An interview with JR Luna, owner of Concours Motors and 3 other successful shops in Ventura County, California.
JR, what is your own definition of Shop Culture?
For me, shop culture is our identity. It’s our beliefs in action. If culture was part of a song, it would be the melody. Shop culture is the lens through which we see and do everything.
Why do you feel it’s important to have this as a priority in order to have a successful business?
Culture is very important, it dictates the way we handle the customer and the driving force behind our performance. Culture is contagious. It dictates the attitude, beliefs, and actions of the business. It dictates whether someone is going to try their best to get a job done before the end of day or the attitude that there’s always tomorrow. Culture is a service advisor setting up transportation for a customer when they know their car would be delayed a day; or the advisor caring just enough but not enough to make it his problem. At a simple view, one might think in this example that it’s an employees attitude or capabilities however, it is not the employee involved. Under the right shop culture almost any employee could make great decisions based on the culture. Shop culture creates a narrative which dictates the sentiment and ultimately produces the actions taken by most employees. Think of time when you played sports, and you believed in the narrative of the team. If you played for a high school team, then you know you’ll do anything to gain and defend for your team. You’ll work as hard as you could and live up to or even exceed the expectations. Our shops are not that different. Our employees have pride wearing our shop’s name on their shirt, it brings them pride to belong to a high performing team where you matter. If you can create a shop culture where the employees are proud of being a part of, then you’re doing many things right.
How did both your tactics and philosophy of Shop Culture evolve over time? Where it began and where it is today.
I think we have had a very strong Philosophy since the beginning. Having worked for a large chain for years I knew what I didn’t want to become. I’m genuinely a people person and one thing that I know about myself is that I campaign for a good mood, even during tough times. I think a positive mood has a better chance against even the hardest of problems. I do get mad and upset but it doesn’t help solve anything. Philosophy and Culture really go hand and hand, as a shop owner we can have all the policies and procedures written down and followed exactly. What you will soon find out is that 2 people saying and or doing the same thing will have completely different outcomes. What’s the difference? It’s the attitude that was brought in by that person. Where do they get the attitude? It’s from the culture that is all around them, it’s the melody of the song which constantly plays in the shop. Obviously we have policies and procedures; we present them by stating our desired outcomes, setting guidelines and boundaries etc. However it is the culture behind those policies and procedures that creates the desired execution and ultimately the desired results which are a lot more than just profits.
You’re close to owning your fourth shop. When opening up a new location how do you incorporate your Shop Culture with each new team?
The most important part for me when taking over a shop is introducing our culture. Many shops have identical workflows, software packages and customer intake procedures etc. The only thing truly unique to your shop is the culture and no one can duplicate it – it’s the shop’s DNA. Every shop we have has a different group of employees, from all walks of life, some small organic variation changes to add their own spice and that’s ok, it’s unique to that team. However, it is 98% the same. Having meetings with the crew and sharing my Philosophies for the business is a start. Taking them on tours of my other shops has the biggest impact. When they see an organized, clean, efficient shop, packed with work and happy employees and customers, they are ready to embrace what we have to offer because they also want to be part of a winning team. Showing our momentum with the other shops materializes our vision for the new shop and they embrace it.
You talk to a lot of shop owners. Do you feel Shop Culture needs more of an emphasis as a key component of owning a successful business?
I think Culture needs to be more relevant. I often hear about a great talented employee that a shop owner is thinking about hiring. However, the question that rarely gets discussed is, ‘Will they fit our beliefs and culture? Every shop has a culture whether we like it or not. We either created it or let it create itself through the beliefs and habits of the collaborative inputs of all the employees that ever worked at your shop.
Tell us about a typical day and how Shop Culture comes into your management actions.
When I visit the shops I listen and observe, I can almost feel the mood in the air. I observe who’s having a good day and who has a scowl on their face and I try to find out why. I observe how our customers are being treated and communicated with, what is being offered at the counter. I observe internal employee communication and interaction between the team. If there’s anything going on that can potentially scale up and ruin attitudes, that needs to be dealt with immediately. Sometimes I need to get involved however, most times I communicate my observations with the leader in-charge and let him handle it, as it is important that I don’t undermine the chain of command. It is also important for each location to get good at dealing with their own issues. My most important duty is to deliver gratitude and praise to each employee. My second duty in terms of importance is to train and develop leaders, leaders are a scarce resource on this planet and it’s key for any organization to grow. It is also important to share our wins, any good news and also where adjustments need to be made in order for the team to succeed and win.
Feel free to add anything here. Additional areas of Shop Culture, points you want to make – anything that comes to mind.
Identifying clear individual expectations, goals and team goals is a big part of our culture, because objectives become measurable and we know whether we are on the right track. High achievement is celebrated and part of our culture. Some employees will embrace the new culture and some won’t.
Thanks JR. I know any business owner will now think about – and put into action – their own shop culture and understand the importance of it in growing a successful organization.
Gerardo Luna (best known as JR), came to the US when he was just 11 and now is the President and General Manager of three auto repair shops (soon to be four!) in the Ventura County area of Southern California with Concours Motors being the first. He has been a professional in the automotive service industry since 1995. In his 26 years of experience, Gerardo has performed and/or supervised over 90,000 repairs.
JR holds a Master Technician Certification from ASE (including service adviser) and also earned a Master’s Award in Shop Management from DRIVE. In addition, JR holds a B.A. in Business Management from the University of Phoenix. Gerardo attributes a big part of his success to his talented team, especially his wife, Rita, who has been a key component of the business as the Chief Financial Officer.
JR’s burning desire is to have the best automotive service and repair shops in Ventura County, where quality work and great customer service is his daily way of doing business. During his time off, JR enjoys attending his two sons’ sports events and loves to mountain bike, camp, and travel.
This article will appear in the March 2021 edition of Motor Age Magazine. Link will be updated at that time.