Expansion Express

Monday, November 22, 2021 | November 2021

5 steps to successful growth Expansion Express 9

By Tess Collins

GROWING A BUSINESS IS A LOT LIKE DECIDING TO EXPAND YOUR FAMILY, David Eschbach, president of The Spirit One Group and owner of Spirit One Automotive in Missouri, says.

“You’re single, [then] you’re married for a few years, and then it’s like, are you ready for a baby?” You’re faced with a thousand questions. You will never be fully positioned to have that baby,” he says.

The same is true of opening a new location. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. The timing may never be perfect, but, with the right mindset and tools, you can successfully grow your business.

During his time as director of sales development for Christian Brothers Automotive, Eschbach helped the mechanical repair giant grow from roughly 30 locations to around 200 when he left. So, when he decided that he wanted to open his own auto repair business, he knew what he needed to do to eventually grow it.

In 2018, Eschbach opened Spirit One Automotive as a towing service. Today, he has two—soon to be three—locations in St. Louis. When he launched the towing service, he knew that he wanted Spirit One Automotive to be more than one location, so he went into business knowing that he wanted to grow. But the same tips for growth can be applied to anyone—a single location shop owner that’s on the fence about opening a new location or a four shop owner that was approached with an open building.

START WITH A VISION.

Don’t use money as a goal, Eschbach says. “If you look at any billion dollar corporation, from their start, they started with great service, great product, and great intent—it wasn’t money.”

It’s all about what you hope the company becomes, not about how much money it will make. Eschbach started Spirit One Automotive with the hope that he could put a store in a neighborhood and become known as the friendly neighborhood shop. His children aren’t interested in joining the automotive repair industry when they’re older so he knew that leaving his shops to them wasn’t an option, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t create a legacy. He decided to create a business when he retires—although he’s quick to laugh and say that he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon—he can leave the shops to be led by someone in the business while still owning them himself. His plan is to own 12 to 13 locations by the time he is 65 that are run by individuals that he’s currently grooming.

So, in order to achieve that, each location that he opens in the future will have to meet criteria in order for that model to work. Every shop owner’s vision may be different, but each location that is opened—whether it’s the third or 13th— needs to make sense for that individual’s overall business plan.

THE RIGHT STAFF IS KEY.

When looking to grow, you have to look at the longevity of your potential team, Eschbach says. When you grow from more than one location, you will have to rely on your team more because you can’t be in more than one place at once.

Throughout his experience in the industry—both within his own small business and corporations—Eschbach says that a common mistake he sees is keeping a team member around for too long because it seems easier than finding a replacement. Eschbach says it’s “leaving the pitcher in too long,” which can definitely lose you the game.

“You’re preoccupied with so many other things… your inner dialogue is that Bob isn’t doing what I need him to do, but you start adding importance to the little things. You’re making excuses why you’re not making that change,” Eschbach says.

This can kill a business. Eschbach shares that he recently had to let a team member who was with him from the beginning go, who that, if he’s being honest, was probably there a year too long.

“It was a hard move emotionally, but it had to be done,” Eschbach says. Make sure that the team that you have in place is the team that is going to help you grow rather than hold you back.

FIND YOUR SECOND IN COMMAND.

It’s difficult finding someone to take over while you step away from the day-to-day, Eschbach says. But, in order to be able to manage more than one location, it’s essential to find someone that you can trust to lead your staff when you are not able to physically be there. Eschbach, whose model sets up certain staff members to eventually run his locations, knows that in order to continue his legacy, he needs to find a person who has the same goals as he does. The resume and skills are important, he says, but to find the right fit for a person to continue in his footsteps, they need to share similar values.

Eschbach has a development plan for his staff and has made it a part of his culture. He sets clear expectations for each of his employees and then holds reviews for them. By doing that, he’s grooming the future generation of leaders for his shop. However, not everyone is meant to lead, and that’s fine, he says. Don’t force a leadership role on someone that doesn’t want it. It’s up to you to find the right person that does want it and align those check-ins and goals appropriately.

TAKE A CUE FROM MCDONALDS.

You need to have a standard process for how your shops are run, Eschbach says. That may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many MSOs have different processes for tasks. That’s not doing you or your staff any favors, Eschbach says. What if someone goes on vacation or gets hurt and you need to pull staff from one shop to the other? Eschbach has run into this situation and, because he has a written and firm set of operational guidelines, he can move a staff member from one shop to the other seamlessly.

“If you can create the familiar, you can create comfort,” Eschbach says.

He uses the classic example of McDonald’s and the Big Mac. A Big Mac will taste the same no matter where in the world you get it. Your customers should have the same exceptional service if they decide to go to a different location and your staff members should know exactly what’s expected of them if they need to fill in at a different location.

KNOW WHERE TO GROW.

In order to be successful, location is key. Whether you’re looking to take over the current area you’re in or move into a new market, finding the right place to open your new shop is essential.

Eschbach had a clear vision of how he wanted to expand from the beginning, and that included the type of neighborhood that he wanted to be in. Being from the St. Louis area, he knew the area and it was exactly what he wanted—filled with urban neighborhoods rich with tradition.

“I wanted to become the neighborhood shop,” Eschbach says of his vision.

That type of location isn’t right for every shop owner but he says that you should study your current shop’s demographic and decide if that’s working for you and whether or not you’d like to replicate that. Then, find an area that fits those needs.

Make sure there’s money in the area and figure out whether it’s a community that people are traveling into rather than moving out of.

Before jumping into a new location, make sure it fits all of your needs.

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