How to Put Your Shop in the Fast Lane

Racing-crew-chief-turned-shop-owner Mark Darragh knows how to run a shop. Buckle up for some of Mark’s insights into revving the engine of your auto repair shop.

photo of Mark

Racing-crew-chief-turned-shop-owner Mark Darragh knows exotic vehicles. From his days at the Indianapolis 500 to his decades running an exotic vehicle repair shop, he has become a go-to resource for examining some of the world's finest cars. 

Buckle up for some of Mark’s timeless insights into how to break away from the pack and put your auto repair shop in the fast lane.

Earn Trust  

At Sphere, we treat everyone the same—from millionaires to billionaires to thousandaires.

We had a new customer stop by the shop the other day. He needed to drop his Aston Martin off and is leaving town for a couple of days. He had never been to Sphere before. But customers find comfort in the fact that they can see what’s going on in the shop.

“Can we do it? Yes. Have we done it before? No. But we can learn.” 

I will always let customers ask me questions. If I don’t know the answer to one of their questions, I won’t answer it, or I’ll research it until I do. I will never lie to them. What happens if a customer asks us to do work we haven’t done before? We’ll say, 

“Can we do it? Yes. Have we done it before? No. But we can learn.” 

I encourage my customers to make surprise visits. If we’ve had their car for a while and they’re curious where it’s at in the repairs, stop by. We’re in this together. It’s trust built off of transparency. 

Communicate Transparently 

Keep your customers informed. They want to know what’s going on with their vehicles. They don’t want to be left in the dark. If you provide your customers with all the details, they’ll absorb it. 

“Communicate with your customers, give them visibility, and be transparent.”

I have customers who bring in their brand new cars, and won’t take them to their car dealership for repairs or maintenance. Why would they choose to come here? Because they can see the hard work I do right when they visit the shop. They see the pros in their lane, in the garage, hard at work.

Communicate with your customers, give them visibility, and be transparent. 

Shoot Straight

How do you solve the auto repair industry’s bad rep? With honesty. Sure, when you’re honest, some people might not always be happy with you but you can’t please 100% of the people, 100% of the time. 

Don’t BS people. I don’t sugar coat anything. I tell them everything they need to know about their car. No need to spray the shop with WD-40 to fake oil leaks. There’s enough work out there without having to make up work.

“How do you solve the auto repair industry’s bad rep? With honesty.”

A lot of customers come to me for PPIs (pre-purchase inspections). People are investing money in their exotic cars, and they need to find someone they can rely on to look the car over and ensure it is a good investment. 

Matter of fact, I had a call from a guy in Southern California. He wanted me to go look at a brand new car; only 400 miles on it, and coming straight from the dealership. He simply wanted me to look at it and put my hands on it to ensure it wasn’t a fictitious vehicle.

I’ve done PPIs for Ferraris and other exotics all over the world. And I would say about 75% of people buy the cars after I complete the PPI and 25% don’t. That’s because 100% of them take my advice.

Go For a Drive With a Customer

One tip that I think every garage should do is this: go for a drive with a customer. Every now and then I’ll take customers on a drive. It gives them the ability to show us exactly what’s going on, what it is they’re experiencing. 

If a customer enters your shop and says, “my car has been making a rattling sound when I drive it,” and you respond with “okay, let’s take it for a spin and see exactly what’s going on,” they’ll be happy they chose your shop for their repairs. 

If you do a drive pre-repairs and a drive post-repairs, it just adds an additional 5 to 10 minutes of work time, and it alleviates a lot of hassle.

If You Need Help, Ask

Make sure your techs know you’re there to lend support. I try to teach my team to not be afraid to ask for help. If you need help and choose to struggle through it, it will take you twice as long.

“It’s okay to ask for help. Don’t let pride get in the way.”

I asked a tech to do something for me three weeks ago. It ended up taking him a week and a half because he didn’t want to ask for help. I pulled him aside and said, “it’s okay to ask for help. Don’t let pride get in the way.” 

Send Pictures Through DVIs

One of the main ways we have been able to earn the trust of our customers is through DVIs (digital vehicle inspections). 

“You can’t lie through pictures.” 

With every DVI, we will always send pictures along with it. Why? Because you can’t lie through pictures. They know exactly what’s happening. 

In fact, we just did a belt service on a Testarossa. We sent that customer 40 pictures. It’s phenomenal. That’s why I love Tekmetric. It helps us communicate with our customers in a transparent way. 

Before I had DVIs, I would show my customers pictures too, but it was a lot more time consuming. 

I used to give my customer a binder, a little book, that would include any notes and images of what exactly is going on under the hood, what we fixed, and what repairs need to be completed in the future. All of that took so much time to write out—not to mention the spelling mistakes. 

If DVIs become more standardized in the auto repair industry, there would be a lot more trust.

QC is Key

I do quality control (QC) on all of the vehicles that enter our shop and I've taught our techs to do the same. 

Once the repairs are done on our customers’ vehicles and the car comes off the lift, we’ll do a QC check: we check the torque, tires, fluid levels, and make sure all nuts and bolts are secure. 

You should be hearing *click, click, click* throughout the day. That means torque wrenches are hard at work and your technicians are making sure all vehicles are in good working order before they reunite with their owners.

Invest in Good Equipment 

Be prepared to invest some money. I think everyone underestimates what shop equipment they’re going to need. Not just that, but the quality. You’ve got to go above and beyond for your shop equipment. 

I have a touchless tire machine so it won’t damage vehicles’ wheels. It was more expensive, but the ones that clamp onto tires are horrible for cars. Our machine clamps it through the middle and doesn’t touch the rim at all. Spend the extra 2 grand and get really good equipment that will last. 

You’ll also need a good air hose. The higher the CFM, the more power you have. I recommend getting a three quarter air hose, not a half inch. A three quarter hose will do the job because it’s got more hammer. 

Take Pride in How Your Shop Looks

Invest in your shop’s atmosphere. There aren’t many shops you can go in and have the option of sparkling or still water. Offer your customers coffee, bottled water, tea—we even have tea with milk at our shop. 

Another piece of advice: put your compressor outside the shop. If it’s inside, you’ll constantly hear it.

Also, when I built my shop, I built all of the lines and cords behind the wall so customers didn’t have to see them. Now customers won’t have to see cords all over the shop’s walls when they’re picking up their second most expensive asset. 

Evolve Your Systems

Everything is evolving, especially with computers and technology. So, auto shop owners have to learn to move forward with the times. 

“Evolve to meet your customers’ needs just as the automotive industry trends are evolving.” 

Invest in a good shop software system and you can replace those time-consuming tasks with a more effective method. Tekmetric is phenomenal. You can communicate through the DVIs you send, but everything else is streamlined, too. From estimate, to invoice, to follow-up even. 

Evolve to meet your customers’ needs just as the automotive industry trends are evolving.

Befriend the Competition 

There’s a guy in town who also specializes in exotic cars. He’s incredible at what he does and if we get too busy, I’ll send customers his way, and vice versa. We work together.

“Communicate with your competition. They're working with you, not against you.” 

There’s another fellow shop owner, who ran Ferrari of Houston for 20 years. We’ll call one another for advice every now and then. He now owns an exotic auto shop too and hasn’t done too many Aston Martins or Bentley’s so I’ll give him advice for those repairs, and he’ll give me advice on other stuff—especially with his Ferrari-expertise. 

Communicate with your competition. They're working with you, not against you. There’s enough food on the table out there for everybody. Or in shop-lingo, there’s plenty of work to go ‘round. There’s no need to worry about lost work. 

Eat a Slice of Humble Pie

There are many great thinkers out there, and we all have the ability to stop and say, “let’s try it your way and see how it goes.” Your service advisors’ approach could be totally different from yours, but testing out their process to see if it’s more efficient in your shop will make all the difference.

“Sometimes your way of doing things isn’t the best way to grow your business.”

When I was a crew chief in California, I was more stubborn and brash. I was working on a race car’s lockwiring with another crew member and he didn’t do it the way I preferred. Rather than having a conversation with him, I snipped all of the wiring so he had to start over from square one. 

Later I read Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. And I would’ve handled that scenario differently. I would’ve done it the Carnegie way and said, “Why don’t you try it this way instead?” It’s that simple. You know what that Carnegie book should be called? “How to Get Along in Life.” 

Sometimes people want something done a little differently. They might be having a bad day. I just smile and try to help. 

Sometimes you have to eat humble pie. You’ve got to embrace change. Sometimes your way of doing things isn’t the best way to grow your business. 

Step Away From the Shop 

When the clock turns 6, or whenever your shop closes, don’t answer the phone. When the shop is closed, try not to think about work. And don’t ever work weekends. 

“Using Tekmetric has given me the ability to step away from the shop and focus on other things I enjoy.”

Finding passions outside of work is important. 

I’ve cut down some trees recently and have been using the lumber to build pieces of furniture. I recently built a bench that’s sitting in the shop. I brought my passion to work instead of bringing my work home with me. Eventually, I’ll build a house. 

I also love cooking. I recently made my first souffles and they came out perfect. 

Using Tekmetric has given me the ability to step away from the shop and focus on other things I enjoy.

Share Knowledge

Building connections with other shop owners will give you the opportunity to not only teach, but also learn. It’s knowledge sharing. 

Any tips we can share with one another are always helpful. I’ve brought a few shop owners onto Tekmetric, but what we’ve learned along the way is that many of us [shop owners] are the same: we’re great with tools, but not so much with computers. So we talk about that. 

Where Mark Gets His Inspiration: 

-
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
- The Auto Shop Owners Group (ASOG) via Facebook 
- The Auto Shop Owners Podcast (ASOG)
- If you enjoy cooking, join Master Class 

Sharing those struggles—and successes, for that matter—helps you feel more like a community. It’s easy for shop owners to see what it is they’re doing wrong, but we should also make sure to point out to one another what we’re doing right.  

I had a friend stop by the shop just the other day. I was going on and on about something I messed up on. He said, “Mark, look outside the shop. You’re clearly doing something right.” 

Learn Mark’s story. Check out “Race Cars and Wrenches: How Mark Darragh Went From Crew Chief to Shop Owner Working on Some of the World’s Most Exotic Vehicles”