Henderson Johnson got his start in auto repair as a kid in New Orleans, where he helped his dad work on his taxi cab. What started as holding the flashlight and fetching the screwdriver for his father evolved into a deep knowledge of fixing automobiles and a desire to own his own business.
He wanted to go into either cars or computers, but in the 70s, no one knew quite how prevalent computers would later become, so he went with cars, enrolling in George Washington Carver Senior High’s automotive repair program. After receiving his associate’s degree in Motor Vehicle Technology from Delgado Community College in 1985, he continued to absorb new knowledge and pick up more service skills by acquiring his Lexus and Toyota Master Certification Rating, becoming an L1 Technician through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. After getting married, Henderson and his new family moved to Georgia and in 2005, he took the plunge and started TA Automotive of Conyers. TA Automotive is currently undergoing a new stage of growth thanks to Henderson’s leadership and operational decisions that bring his shop into the 21st century.
We had the opportunity to speak with Henderson to learn more about how he plans to continue growing his auto repair shop and achieve his vision of growing his revenue, his team, and his positive impact on the community. Here’s what he had to say:
I've always had my eye on running my own business. To be honest with you, I wish I would have done it 15 years earlier than I did. Sometimes you have to wait until things materialize and find the best time for your family to handle such an adjustment.
I'm the type of person that likes challenges. I like the opportunity to grow. I like to move forward. You know, when you plateau in your career as a technician, you just want to do more. I did not want to be that guy who was 60 years old and still doing the same thing. So owning my own business was really the next progression as far as that is concerned.
I felt that it was important to have a master certification before opening up my own business. I worked for Lexus for two years and received my master certification from them before starting TA Automotive.
I felt the need to do the independent route because I wanted to learn how to run the business, grow the business, conduct marketing, and things like that. It's a transition that most technicians don't make. There was a tremendous learning curve because the mind of a technician is different from that of the mind of a service advisor or a shop manager or a business manager. And the mind of a technician is most certainly different than that of the entrepreneur, the guy who has the vision, the guy that plans, the guy that looks at everything and says, "This is where we are, and this is where we need to go." Transitioning from one mindset to another is an ongoing process.
The culture of TA Automotive revolves around my vision to always take care of the customer and do the best work we can no matter what. And that’s all about transparency. We believe in always being honest when giving customers an answer, even if they don't want the answer. It's my job to give them the information they need so that they can make the best decision about their vehicle. Customers want someone who they can rely on.
Money is a very important component of any business because you've got to have it to keep the doors open. But money doesn't always equate to the final decision.
I learned that if we treat the customer right, in the long-run it's going to be beneficial. That's one of the principles I go by. I've always believed in treating people the way that I want to be treated.
As for leading my team, I have to set the right example. I can't tell my guys to do something that I would not do. By setting the right example, I set the tone for my shop. If I ask my team to do something, they know I've done it a hundred times before. I always ask myself, "What could I have done differently? What needs to change? What can I do better?"
The system I had installed for the longest time worked great, but it only worked on my computer. It was very limited, and I could tell it was becoming obsolete.
If I can't send an email or an estimate to a customer from within my system, it's obsolete. If I can't do inspections and attach it to the estimate for an approval, it's obsolete. If I can't communicate with customers via email and text, it's obsolete. If I can't access that system from my smartphone, it's obsolete.
One of my sons does computer networking. He helped me set up my old system to work remotely, but it was still limited because there was no way in the world I could easily share information with my customers.
I was looking for a system like Tekmetric for years. Having alliances is really important to being successful at anything. Their auto repair software helps us do a much better job at communicating with our customers. It integrates so many features! For instance, I can just text an invoice to the customer, they receive and approve it, and I get a notification on my phone and on my computer. Then I’m able to integrate with the parts ordering and management components of my business. I can do all of that from within the system. Just being able to integrate and track everything is tremendous for where I’m trying to take TA Automotive.
Tekmetric shows me everything as a business owner. If I go to reports, I have so many metrics that I can look at that tell me what's going on. If you would have asked me six months ago, "How many alignments did you sell?" I couldn’t tell you. At least not quickly. Tekmetric breaks out all of those metrics and shows me what we're selling and what we're not selling. It gives me the breakdown I need to measure what I'm doing.
Even with this new technology, my vision hasn’t changed. It's like, when you get in your car to go home, it's not a straight line. You're always making adjustments. You hit a roadblock in the street, so you make an adjustment. Someone's crossing the road in front of you, you make an adjustment. I’m constantly fine-tuning.
Without the right tool, it's impossible to fine-tune a business—to get it going in the direction you need it to go.
Shop owners need feedback. The more feedback we get, the more things we can monitor, the better we are at making the changes we need to grow. If it doesn't get measured, you've got a real problem. We're well on our way. At a deeper level now, I see more clearly what's going on with my business.
We are doing social distancing. We have shields and barriers up to protect the employees. Every car gets a fresh lining. We disinfect, and we're always cleaning. We've always been big on keeping the waiting area clean, but now we pay more attention to disinfecting.
One of the most helpful changes I made, for the virus and in general, is switching to the text-to-pay system, Tekmerchant. We don't even have to take the customers’ cards anymore. We can collect touchless payment over the phone or via text. Just last week, I was able to pull over to the side of the road, pull up Tekmerchant on my phone, and take payment because it's all web-based. The credit card terminal turned on at the front desk and took the payment. The system prompted me on my cell phone. I asked them, "Do you want me to email or text you the receipt?" I wasn't even near the shop! I was miles away, and I was able to do that. There is no way in the world I could've pulled that off with my other system.
Another thing I like about Tekmetric is that it keeps everybody honest. For instance, we'll shoot a text before we do the work, and the customer needs to approve. When they approve on their smartphone, they literally agree to the terms-and-conditions of our services. I had a guy that came in here last month and said, "Well, nobody told me..." I said, "Sir. You approved on your phone." And his wife looked at him just shaking her head. He didn't see his wife, but we're looking at the wife, right? She was just shaking her head. And she came back and said, "I'm sorry for my husband's behavior.”
After owning a business for 15 years and going through all sorts of ups and downs, what I learned the most is that you need to know who you are and how committed you're willing to be. You have to have a solid plan. Having the right alliances has helped us tremendously. I went at it alone for a long time. For 13 years. I did not accomplish what I should have accomplished because it was just me. When I ended up going to training sessions and teaming up with true partners like Tekmetric, that’s when I got my vision back.
All along, I have been going to school, and I have been forming alliances. You have to find the right alliances. Some people just want to add employees and tools. I'm not interested in adding an employee or a tool. I'm interested in adding the right person. The right tool.
It’s like finding a romantic partner; you have to find the right person. It's the same way with business. You've got to have the right stuff
For more information about TA Automotive, visit taautomotiveofconyers.com