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Episode Description

In this episode, meet two shop owner couples who share their secrets on how to effectively grow and manage their business while being accountable co-leaders.

Jan and David Murphy of Murphy’s Autocare and Rita and Gerardo Luna of Concours Motors Ventura discuss how couples can successfully own and operate multiple auto repair shops. They’ll cover how to be accountable co-leaders, learnings from their journeys working together, and tips for other couples wishing to start their own business.

Episode Transcript

*This transcript was generated using Artificial Intelligence. Errors may occur. If you notice an error, please contact [email protected].

Uwe: Good morning and good afternoon. This is episode 125 of the Digital Shop Talk Radio. My name is Uwe Kleinschmidt. I’m the founder and CEO of AutoVitals. And todays’ episode is really close to my heart. I am so honored to have two couples on the show I have known for years now. I was able to watch and act and learn from [them], and so now we have them here on the show, and I’m convinced it’s going to be a good one.
So, why don’t you guys introduce yourself and talk about your business or businesses in the meanwhile, and let’s take it from there.
Gerardo: Go ahead, guys.
David: OK. Great.
Jan: Thank you, and thank you for having us. We really appreciate [it]. We are honored also to be on as your guests, so thank you very much.
David: Yeah. It’s great to be here with you, Gerardo and Rita. This is going to be a lot of fun, I’m sure. It will be a great show, at least for all of us, and hopefully for everybody watching this.
I’ll just kind of lead off. So, Jan and I are the founders and the co-owners of Murphy’s Auto Care. We’re in Beaver Creek, Ohio. It’s a suburb of Dayton, Ohio in the Midwest. We started our business in 1994, so we’re in year 27, now one of our sons is also a co-owner with us. He’s our successor as well. That’s happened in the last couple of years. He’s worked with us, of course, for many, many years.
Jan and I, we kind of got this crazy merry-go-round going a long time ago. We were three bays when we started. I was one of the technicians. Jan was literally the front office until all the kids got off the school bus and [she] had to go take care of that.
Jan: And that was day one. That was day one I joined. I went in with a Doss version of QuickBooks and a computer, which we had not owned at the time. And I started learning as I could go because Dave was still working on cars. I didn’t really grow up wanting to be in the automotive business, but it’s been very, very enriching for me, and I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way. So, from the time the kids were in school, I would go in, answer phones, schedule appointments based on what Dave suggested timewise. I had an appointment book with the number of bays that we could fill and the time slots, and so we just did everything we could. And that’s how we started.
David: Like I said, we started with three bays. That facility grew over time to eight inside bays, now with a ninth outside heavy duty lift. We have approximately between technicians, service advisors [and] concierge drivers, we have nine people on our staff there, and then in March, we grew our business. We acquired another very longstanding family owned –.
Jan: A family owned business.
David: — business in another community surrounding us. So, we’re now at two locations, and so everything doubled.
Jan: Everything doubled.
David: So, staff, responsibilities, conversations, which I’m sure we’ll get a chance to talk more about and about how we do that, [the] responsibilities. And of course, Brian, our son, is also our chief operations officer and he is managing both of those locations as we move back into the positions we both had.
Jan: And as we’ve grown over the 27 years, we have definitely learned a lot how to work with each other and live with each other, and still live with each other. So, it’s been interesting, and it’s all good. It’s a good way – our relationships are better. We’ve developed personal relationships and business relationships and we’ve learned how to do that.
So, in 27 years, I can say, we really wouldn’t change much at this point. It’s been a wonderful thing. We still enjoy going to work every day and I do too.
David: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. That’s kind of our journey in a nutshell. That’s just the 30-second elevator version.
Uwe: Before we switch to Rita and JR, how come you wanted to run the business together? What was the initial trigger, if you remember?
David: Oh, we very clearly do.
Jan: Well, Dave has a love of people, and so he didn’t want to work on the cars. We learned to grow the business so he could really become more on the front counter. And that was very challenging. He enjoyed that a lot. And then he stepped away from the front counter to allow other people to handle the front counter. He does a lot of marketing and advertising, and he really enjoys that growth. He is the idea person in the business, hands down. And I have more support [and] organizational skills to [take] his ideas, OK; how is that going to work as far as the business goes? So, he really has a lot of the brainstorming.
David: Visionary.
Jan: He’s the visionary.
David: I lean toward visionary. She’s certainly the integrator.
Jan: I’m certainly the integrator, and that’s OK, because his talents are in his ideas. He’s very talented.
David: Thank you.
Jan: When we had just built our home and had a fourth baby, he said I want to go into business for myself.
David: Within 90 days of all that stuff happening. It’s just like, let’s just keep this thing going.
Jan: I’m like, OK; how are we going to do this?
So we did.
So, the second time around just a few months ago, we came into the second location thinking, well, we put it all on the line 27 years ago; this is easy. It’s easy now. We know what to do. We’ve defined our goals. And so, we complement each other.
Uwe: And then, there is a third and a fourth in the making?
Jan: The shop?
David: Yes.
Jan: We’re set to grow. We’re set to grow. But our successor, he’s involved in the planning and ideas. They’re going to be his ideas next.
Uwe: Right.
David: OK. Thank you.
Uwe: Rita and JR.
Rita: Hi Jan, David and Uwe. Thank you for having us.
Gerardo: Yeah. Thanks for having us. It’s always a pleasure to be on your show. I’ll tell you a little bit about how we started. I was a technician. I grew up with Mazda working on cars. I was a helper at a dealership when I was right out of high school. Not a bad experience, but I didn’t care for the business then because of the dealership, which was very toxic and I knew I didn’t want to grow up in that environment.
And I kept going to night school to get a business degree, but I couldn’t leave the automotive, because that was well paid. So, I worked for automotive and I kept going to college at night, and eventually worked for Goodyear and I moved up from technician to service manager to store manager, and I enjoyed doing that.
And at the end, my last college class to get my bachelor’s, I needed to do a business plan, and I was not going to do automotive. I was going to do something else. But in the end, I was running out of time, so I thought I would cheat and do JR’s Automotive, and when I started thinking about the vendors and my demographics and my customers and my gross profit and all the numbers, we’re always kind of groomed for that through Goodyear, and all the images of vendors and parts suppliers and customers began flowing in my mind, and at 28, I just saw the forest for the trees, and I was like, wait a minute; I can do this.
So, luckily enough, Rita and I bought a home very young, and we were able to mortgage it and bought our first shop in 2006. When we bought it, it had one technician. And after three days, there was no technician, so it was just myself. So, we hired one technician; it was sent from God. It was just a blessing. And then we got another one and another one. It was a three-bay location, that first location was three bays. It was a very hidden spot. It was actually behind and underneath – I’m not kidding – a little strip mall in the bad part of town.
So we outgrew that within four or five years. We were able to move to a building on the main drag. We bought the building and moved to an eight-bay location. Five years after that, we started our second location.
Our first location is a German specialty shop. So, we’d thought we’d find a formula that might specialize in a certain group of niche makes, and a lot of the customers wanted us to work on their Asian vehicles. So, we started an Asian specialty shop nearby, and again we put it all on the line and bought a second building and started our business from scratch, and so on and so forth, which we learned a lot.
Four years later, we bought our third location, which is all makes, all models, and just two months ago, we bought our fourth location, which is a ten day all makes, all models, in [audible]. It’s a nearby town to us.
That’s basically our journey in a nutshell. And we went from no employees to we have 33 now and four shops, and at times I can’t even comprehend how that happened, but we’re super happy and proud of that. So, that’s our journey.
Rita: Buying a business was not in our plan, but that just came from whatever class he had, right?
Gerardo: If you can plot our growth in a chart you will be easily applying when Rita came on board because that [is when it shot up]. But, that’s us.
Uwe: So, you both did it basically from the beginning together.
Gerardo: No.
Uwe: Oh.
Gerardo: In 2006, we started the shop. When did you come on board?
Rita: I think I came in 2009. 2009.
I used to have my full-time job, and when he purchased his business, it was a piece of junk in my eyes. But he always has this vision. It was just three-bay. It was small. I never really thought it was going to get bigger than just three-bay.
When I came in, I used to always help him, but I had my full-time job. But I used to always help him, like anything I could. I brought the kids to come clean. Right?
Gerardo: Yeah, we’d clean the end of the week. She’d help me do some bookkeeping and things like that.
But when she had her full-time job, we had different visions. We’d come home and she would have her challenges, and I would have my challenges, and it was a split vision.
Even though we were working to have a good life for our family and for our futures, it was pushing two different frontiers: at her location and at our business.
So, in 2009, about three years after, we made the decision that she would join us, and luckily for us, she’s a very good bookkeeper or accountant by trade, right?
Rita: Accountant by trade. Yes.
Gerardo: So, that was just a no-brainer. And once we joined forces, we had a collective purpose, a collective goal of growing the shop and creating something that we were both in it together, that we saw a goal and a concentrated effort in pushing the shop.
Because now we can rely on our income and share a good income. You were a –.
Rita: An accounting manager. Yes.
Gerardo: And we had to overcome that. It was now sink or swim, and there was no safety net, per se.
But that really was the catalyst, because we have a mortgage. We had kids in private school. We had to live our lives. And now that both of us relied on the business, it was go time. And that was powerful. That was a powerful moment in time.
Uwe: Were you nervous, and could you sleep well? Or how did that work?
I just ask that because I remember my time when I left a well-paid corporate job and started AutoVitals and bootstrapped it, all of a sudden, I slept like a baby.
You would think it it’s the opposite, because the problems are so much bigger or what’s at stake is so much higher. But, I don’t know why. It was for me something natural and just go for it.
Rita: Yes.
Gerardo: We were able to sleep better and we woke up early. Like I said, we were not fighting two frontier wars. Now we were joined and we were fighting the same frontier.
Rita: We had common goals, I would say.
Gerardo: Yeah. And that just made us more powerful.
David: To that point, I had been with a fortune 500 company for 10 years before we decided to cash it all in and make this jump as well. I experienced the same thing you did. There’s were many things that were out of my control. So many things that we were required to do.
Interestingly enough, even though there were a lot things that I didn’t know, or that we didn’t know, when we went into business for ourselves, there was this peace that at least it was up to us now totally. It’s funny. You would think, how does that give somebody peace? Well, it does, because you realize it’s on your shoulders.
Jan: There’s also a lot of stress starting up. We also had a huge mortgage on a brand new house that we built, and the fourth child came along, and Dave had been traveling in his previous job, so I was on my own. So, this was either partner with him and let’s grow together or—. We didn’t really have any options.
So, it was sink or swim for us as well. We had to make payroll, and I didn’t have an accounting background, although I’ve been involved in bookkeeping a lot. I managed the household bills and everything just grew, and we had to do it. We didn’t have a choice.
But we knew that we could rely on each other, and we had the faith that we were doing the right thing and that we had what it took. We had the self-esteem and the faith to know that we can do this. Don’t ask me how. But we just knew from the beginning if we lost it all tomorrow, it didn’t matter—.
David: Because we’re together.
Jan: — because we had each other and we’ll watch each other’s back and we’re going to be there for the long run.
We’ve had bumps in business in the early years, and setbacks, and a lot of things like that. We just had the faith and we’d work together, and when we couldn’t work together, we knew we had to work that out because we had a different vision. We had to practice what we had in common and get there together, even though we had different ideas of how things should work.
So, we’ve learned to respect each other’s roles tremendously. It’s been challenging, but he excels at certain things; I excel at certain things. And we’ve learned the respect for each other to stay in our lane now that we have developed our roles in the business.
David: Would you all agree that the art of compromise is something we’ve all mastered to make it work?
Gerardo: Absolutely.
David: I think that comes from – at least for me. I’ll speak for me. Our relationship, the one that her and I started with 40 years ago, is still the most important thing.
Jan: Always comes first.
David: As long as we keep that focus, for us, it’s always helped us. When I’ve gotten off track, it’s like, hey, how do we get this thing all going? Because that’s what I like and that’s where I’m good. So, I’m going to bring the train back on that track. Because reality is, something’s out of balance slightly most of the time, and it’s all about getting it back.
Jan: And having couples who work together – it’s very rare; there’s many couples who could not do it – but for those who can, it can work very well, as long as we have the common goal and there is atonement, we’ve moving forward as one. It’s not his deal or my deal. We’re moving the business forward as one.
And now, we have our successor, our operations officer, who is our son, who started out as a master mechanic, and then became counter sales, and then became management and has grown also. So, that actually adds more dynamics to the family business.
Gerardo: Good deal.
Uwe: And maybe to dive into this a little bit more, I assume you had to learn setting your responsibilities, and sometimes they overlap, and sometimes you earn certain things. How did that evolve over time? And I assume you were not always on the same page. That would be very rare. How did you find out how to do the compromise?
David: Sometimes we weren’t even in the same book, not literally the page.
Uwe: Oh wow.
David: For us, it still comes back to me, we’ve got to get this thing back on track. And so, just being open with each other and talking to each other and hearing each other out. And sometimes the volume’s loud when you’re listening. But it needs to be [to] move on to where we can get resolve. That’s what’s worked for us.
Jan: When we work together in concert with one another we excel so much faster than when we’re not on the same page or somebody’s not in agreeance. So, we have to talk about it in order to have understanding. I may not agree with Dave, and I’m going to ask questions until I understand it. And if I understand it, then I’m all in. But if I don’t understand it, I’m leery, I’m more cautious, I’m more conservative than he is. He’s all, jump in the deep end no matter what; we’ll figure it out as we go. I’m more, well, let’s have a plan. Let’s go with the idea. Let’s start with your idea. What do you want to accomplish? And then work it backwards. What the steps to get there? So, that’s where we find the balance.
We’ve both done this long enough and had a lot of frustrations [that] it’s taught us, OK, how long are we going to be frustrated about this this time? If you’ve done it 27 times, let’s get over the frustration, talk about it, and what can we agree on, and how can we make this work going forward? Or, are going to can it?
There’s times when his ideas are coming faster than I can comprehend them all, like with buying this second location. I mean, we were taking a week, a month of vacation. We have a place in Florida. We were traveling. We were traveling out of the country a couple of years ago. And we were really enjoying life until this opportunity came up to buy this other location.
And I’ve always fought another location, because we have a great location. We have a great business, We’re very fine tuned on our KPIs. It’s going very well. Why would we want to throw a wrench in that?
But I was convinced when he told me about the business, the location. It was a family business. It just seemed like a no-brainer and I bought in completely. So, I’m very happy about that. I just think when we talk about how it’s going to work and we share the vision, that way we can talk about how we can accomplish it.
So, it just takes time and understanding, and I have to be open-minded enough to listen, and he has to be open-minded and listen enough to hear my concerns because I’m a more cautious person.
Uwe: That’s awesome. How is it with you, Rita and JR?
Rita: I agree communication is very important. Having a common goal. We attend seminars [and] classes together. We read almost the same books. Like you, I like to plan. He is a visionary. He has these crazy ideas. We sit, talk about it. I support him. We plan it.
What else can we say?
Gerardo: Yeah. In the beginning, we had very defined roles. Obviously myself growing in the automotive industry, basically, and her being an accountant by trade, there were very defined roles in the very beginning. She still doesn’t work the counter or anything like that. The books, the numbers, the payroll, payables, HR, the benefits, that’s her wheelhouse, and I do the production, sales, employees, customers. And then we have weekly meetings obviously of reportings.
When we’re at work, we’re professional. We pretend to be –.
Rita: We’re professional business partners.
Gerardo: Professional business partners. We try to leave any of the house stuff out of it because we’re there at work, and we just want to get to work, and when I’m at home, I want to be at home with my wife. When I work, I want to be partnering, just get things done.
We have very limited office time together, because I’m always in the field or having a meeting, or—.
Rita: One of the shops somewhere.
Gerardo: Yeah. One of the shops somewhere. So, when we do get to be in the office at the same time, we try to plan it so it’s work. So, let’s just be there, and get to our meetings, and look at the reporting, and we’ll go home and chit-chat about the kids and the dog.
We have very different roles and she’s really good at what she does. For me, having somebody doing the books, and looking at our bank accounts, and having a report at the end of the week, or daily if I ask her for it, it’s really priceless, that I can sleep at night knowing that nobody can drive that financially better than our arsenal and somebody that fully trust.
Uwe: And so, how to do you make decisions then? Is it basically Rita calling you back from your dreams and saying, wait a second; that’s not what the budget gives us? Or how does it work?
Gerardo: Well, normally through the reporting, we know how much money we’ve got to spend and if we can do something and if we cannot.
Normally, I come home with a new idea and then we’ll talk about it and make a decision. From the beginning, she’s been very supportive of the ideas that I have, and I’ll sit down and dice it and slice it in ten different ways and then I’ll sell her the idea. Then we can do it.
And then once she’s on board, it’s all go. She trusts me to do it.
Rita: Yeah. He said, I’m going to buy a fourth shop. I’m like, OK. All right. How are we going to do this? So, I know he had that as an idea. I’m like, all right. Let’s make it work. So, play around with the numbers, or you have to cut this to do this, and we just come up with a plan, and it’s doable.
But he’s the crazy one, not me. I just help.
Uwe: Reminds me of Shark Tank. You are the shark reader and JR is proposing something. Is that how it works?
Rita: Kind of. Yes.
Gerardo: Yeah.
David: That’s a great analogy. It’s really great.
So, JR, I’ve been in your shoes many times. You know what I mean?
Jan: Although ours is more like a dunk tank. If he can’t really sell me, I just push that button. Go dry off.
David: But I’m extremely tenacious and I don’t give up.
Jan: That’s right.
David: And I’m sure you are too, JR. You can see this. It’s real in your mind.

Uwe knows me pretty well. I’m not really crazy about details and plan. I can barely spell the word.
Jan: But he is persistent.
David: But Jan does that so well. She’s what brings me back and makes me think about those things.
Jan: And there are things that just won’t go away, even though I say –.
David: That you’re questioning me?
Jan: I got him a little notepad one time that was an idea book, and I said, just write them down. And then review them before [telling me]. Bring the really important ones to me, because he was always talking to me about his next idea, and we’re either going with the kids somewhere or an event or whatever, and it was always his ideas that he’s telling me in the car as we’re driving somewhere, to an appointment. And I said, let’s just sit down and talk.
So, that’s another thing. We would set aside time to talk about what he wanted to do next, where we really had the time to talk about it and have a true discussion. And that wasn’t at the dinner table with the children. We did not talk about business at home, no matter what fire was happening when I left the shop to get the kids off the bus and make dinner. He was always home for dinner sooner or later. It might not have been when we ate, or we would hold off, but he was always home at night. His previous job on the road, the kids didn’t see him.
So, the kids understood, and they all four worked in our business at different times. They helped with our events. They helped with our promotions. And Dave’s always been a great promotional person for the business. That’s where the ideas come into play: try something new, try something different. What sets us apart?
And we’re in our community. Our children went to the same high school we went to. Our grandchildren are now at that same school system. We are imbedded in our community, and we always will be.
And I just think that the reliability factor is really good, but if Dave wanted to do something and he truly believed in it, he would be persistent and would continue to bring it up, even if I would kind of nix it or whatever, I’m not interested, and sooner or later I would come around. It’s just like the little bit bigger boat. He’s persistent, until he convinces me there’s a way to do it. And there almost always is.
David: So, you’ve really helped me hone my salesmanship skills is really what you’re saying.
Jan: Yes.
David: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m being a sounding board. OK.
Gerardo: For the audience, I will tell them this: If Rita didn’t work with me, and I came home and I said, we need to hire another person for the counter or the back, often our spouses only see the checkbook at the end of the month, and they would probably say, you don’t make enough money. You can’t afford someone.
But being there day in and day out and seeing the potential and seeing the struggles, and seeing the service, and how we can better improve the service, and ultimately make more money because we hire somebody else, it’s a hard sale if somebody’s not there to not only to visit from time to time, but when you’re there 24/7 and see the struggle, and you’re running around answering the phone, while bolting on a thermostat on a car and you need somebody, it’s a hard sale without somebody being there.
So, unless you fully buy into the business with your spouse, it’s going to be a much tougher sale to sell something.
Jan: I think with convincing me of where he wanted us to grow, it also came with his development of his leadership, and he wasn’t trying to sell me on something. He was trying to get me on board to lead and lead our team.
We’ve learned that [when] you get the ideas, you get everybody on board, and you have a good culture, the money will come. It’s not about the sales dollars anymore. It’s not even about that. It’s about leadership. And I’ve seen him grow over the years. We both have. But it’s the leadership skills and the way we to present ourselves to other people to get them to want to follow us.
And so, we have a great group of people at both locations. They are on board and they want the growth of the company as much as we do. It’s really to facilitate their families.
David: [inaudible] opportunities. I think that’s what we all do is create opportunities.
Jan: During 2020, we wanted to make sure everybody was taken care of. We had to give reassurance and growth opportunities, and so, that’s what our focus was on. And I think it made us grow together as well. And that was all the while the second location was in the back. We actually thought that it was falling off of our opportunity list, but in fact, it was a good time because they didn’t fare so well during 2020. They didn’t have the same situation.
So, it was an opportunity for us to grow our team and lead our team, and create more leaders within our umbrella company.
Gerardo: Very important. Create leaders [inaudible].
Jan: Yeah. Create leaders.
Uwe: Maybe a step back. If I understand correctly, you both were able to say, when we leave the shop, the shop problems stay in the shop. Home is family.
Jan: Yes.
David: Yes.
Uwe: Did you do that from the beginning, and did it work smoothly? I cannot switch off when I leave the office. I don’t know how to do that. It takes really a lot of discipline, because family is family. So, how did you manage over the years the separation of both?
David: Well, I’ll just speak to it for a minute. I had a struggle with that too. I can tell you in the early days when we started, our children were all very small, and when I would make it home for dinner, there was an occasional comment from one of them, four of them, the older ones or three older ones, hey, Dad, can we just not talk about that now? And when your children tell you that and ask you that, it’s—. I’d look at Jan and she’d be like, well, maybe you should listen to them.
Jan: And now they’re adults, and so one of the things we did was as they become older, we wanted to share our future and succession plan with all of them because it pertains to one of them more than all of them, and we wanted them to have an understanding of our vision and that we do have a successor, but they’re all equally important.
So, we have that meeting that’s a business meeting with our children twice a year. But then, when they come over for Sunday dinner, we’re not talking about business. We see our children frequently; they live in town. And so, when we’re having activities, and now there’s grandchildren involved, we don’t talk about business.
David: We don’t even have time anymore, to be honest, which is good.
Jan: We did in the very beginning because there were a lot of challenges, but once we started defining our roles, and at that time the children were not into the business, we did not want to talk about it.
Now that Dave and I live by ourselves, it’s okay to talk about it at night. We do often because we have a lot more time together. We have a lot of quiet time that we didn’t have when we had teenagers and young people. But it’s the two of us at home at night, so might stay late and work, and maybe go to dinner and talk about this and that, but when one of us has had enough, we raise our hand and say, OK, no more business, and then the other one honors that.
And there’s even times we say, please turn off your phone. Put your computer away.
Uwe: Very cool.
Jan: So, we have to set our boundaries. And we learned that early on, but we’ve refined that as well. When one of us has had our limit with work, the other one will reluctantly stop what they’re doing and understand. Because you have to have work/life balance whether you have children at home, or family at home, or not. But work/life balance can be challenging the more family [and] people – parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, people that are in your life. And you have a personal life. We also try not to talk about business during our personal life when we are out with our friends, unless we have business in common, which many of our friends have a business. So, that’s what we enjoy most, the things we have in common with people.
Uwe: Thank you. JR?
Gerardo: In the beginning we’d talk a lot about business, our challenges and things like that, and I think we also have a limit, just like you guys, like, all right, our voices are starting to raise; our voices are starting to get louder, so we’re going to stop talking about it. We did a little sharing with our kids because we want them to learn from what we were doing.
Rita: Why we were late. Why we were going to a seminar or a workshop. We want them to know. Yes.
Gerardo: So we shared mainly our strategy, our vision, our purpose, some of the key pieces of the puzzle, they knew about it and they were involved. And they seem to enjoy that.
I’m the active regional manager, so I go from store to store and obviously I get all the bad news. If I just live something, a few hours ago, an angry customer whacks an employee or something like that, why would I bring it home and relive it? There’s no reason to re-tell that story. It just stays with me. I’m going to handle it, unless I need to get somebody involved in that, or her involved in it.
Rita: Other than that, you never really share.
Gerardo: There’s no reason to. There’s nothing she can do to make it better or to handle it. It just dies with me. Obviously we do talk about work when we’re alone. Our kids our grown and we’re alone a lot. But 8 p.m. comes around and no more shop talk. It’s just us. Because it can get you inciting, I wasn’t thinking about it; now I’m thinking about it. I want to go to sleep, and I want to enjoy the evening. I can deal with that tomorrow morning.
But our kids are very involved with the strategy, and like I said, we want to teach them [or] share with them what we thought. Whether it was a good idea or bad idea, I guess we’ll find out, but I want them to be aware of it. Our youngest grew up when he was two years old learning about the business. Today, we come home and he’s watching Shark Tank or Marcus Lemonis or something like that. He’s really into business.
Rita: He understands it now.
Gerardo: He understands more. We limit business talk as well.
Rita: We try. Yeah.
Uwe: Was there anything you experienced through how to deal with employees, or how to run the business, which also changed you personally? Like Jan said, Dave’s leadership skills grew. Is there anything you can share where the growth in business as a leader has an impact on the family or vice versa?
Jan: Well, I can say [that] when I was raising four children, it was my way or the highway.
David: That’s leadership.
Jan: And then I learned that didn’t always work. So, you have to let others fail. You have to teach them and train them and accept their failures. Let them fail. They have to learn from their failures. They’re not going to learn by being told what to do or how to do it.
That’s where leadership comes in. You have to have the leadership enough to allow them to fail and then ask them how they’re going to change it or what they’re going to do next time.
And I think for both of us, instead of Dave coming home complaining about something at work, and I’d say, well, you need to tell them this or you need to tell them that. I’ve learned to pause, and then he’ll say, I’m going to ask him to do this or I’m going to ask him what they’re going to do to solve the problem.
He’s not a problem solver. He’s going to ask them. The person coming to him with the problem has to learn to fix the problem. And that’s the true leadership: allowing them to make mistakes, to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, and learn from it themselves.
I think that’s helped me in our personal life as well.
Gerardo: Yeah. I think for us, we treat our employees like our kids or we treat our kids like our employees, [inaudible]. We set the rules of the game, we set what’s win, what’s out of bounds, what’s a ball, and we’ve got to trust them to make their own choices, because they’re individuals and they’re not all going to act like we do – a little bit different. But if they’re playing the game and we set what’s a win and what’s out of bounds, we’ve got to trust them to let them play, however they can. And a lot of times, I’m amazed with our kids and our employees, how their way sometimes is better than how I [would have done it].
We have a super talented staff, and our kids are super talented as well, and we might not know the best way of doing something. They might fall into or figure out a better way of doing something still within the rules of the game. It’s still a win. So, we’ve got to learn from them as well, from our staff and our kids. Right?
Rita: Right.
Gerardo: And our employees learn through us. We set the example of discipline and dedication. We have a lot of empathy toward our team and our family, obviously. And that’s something that both our employees and our kids learn from the leaders. We set the tone and we set the culture and the way they handle things. I think it’s from our example.
Uwe: I couldn’t agree more. Just from my example, I learned from our kids who came to the United States without knowing any English. They had to go to school right away. There was no special treatment. And learning from them how they cope with this immense, it was like an avalanche of new impressions.
I remember Carl, my older son, went to elementary school and had an old school teacher, and said, welcome to class. We cannot do anything special for you. By the way, you have to write an essay every weekend. He didn’t understand that, but he knew he had to write an essay every weekend. I should have kept them.
And so, growing with the challenges was such an amazing thing to see how they go beyond what you think is possible – the kids – because they’re fearless. If there’s one thing I learn from them it’s just [being] fearless. They’re not afraid of making mistakes. They just try and find out. So, that was really an amazing thing.
The other thing I want to bring up also in my experience is, I know that it’s a stereotype, but I learned it to be true in my experience that we as men are trying to be single-focused, trying to achieve something and then forget everything around it. Whereas women especially, mothers who deal with the unexpected in raising kids every day are so much better than we are, or I am, in dealing with the unexpected, and often business is nothing else than that – dealing with the unexpected.
And so my question is for JR and Dave. Do you have a similar experience, and when was the epiphany for you or similar epiphany [to what] I had?
David: I’ll just jump in here and say, I’ve had that recurring experience. I’m reminded of that lesson that, yeah, I can become very focused just because of my nature on one thing and I go after it.
And even when Jan’s trying to have conversations with me about other things that are big issues, I have struggled at times – I’d like to think I’ve gotten better about it – about being able to open it up and realize it’s not just about this one thing I’m very focused on.
And she is far better at it. I would say her ability – and I’m going to assume, Rita, yours too – your ability to juggle and keep more plates spinning, and make it all work right is really one of the reasons that our businesses are as successful as they are.
Because I drop a lot of plates. I’ll just tell you that. It would. I’ll get a bunch of them going, but I won’t catch them all. I think you’re both much better at it. I don’t know why.
I’m just glad I’m with Jan, and I’m sure, JR, you’re glad you’re with Rita because of that.
Gerardo: Yeah. Absolutely.
Sometimes I have a vision, for an example, with this fourth location, and I picture this castle in the sky that is up there, and then Rita comes in and builds the foundation for it. All I saw was the castle. I couldn’t see the foundation and the stairs to get there. Her building a to-do list and getting paperwork ready for SBA, and onboarding new employees, and 401K, and all the unfathomable amounts of paperwork that it takes to get my vision done, she does it. She does it really well, and she does it very graciously. She multitasks, and she does all those things that I don’t see. I just see the final product. And to put the foundation under that castle that’s 10 stories high, it’s a big task. So, thank you. She’s really good at it.
David: That’s such a great analogy you just used. It really hits home for me as I think about what we’ve just done in the last four months. Brian was a big part of that, too, but Jan, she was just able to take all the things that I couldn’t even see to get this project underway, get it done. Along with Brian, they just kept putting it all together, and here we are.
So, yeah. It wouldn’t have looked near like this, trust me, had I been totally in charge of it.
Jan: Well, I don’t think one person can be in charge. So we have to learn to rely on others to do their job and to do what they enjoy doing. Rely on others; we can’t do everything ourselves. And we’re not going to be here forever. Life is a temporary assignment. So, how do we want this to end? What do we want to leave? What do we want our legacy to be? And hopefully that’s about people and not what we’ve built but who we’ve built it with.
And that’s the legacy we want to leave.
Gerardo: Sure.
Rita: Yes.
Uwe: Wow. That’s powerful. I wanted to talk about—. We have, let me see, 10 minutes left. You all touched on it already. Paying it forward to your kids. Paying it forward working with the community. Would you mind sharing?
So, obviously, JR and Rita, your kids are not yet or won’t become a part of the business, whereas Jan and Dave, Brian is already full on in, has been for years. How did that process work out?
David: The process of Brian?
Uwe: Yes.
David: Of course he went through all the processes, the pieces of coming into the business and so forth. If we’re speaking about legacy here, and for him, it’s just been so important, at least for me, to see his growth personally and what that will do for him and his family, and honestly, the way our trusts are set up, what that will also do for his siblings.
Jan: But to begin with, he approached us as he was graduating high school. He had already had other jobs. And it was a surprise to us at the time that he wanted to come into the business, because we did not set the business up for our children. We wanted them to follow their dreams. It was very hard work. It was long hours. It was no money. It was figuring at all out as we go. We wanted them to fulfill their dreams and what they wanted to do. So, it was very surprising to us.
But he showed an interest. He was very mechanically talented from the time he was small. Very close to his siblings. The other siblings didn’t want to work necessarily in the business when he was working in the business because they all respect their relationships and they didn’t want to stress the relationships by working with each other. Brian has always had the wherewithal and the knowledge and the training to run the business, and it’s in his siblings’ best interests if he does, if he did, in the event something happened to us.
Well, we’re way past that. We’re planning on his succession. But they all know what’s going on. And so, we’re encouraging him, training him, but it wasn’t always expected. It wasn’t that way. But now, we all have to respect each other and each other’s dreams. His dreams are going to be different from ours, and that’s fine. So, we have to be OK with the other things in life that we enjoy doing, and I think it’s been a really good thing.
David: It’s really great to see this process of it. It’s the handing off of the baton, because that’s kind of where we are in our process. We’re very close to where I will step completely away from any operational things within a few months.
Jan: And whether that’s our son or our second in command, I think every business should have a second in command so that they know what to do in case you can’t be in for a while, or you can’t be in permanently, just to have that plan [of] how is this going to end and change into the next steps, so that you can walk away from your business or exit in a good fashion.
Gerardo: Well, for us, we’ve still got a long way to go. We built our business like you guys, not for succession for our kids. We want them to …
Rita Fulfill their dreams.
Gerardo: Yeah. To fulfill their dreams and go after it. The shop will be there if they choose to come. I would obviously not deny it. Right now they’ve got other interests. You want to talk about our kids?
Rita: Our son, Daniel, he’s our oldest. He just graduated from UC San Diego with a double major in business and philosophy and going for his masters at Cal State Long Beach now. And our youngest just graduated high school. Our youngest, I feel like he has more interest in business – not probably in our business – but in business in general, since like you said, we talk about business here at home; we let them know what we’re doing.
So, when he was about third grade, fourth grade, he made this little company at school. It was before Saint Patrick’s. He made himself a ring out of a dollar and the kids were like, wow, how did you do that? And we like, I’ll make you one. Give me two dollars, I’ll make you one and he’ll keep the other dollar. He kept that going, Saint Patrick’s Day passed by, so then he’s like I need to come up with other ideas. So he came out – what do you call those?
Gerardo: Origami.
Rita: Origami. So he kept on doing little things with it and started selling them for a dollar, [and] for a dollar. So he kept on bringing money, and I’m like, what are you doing? He’s like, oh, I’m doing this and he used to tell me what he was doing. So, I’m like, homework first and then you can do it. Mom, they keep asking me to do so much, and I can only do so much because you want me to do my homework. So, what are you going to do? He’s like, I’m just going to hire my friends. I’m like, OK. So, he hired three kids. They were doing everything. He wasn’t doing anything anymore, but he was bringing in the money. And I’m like, OK; what’s going on? So, he told me I got my friends doing it. I pay them 10 percent. I keep the rest. OK.
And then it was getting too much for him, so he hired an accountant. But he didn’t know he was doing this. So, he hired the smartest there to do the math because he was getting too much on demand. A lot of those kids [inaudible] those little things, and he was getting too busy, so he decided to hire an accountant now. So, he had the accountant dividing the 10 percent and giving him the rest.
Anyway, he had this little company going on in school, and it lasted a few months until the principal started seeing a lot of money coming in and out, that she decided, OK; what’s going on? They called me in to the office. They [asked] me, did you know that this is what he’s doing?
I didn’t get mad at him, because I thought it was such a bright idea. Right? He wasn’t doing anything but still collecting money. He had an accountant. He had employees. He even had the name of the company, [which] was The Makers. That was the name of his company.
And then he came one day, Mom, they shut us down. I can no longer have my company because the principal said no.
But anyway, I think he’s more focused into the business side than our oldest. But I don’t know. So far, they come and help us, but no interest whatsoever to work on the shops.
Gerardo: And that’s part of our legacy that we’re [leaving] behind. Just that none of our family members have ever owned a business, so hopefully leaving that trail that you can do something like that is going to be a part of that legacy.
One of the things that I do, that I’m passionate about, is I try to help others succeed in businesses or at least make them believe. Also, I’m an immigrant. I came here when I was 11 years old from Mexico. So, coming from nothing with a country with no opportunity to the success we’ve had, it’s unbelievable, and I want to share it with others that they too can do it – any color they are, any socio-economic background, regardless of how they look, the opportunity is here and they can too do it.
And if I can share my wisdom, tell my story, whatever I can do to help and make them believe that they also can do something great, I’m more about it. I share my experiences and I volunteer with at-risk youth for Police Activity League around town, and I try to help some of the kids that are perhaps not college bound, and I try to sell the trade – not only my trade but other trades, that there’s good money to be made in many other venues that is not just college – and that owning a business or entrepreneurship in the service category is a great way to go if you don’t like school. Not that you don’t have to go to school, but it’s something that anybody can do, and that is near and dear to my heart, helping somebody else to see the dream and see the potential, that they can do it as well.
And Rita mentors some young ladies as well that are at risk. We give a car away every year to a needy family in the community, and we’re giving away a scholarship for trades this year. So, those are all part or paid in full from what we do because somebody was there for us and helped us succeed when we were younger, and I feel like the need – not only the need, but I want to help others succeed, and I think that brings a lot of pleasure to me to see others spring forward and do great things.
Uwe: Wow. Thank you.
David: Thank you both for doing that.
Jan: That’s wonderful.
David: That’s wonderful. I think that kind of story resonates, certainly at least I know in our industry, all the great people we’ve had the ability to meet, I have to say. I don’t know why our industry has such a black eye sometimes because there are so many giving people in it. There are in other industries, but I mean, you think about the talents that we all collectively have and are so, most of us, willing to do that.
Very proud to be part of this world, this organization, this industry.
Gerardo: Yep. Absolutely.
Uwe: I couldn’t say it better, so I better say nothing. That’s a good closure of our episode. Thank you very much for coming. It was a pleasure for me to listen to your stories, and I hope you had some fun.
Gerardo: I’ve got one more thing to say. I wrote it down yesterday. For our audience that are thinking about bringing their spouse into work with them, I often hear from my colleagues saying, as soon as I make enough money, my wife’s going to come work for me. Well, I will tell you that you will make enough money if your wife comes to work for you. Flip that around.
Sorry to interrupt.
Uwe: No, that was perfect. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Jan: Thank you.
David: Really a pleasure.
Rita: Bye guys.
Gerardo: Thanks guys.
Jan: Have a great day.
David: Have a great day.
Uwe: Have a great day.
David: We’ll see you. Bye.

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