Randy Bunn, owner of Quality-Plus Automotive Service, Raleigh, N.C., grew up fixing things, but it wasn’t until he became a businessman that he turned his shop around to be profitable. Today, his business specializes in Honda, Toyota, Acura and Lexus – and his service bays stay full.

The 62-year-old businessman, who also owns a shop in Wake Forest, N.C., noted he was raised on a farm – and farmers seldom pay someone to fix anything for them. “When you live on a farm, you fix everything – you weld, you run wire, you work on trucks and tractors,” said. “The only person my dad ever hired was a vet to give shots to the livestock and once the vet showed us how to do it, we would take over from there.”

Randy’s father was a pressman and his uncle owned a rural truck/tractor repair shop. If a vehicle needed fixing they would make the repair there and help his uncle as well. Randy recalls that he never had a bicycle but by the time he was a teenager he had his own Honda motorcycle dirt bike.

He married his high school sweetheart and moved from factory job to factory job. “I just couldn’t work inside. I’m a farm guy,” he explained.

Randy tried for two years to get a job at the local Honda motorcycle dealership to no avail, but finally they hired him. Randy told them he had plenty of experience. He knew the basics, but he didn’t know the “Honda way” and he got “hammered” at his attempts on repair assignments. Fortunately two mentors at the dealership took him under their wings. The first had been the instructor for the Honda National Training Center and made him read the manuals. The second was hands-on, showing him how make the repairs professionally.

The knowledge he obtained put him on the road to become a true technician but motorcycle work was seasonal and with a youngster to feed, he took a job at the Honda car dealership after being recommended by a friend who was a service writer. Randy made good money. At the time, Accords and Civics came to the dealer stripped down with options, including anything from carpeting to air-conditioning were installed in the service department.

“But I left after a while because I was going to set the world on fire,” Randy joked at his naiveté of that time in his life. He took a job at an independent shop. “The owner was a good technician and a good individual, but he didn’t know how to run a business. It was totally unorganized.”

Still filled with a feeling that he could conquer the world, in 1983 he opened his own shop and even got his wife Jill to quit her job so she could handle the books. By now he had three kids to feed.

“It was another stupid mistake,” Randy said. His idea of owning a shop was being his own boss and fixing cars. He had no idea about $5,000 a month rent, $30,000 a year insurance, and all the other costs. He didn’t understand anything about the cost of running a business.

“We struggled for about 10 years,” Randy said. Finally, he started getting letters from Management Success – and then more letters. “So I drove to Norfolk Va., for a seminar conducted by Management Success founder Mike Lee. “Everything he said for the first three hours is what was happening at my shop – he must have been watching me, I thought. How can he know all of this stuff?” Lee provided his class with 10 points. “We started applying it and we saw an immediate change. He soon had a handle on his cost of labor, parts and overhead.

The cost of the signing up for the complete program was $7,000 to $8,000, plus air fare to California, but he and Jill “bit the bullet” and it all paid off. “We look at everything now that I know and it is just common sense. That was more than 20 years ago, but it all paid off.” Randy still attends classes as well as being a member of the Automotive Service Association and the Independent Garage Owners Association, but he credits Management Success for his success.

“They teach you to run a shop based on statistics – here is what happened yesterday and you can change it to make business better.”

Quality’s Raleigh shop has four bays plus an alignment rack and the Wake Forest shop, which is run by his son, Josh, has six bays and an alignment rack.

Thanks to his business training, Randy notes that the average shop ticket is between $350 to $400 a vehicle, with the shop charging an hourly labor rate of $107. “We have a break-even figure that we have to meet every week and everyone knows what that number is,” Randy said “I’m the guy who shares all my finances with my employees. They know what we’ve got to have to pay the bills. If we make less than that somebody is not going to get paid – and they all know that. Everyone at the shops are on a bonus program whether they are salary, flat rate or hourly. It’s an open management plan that everyone is aware of.”

Most techs are paid flat rate while the general service repairmen who do oil changes, tires and such, are on salary. But the flat-rate techs are also expected to be mentors. If an entry-level tech gets stuck on a problem the master techs will step in and help – and are compensated for it, so everyone gets the work done.

Technicians also have one more advantage working at Quality’s Raleigh store – it has air conditioning is the summer months and productivity as soared since the systems was installed.

Randy does his share of marketing using direct mail and an easy-to-use website designed by his son, Michael Bunn, who resides in California. This is important since so many get transferred in and out of the area. The Raleigh shops gets about 20 or 30 new customers every month. Anna Wood handles his marketing and represents the shop as a member of the Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce. The shop also supports a food backpack program for school kids.

A “must” at both shops is courtesy. Each repair order shows which vehicle has priority and is also labeled if the customer is new to the shop. Every effort is made to help the customer, whether it involves driving them to work or loaning them a courtesy car. Any car that is serviced is vacuumed and has its windshield cleaned before it is returned, and every customer gets a large chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookie.