together and side by side. But Formula One is hugely aerodynamic dependent on its grip.

And when you have a bunch of arrows on a car behind it, there’s awake, and there’s not that arrow effect. So you cannot follow I cannot follow Donnie closely because of that arrow effect there. So it makes it much more difficult to pass and run close together. And the street circuit doesn’t have much margin for error. So they’re less risky than maybe on a track where there wasn’t a wall. Okay, a few centimeters away.

Watching the Netflix series – it’s insane. How quick those cars are and the ability of the drivers to be able to maneuver and yet, I think what’s eye-opening is if you go watch Indy Cars, And then you go to a track circuit America’s in Texas. If Formula One cars were there. I think it’s every four or five laps they would lap in IndyCar.

So when you watch an IndyCar go around your pool? It’s fast A Formula One car is is not one or two steps. I mean, it’s a bunch of steps faster. It’s incredible. , there’s just so much aerodynamic downforce there Crazy.

It is.

So let’s talk about the business a little bit. And, what do you guys focus on there and share and go from there?

It’s been an import repair shop for 30-plus years now. But we’ve kind of brought our focus closer down to the cars that we know. Well, and that starts with BMW. BMW owns the Mini Cooper and Rolls Royce. So that’s included when I say that those three brands we work well with Mercedes Benz is number two for us. Porsche would be number three, but we have one business but two shops within it.

There is the German car repair shop where there are BMW, Mercedes, and Porsches, and then we have an exotic car shop where we do mostly Rolls Royce and Bentley, but then Ferrari McLaren, and Aston Martin. Maybach brands that over there, too. And that side of it is somewhere, we’re trying to get into concierge service where we pick up a car, drop off a car, we have a system that’s built. So if you don’t want to don’t have to do any phone calls, everything can be seen along with photos and individual estimates on your phone or computer.

You can improve those things from a computer to a phone. And I’m not trying to put off the phone call. But I just think a lot of people it works well for him to be able to do things via phone or text.

We’ve got several clients and that concierge knows that we pick up cars from Sarasota Ocala. There’s a couple of cars we trailer from Orlando so it’s been something we’ve been working on and trying to push because it seems people with those high-end ultra-luxury vehicles prioritize time And so if you can save them time, that’s a big, big deal to them.

That makes sense What made you guys focus on on these brands of cars? Is it just, the passion for cars in you? 

That’s a good question. I mean, there are a couple of pieces there. There’s been a Rolls Royce dealer in St. Pete for a long, long time. I don’t want to say a year. I’m gonna be wrong, but, I would say close to 60 years. Wow. So there’s a lot of cars here for a long time and the gentleman that I’m partnering with now, he started in the late 70s working on Rolls Royce.

He’s had a following since this time. So up until about two years ago, we did just Rolls Royce and Bentley there. But then I found a very unique gentleman named Hasan that excuse me, it was in Southern California and he was at a Rolls Royce dealer and then moved on to something at a smaller shop.

We brought him in because he is factory-trained on Rolls Royce. He’s got a bunch of time with Ferraris, McLaren’s Lamborghinis, and we’re trying to move forward in that segment with that part of the business there. And the concierge the pickup and drop off have been big for that side there.

It makes sense. What is it that you love about those brand-new cars? Or is there is there any favorites that you have there?

So. I think I’ve, in terms of  European cars and ultra-luxury cars, I feel  I’ve worked with them all and they all have unique pieces nothing sounds better than a Ferrari. Yes, naturally aspirated and singing. I love the luxury and I can appreciate a Rolls Royce and Bentley if I had my pick. I love Porsches.

I just think they’re the best put together. I love sports cars. So it’s just that nothing feels like it fits me as well. And it drives how I want a car to drive a Porsche.

That makes sense does everyone have their own, favorite?

For sure. Because I’m the guy that leads the exotic car department. The Rolls Royce is number one, I mean by far. And then even, we don’t do a lot of Subarus, but we have a Subaru guy in the shop. Okay, I have a guy that’s in parts. That’s a big rotary guy, a Mazda rotary guy.

So, I would say the majority of us all gathered towards this BMW thing. We all kind of have something BMW in our life that started getting it going.

Is there, a different skill set that’s involved with each different brand? Or is that changed?  as you get into the more luxury cars hiring?

I mean, um lower end, German cars are not as sophisticated as a high-end German car, let’s say a BMW two series versus a seven series. But then when you step up to a Rolls Royce, it’s another level and many cars are good at hiding a module here or there because they’ll have 10 to 25. Rolls Royce, they have, an area that they stack in.

I mean, there are so many modules, and they do unique things you’re cruising down the road, and you can see bumps coming up. So it knows to let that left front damper be softer to hit that bump on the left.

I mean, it does all these things with a camera that’s looking at the road, you leave your house every day. And there’s a corner that you take slowly, most cars have to downshift. It knows by GPS, that this guy leaves this place every day, in second gear when it comes out of this corner. So it has just tons of unique technology.

But with that comes a lot of difficulties when something goes wrong. And one thing can affect a lot of other things which makes it hard to diagnose things sometimes and be confident that this is the only issue. 

The Importance of Culture and Leadership in Luxury Auto Repair

That’s wild. I didn’t know cars, over 100 modules were on board. It’s crazy.  Did that change a lot and, is that just for rolls? Rolls Royce? Has that been their thing for a long time? Or is it that technologies changed in the last 10 years or they have stepped up? 

They’ve been overly complicated is it as long as I can see? But they, have a legacy in really their life begin began in the early 1900s. And they in my opinion, at that time made cars probably better than anyone else. I’ve been in we have a very unique customer who maybe adds to that drives in 1911 Rolls Royce over to us to be serviced once in a while.

I’ve been 45-50 miles an hour in this nine to 11 car and it’s quiet, and it’s easy to drive down the road. It’s about the size of a small school bus. It’s humongous but it’s amazing. How well made that is because I’ve spent some time with model teas and stuff from Ford and they’re very loud and worn out kind of feeling in terms of steering and suspension. So it’s it’s a pretty different world at that time.

100 years ago, so it is wild to think that a car that old still functions as well as it does. And this 87-year-old lady who’s one of the coolest customers we have drives that over and I think she sold it she had a 1928 Bentley that was unrestored to that she would drive over me, this is cool. 

That’s gonna be fun to see all the different cars that come in and out for sure.

And we just had festivals a speed and St Pete which is a big car show and for that, we kind of pull a little bit on our x or a nice customers that are willing to let us use some cars and we had some awesome cars out there so, that stuff is really fun and still gets me excited.  I was a younger kid. 


I mean, when you get something unique it’s cool/ Are people people that are driving some of these higher-end cars? Are they using them as daily drivers or just for joy rides? Or I would say the majority it’s a weekend car.

Some people daily drive Rolls Royce or Bentley, I don’t I don’t know about a Lamborghini, but you’re probably somebody.

That makes sense. So I want to touch on when we first talked, we talked about the customer service piece of what you guys are doing and how much importance you guys put into that. So can you touch on that a little bit? 

Our brand promise is unrivaled transparency. And I think in general, this industry has a bad reputation for taking advantage of people. And I think a lot of it happens through poor communication. I genuinely think from being on the repair side for so long here that people think they’re doing the things, and then the customer gets here.

And then it’s, they’re upset,? It’s something and it’s just because there wasn’t good communication. So I didn’t develop the software. But we use a unique piece of software called Shop where and shopper can give us a few things.

A technician, when he looks at a car can take a photo of issues he’s seen, he can put notes, so you have notes and photos from the technician. On top of that, we can build an estimate, let’s say it’s rear shocks for your car, we can build an estimate for rear shocks. And that estimate, un when you’re hearing something over the phone, Hey, it’s 939.

You can see parts and labor breakdowns. There’s a yes and a no if you want to approve it or not there, when you let’s say you approve that or a couple of other things what’s my total? A lot of times that would be a problem years ago.

Well, I told the customer it was 1900 when they got here and it was 2000.

Why is there a difference?

That never happens anymore? Because the system is live 365 24/7. So there’s always a total with tax and everything included there. So it’s been about, hey, here’s what we’re looking at with the car. We are car advisors, we want to give you as much information as possible about your car Because I believe if people have good information, they can make good decisions.

And I think that’s that’s valuable in any industry that’s one thing. We try to do it here in real estate at Berkshire Hathaway, it’s kind of the same thing. We’re advisors, we’re here to provide you with all the information and data that we have available. And then you are the one that is making the decision

And I have phone calls,? I  enjoyed that part of the job of talking to someone. But we’ve pulled it and this is probably three years ago, we had over 80% of customers that said they prefer just a text message. So I would say their quote,  here’s what’s or here’s what we found.

So everything really can happen this way. So when you call and make an appointment or email us, you get an email back that says, here’s your, here’s what you’re coming in for, here’s an estimate, the customer signs it, this tells us that, hey, they’re coming,  and they’re pre-approved, then when you show up, you can literally kind of just toss the keys. 

So if you’re in a rush,  there’s no, half the chit chat have to get vehicle info, we get all that on the front end. So when you walk in, it’s pretty quick and easy. And, and this policy, excuse me, procedures started at the beginning of COVID. Because nobody wanted to interact with people.

I’m, Man, I got this system, I can make it. So nobody has to touch hands? So we made a box where they dropped the keys, they were pre-approved, with the keys, cleaned the car all up. And then when we’re done with it, we’d send a link for text to pay, they pay it before they got there and be.

Hey, your keys on hook number five, had come to hook five pick it up. It was a big boost for us then because there weren’t a lot of auto repair shops,  maybe adjusting that. But since then, it’s just been a good thing to keep as far as the text to pay the pre-approval because it just makes it where you can do it on your time.

It makes a lot of sense. Do you think it’s because of the clients that you guys have that are a little more, disciplined in time and that sort of stuff that they just d that aspect of it?

For sure. And I don’t have the correct kind of facility to set up a quick change place.  Some places you can go and just be, Hey, I’m gonna get an oil change. I’ll be here 20 minutes. I’m not set up where we have something that works.

And I’m dropping everything off. Most stuff is dropped off. And I’m I’m a big advocate too, for really letting the car drain. And I’ve written through some quick change oil places in years past and it doesn’t feel enough time to me to, let the car sit there and drain. Excuse me, but it works differently for different people.  That makes sense.

So let’s talk about two books that you mentioned I’m curious about. I haven’t heard of these books. I’m curious to learn your thoughts on them but Get Different and Clockwork are those important to you?

 

 

They’re both Mike Michalowicz books and I think I just the style that he delivers things but Clockwork is really about, from Autoshop in many businesses, you see things routinely.  And so having a system in place for those things, and having a procedure that you can then help employees learn how to do, and then be able to hold people accountable to that. 

I found that’s a huge deal on both sides. You’ve got to make a procedure? But then you’ve got to hold people accountable to train them to. And that book is big about that. And that’s helped me in excuse me with that shop. And I have a procedure guide there.

So it was a big piece,  helping me improve my procedure guide, I already had this before clockwork, but, really looking and zoned in on some processes. Getting different, is the premise that there are so many it’s not specific for an auto repair shop, but there are so many auto repair shops, what are you doing to stand out? , and some of those things for us I really with lean back towards the brand promise is, we’re trying to be transparent about everything here.

Upfront. We put at least in my area that I can tell the leading warranty of the area three years 36,000 miles. And then because we don’t offer a waiter Quick Change deal. We do complimentary Lyft and Uber for people that are, around St. Petersburg, or Pinellas County here. So we’ve been trying to work that angle, excuse me, the transparency, because it just feels good to be honest and transparent about things too. 

That’s so true. Once you get to that point where it’s, I’m just going to tell the facts. 

I’ve had many conversations where someone’s, Ryan $5,000 worth of work. And that card needs it. And they’re, what should I do? I’m, if I’m your friend, and this is for a particular, maybe older BMW or something.

I’m going to tell you to move on. Because in six months, you’re going to be happy that you got rid of that car But I’ve also had the conversation with people that want to put 10k in their car. And it makes sense because it’s an expensive car that they can’t replace easily. So it goes both ways.

But that’s why I say, we’ve got to be car advisors and that’s constantly when I’m, coaching with the staff is I’m, this is more about educating people than it is selling anything.

We don’t want to sell something to them, We want to educate them. Here’s why this is recommended. Would you write and then it’s up to them?

I love that. Was it difficult for you guys to figure out? What was your different angle? Or was that a pretty simple thing to do?

There’s an experiment or excuse me a piece they have you do when you go through? Get different there. Okay, you talked about your queen bee role. And basically, I’m not going to explain this. Because it’s been a little while since I’ve read it. But everything is done for the queen bee. ? You are everything is done to protect the queen bees.

She is production. More bees so people protect the hive, people build the hive? There’s all these different jobs going on. But what is the queen bee’s role? Well, for the queen bee, it’s, I need to make more for us. We just need to constantly be transparent. 

We have to be. And it’s not just we talked about this in the shop. It’s not just with clients, it’s with each other. And I use this rule that I feel it’s worked well for us. If it’s not written. It’s not true. And it’s because in the past, and mostly in another shop

Is that someone would say something that somebody and then they would want to hold them to and it’s, Man, that guy was putting a brake on when you told them that or I was on the phone and you told me something that’s we have a really good system inside of Gmail, we have some called G Suite. And they just have an easy system to communicate. Sure. And so there’s no excuse, and then that holds us accountable to each other. I feel more. So that’s it’s, it’s helped. And, I love that

Did you have any business experience?  Running a shop or anything before? Are you just kind of?

No. So I have been in this kind of role as a service advisor and then a manager for about 17 years now. There’s pretty great training if people are willing to take care or take it on. But the current company I’ve been with is about 10 A little over 10 years. , they’re part of a group called ATI, the automotive training institute, okay, and I haven’t taken everything from them, but I have gone pretty hard as far as classes, whether there’s a marketing class or financials class or a culture class, something I’ve tried to work on at the shop that’s made a huge deal internal so, no previous business experience.

I do say in that spot that from when I was 15 to 21. I got to work with a gentleman named Chris Keenan and he was a great soccer player, but he started a minor league soccer team up in Michigan where I’m from, and then did Soccer Camps, and he was successful enough that then he built an indoor sports facility where they did indoor soccer and football and everything. And I don’t have it wasn’t my business. It was Chris’s business.

But I got to go through these things with them. See how it was built? And Chris? I mean, I haven’t talked to him in 15 years, but he has been a very influential person for me across the business.

So because it seems,  your drive or to want to be better want to grow the business the way and stuff is unique Well, and that, I mean that’s Chris I mean that’s what it felt it. And when people worked for him, he knew something about you. ? He was good about interacting with you. People wanted to be on Chris’s t-shirt And, that’s what I’ve worked on JB I feel man.

We have an awesome team, where it’s, everybody kind of gels and it’s taken a lot of time and effort to get there.  

So, that’s cool. You mentioned culture but talk to me about that was there a Hey, this is going to be our culture, or did it just kind of fall into place?

So some things core values have been built a little bit around that unrivaled transparency that’s helped with it. But I think the biggest thing that’s helped is I do a you and I call it it’s a one-on-one with every employee once a month.

And during that time, everyone’s got a goal. That they’re either working on long-term or short-term. And it’s something we can talk about at that time. And I feel me talking about someone’s goal,  makes them maybe more pumped up about it.

But then now we’ve kind of gotten to the point where one team member will talk to another team member about, what their goal is going on. So then it increases that team feeling. And then just a couple of good moves recently have changed the shop. We changed our service manager. And it’s just been a change for me.

So we were talking before about Trent Traction, the book. They have a concept in there. People and seats And that’s kind of that, that same it is and I don’t know if it’s from I don’t remember what book it’s from.

 

But there’s a phrase that was hard for me to accept for a while because we’ve gone through a lot of growth that the people that got you there aren’t necessarily people to go to the next level with and that was hard for me to accept.

But I think once I stepped back and looked at that, it became pretty obvious that there were a couple of people in my organization that, weren’t on this same path with us And now that we’ve got kind of everybody aligned, it feels a different deal. To me, and I think I think everybody else too.

That’s a big part of that? That’s huge. Well, some people,  in a growing business, just want it to be how it was,  But I tell people all the time, that we have about an 80-page procedure manual, and pretty much any procedure in there is open for debate If you think there’s a better way to go about it. I’m open to that but at that time, those people just didn’t want to move forward with us.

So that makes sense. I see that that just made me think of people in small we talked about smaller towns. Some people want to keep it the way that it was yes. , back in the 1950s, or 1960s.

This is a safety battle, for sure. I think to see if you’re ever done eating, be to some of that too ya

know, and I’m in a very old St. Pete business. So there’s a little bit of that still downtown. I mean, it’s amazing. It is, but there is still

 I can see that. Well, cool. So your favorite Porsche, which What are you picking? Man?

This is hard because that would be  Jerry Seinfeld if I couldn’t have many. Did you ever watch his show?  coffee and cars or what?

I haven’t watched much, but I’ve watched some of those. , I mean, very respected. And Jay Leno, I think is at home too. So Jay Leno was the coolest car collection I’ve seen. Man, this this is tough. So I’ll give you two.

So I’ll say race cars in the early 70s. Porsche called the 908 slash three. And for something I would drive on the street. Pretty much the car from Bad Boys. So early 90s 911 Turbo, okay. They but they identified by the chassis, so they call it 9965. Is that one so?  A 965 doesn’t have to be black. But that’s the last two-wheel drive turbo from Porsche. GT cars. So, that would be cool. 

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The Importance of Culture and Leadership in Luxury Auto Repair
We Love Local
February 26, 2024
Categories: Podcast