Have you ever enrolled yourself in a pricey coaching program and got so little value off of it?
My guest for this episode has definitely found himself in this same dissatisfied position and decided to transform the independent automotive industry by starting his own training and coaching program that is unlike anything else in the market.
I have with me Aaron Stokes, the founder of Shop Fix Academy, a coaching company that equips shop owners with the skills and strategies they need to thrive through comprehensive, value-added training programs.
As an operator of six auto repair shops and a radio show host of “Fixin’ Cars with Aaron Stokes,” Aaron has the solid foundation to revolutionize an industry that has been stuck in giving less than they should.
Aaron shares with us how he has done and continues to do that through servant leadership and helping solve some of the biggest problems in the business today. Don’t miss out on this engaging conversation!
Listen to the podcast here:
How Shop Fix Academy Is Transforming An Industry With Aaron Stokes
Let me ask you, what would happen if you could build a business around fellowship, around servant leadership and be able to help solve some of the biggest problems in business? If any of those interests you at all, our guest expert is someone you’re going to want to pay attention to. You’re going to want to grab a piece of paper. You’re going to want to grab a notebook. This is going to be a lot of wisdom, insights, and strategies from real-world experience.
His name is Aaron Stokes. He’s the operator of multiple auto repair shops, but that’s the beginning. He has a radio show called Fixin’ Cars on Nashville’s 99.7. He’s been in radio. He started AutoFix, EuroFix, a rental car company. Now he works with car repair owners and others in all kinds of industries with Shop Fix Academy. He’s a steward. He’s a leader. He’s transferring leadership that changed the world in how service businesses run and operate. Aaron, welcome to the show. How are you?
I’m doing good. How are you?
I’m doing fantastic. You’re like an American success story in many ways. You built out of basically a need of you wanting to fix stuff. You built your auto repair shop. Now, it’s transferred into multiple. You now have several different categories with EuroFix, AutoFix, rental car. Now Shop Fix Academy is about helping other auto repair owners and other service business owners transform their business. Why are you doing what you’re doing?
I love helping people. I love fixing things. I love fixing lives. I love fixing situations. I’m attracted like bugs are at night to the light bulb on the back porch. I’m attracted to problems that need to be fixed. I see the solution. I usually see it quickly before most do. I can cut through all the crap and get right to the point. This whole fix thing runs throughout my life. One of my clients is a medical doctor to one of our last events. He walked in and he sat through the whole three-day thing. He came up to me and said, “I’ve never been to anything like this in my life and all we do is go to conferences about colds and diarrhea. I want you to start something.”
He wrote something down, turned around and slid over to me and said, “DocFix. I make $900,000 a year. My partners take advantage of me. I don’t know how to read a P&L. My family doesn’t see me. I’m not happy at work. Insurance makes me have to jump through a bunch of hoops. I’d love it if you could help me do my business, better coach me on how to do it. Would you coach me?” I had to decline politely. My wife was like, “Are you sure? Doctors make a lot more than mechanics.” It is what it is. We love doing what we’re doing. We’re having a lot of fun.
You’ve had all this success. I want to flip the table to give people perspective. We have to thank Jeremy Weisz for connecting us. He is an amazing human being, a super-connector, incredibly great. That guy is a freak. I want you to think back like in business, maybe your biggest mistake, your biggest failure, the biggest challenge you’ve faced. What did you do to get out of it, that our audience can likely learn from easily? Speak to that a little bit.
I have a lot of experience with failure. I’ve been married for many years. Thank God for that. My wife has been amazing. I’ve never gone through a lot of people have where they didn’t have somebody that can support them. My father left when I was eleven years old. I was the oldest of six, which started this idea of, “I’ve got to be the dad or I’ve got to be in charge. I’ve got to be in control. I’ve got to fight for myself.” I tried to go to school as long as I could, but when I was fifteen years old, I started working full-time. I never went to school from ninth grade up. I have an eighth-grade education formally. I was working in horse farms doing remodeling, you name it. I did whatever I could.Your net worth is not your personal worth. - Aaron Stokes Click To Tweet
I talked to my stepdad. I said, “I want to start a construction company or I want to start an auto repair,” because I’d been working on dirt bikes. I started flipping cars. Dave Ramsey’s here in Franklin. I’d heard Dave on commercial here on our local radio station. He said something like, “Get out of debt. You shouldn’t have debt.” I had bought this little Saab 900. I had a $4,000 loan to Bank of America when I was nineteen years old in this car. I was like, “I’ve got to sell this car.” Some time went by and I was thinking about it. I met a girl on the internet in 1996, February 3rd. It turns out that girl was my wife. I didn’t know it yet.
It was on CompuServe. I was in this little chat room when I met her. We started talking. She was fifteen. I was seventeen. I drove out to Charlotte, North Carolina. I met her dad, who was a pastor, who was nervous about me. He wanted to make sure I didn’t have any earrings and tattoos back then. I was saying many years ago, it was not nearly as accepted as it is now. He was worried. I met him and talked to him some. One of my trips out there, my car slid off the road. I had bald tires, wrecks and ditch, and I got stuck.
When I got stuck out there, I went to work in a body shop. I was there for six months. I rebuilt this car working for this shop. Everybody offered me jobs to stay because I had a good work ethic. I came back to Nashville. I kept flipping cars. People asked me to work on them. That’s when I asked my stepdad about starting a business. He said, “I’m going to construction.” I said, “I’m going to start this car thing.” I started a little one-car garage, no business license. I was doing probably $2,500 a month in business. I didn’t know what I was doing.
I got kicked out of that garage in three months because there were cars piled up everywhere. I went to a little tobacco barn, paying $100 a month in August of ‘99. We got married in September of ‘99. We moved into a single-wide trailer in front of that. From ‘99 to 2004, I worked in that barn. Meanwhile, I was a youth pastor at the same time from ‘99 to 2006. I had two kids between 2000 and 2004. I rocked it out. I get up to $30,000 a month in my backyard making about $30,000 a year when I finally moved out.
I was scrimping by, I got into town. The now governor of the State of Tennessee, Bill Lee, was a friend of mine in our church and Bill gave me a warehouse to move into at almost free rent. I moved into that warehouse. I started doing my thing. No one taught me about business. Things didn’t go well and I went into a lot of debt. I built a house. I was able to take a HELOC out. I paid off some of that debt. I was able to make a lot of money and I started paying some of that back.
I ended up trying to build a building in downtown. We all know what happened in ‘08, ‘09. I didn’t lose everything. The market lost everything. I was looking to open up a second location and all of a sudden when my first location’s building was being built, I had a guy call me up and he said, “Aaron, your budget’s gone over and we’re going to have to stop this commercial loan from going through.” I was like, “What?” Long story short, they ended up killing that commercial loan, telling me they wanted to curtail the lot. The lot was a $500,000 lot. They wanted $250,000 from me.
I stalled and I kept paying interest, but they kept chasing me. I called a friend of mine and he said, “Aaron, can you open a second location?” I said, “Yeah, but I have got no money. I got it on that lot.” He said, “How much have you got?” I said, “I’ve got $40,000.” He said, “Can you borrow more?” I said, “I could probably borrow $60,000.” He said, “That’s enough. Go and open your second store.” This guy was successful. At one time, he had 80 locations. I was like, “I don’t think I’m ready.” He goes, “You of all people are ready. Go and open the second store.” I called a friend at church and said, “I need to borrow $60,000.” He said, “How long would it take you to pay me back?” I said, “Ninety days.” He said, “How much can you pay me back?” I said, “$70,000.” He said, “Come and get it. The check will be at the table.”
I drove over and got the check. His wife handed it to me, smiled. I left. I opened that store up. I did $53,000 the first month, $73,000, $103,000 the third. I was getting $20,000 a month. Within 18, 20 months, that started $224,000. I made $60,000 that month. I made $40,000 off my original location that month. I made $100,000 a month in March of 2011. I called my wife up, fresh out of the single-wide trailer and said, “Honey, I don’t know what to do. We made $100,000 in a month.” She freaked out.
I kept growing up in my third store, then opened up car sales thinking it would be a smart idea. I hired the wrong guy that stole from me. Long story short, I ended up losing about $675,000 in 90 days. I brought $500,000 to try to turn it around. That $500,000 disappeared overnight. I didn’t realize how big the hole was that he had dug. It then cost me $200,000 to close it. It ended up being about $1.375 million mistake and almost cost me everything. I worked my way out of that mistake, learned as much as I possibly could, opened more locations and I got jaded. I got frustrated. I thought I was going to lose everything. I still remember the day I had to go into our home savings account.
We only had $75,000 left. I’d gone to the bankruptcy attorneys. Everybody told me to file bankruptcy because there’s no way out. You owe too much money too fast. That same year, I’d made $960,000 at 33-years-old on my repair shops with an eighth-grade education. I didn’t know how good I had it. It’s weird to get up on one side of the bed and feel like a winner, the side of the bed and feel like a loser in the second five minutes. When you make $900,000, you’re paying income tax. People don’t understand. It doesn’t work like that. When you’re young, you don’t understand how quickly you need to upgrade your advisors, which is an entire lesson over here that we will need to get into.
To get the lawyers, the CPAs and everything to mitigate your taxes when you’re as young as I was. People need to understand from 2000 to 2006, I was a youth pastor. I was not putting hardly any time into my business as far as trying to grow it or do anything. I didn’t start doing business until 27. Between 27 when I left the church, I was only making $30,000 in the business. I went from $30,000 six years later to making basically $1 million. That was such a fast ramp-up and to mentally get your head wrapped around that was difficult. I don’t want to bore everybody with all those details, but it ramped up quickly.
I ended up at a conference. They handed me the microphone. I didn’t want to speak. They asked me what I thought about some stuff, I spouted off some stuff. I was still jaded, full of piss and vinegar and frustrated about what had happened. I still remembered the day that I took the last $75,000 from our family savings account. When you go to that transfer button on your bank account and you type in 75,000 and you hit enter and it says, “Are you sure?” I still remember dragging that mouse over and clicking yes. Hoping my wife would notice. That’s not a good plan.
It was $75,014 and some type of pennies. I don’t even remember that part, but I remember the $14 and I took the $75,000 and left the $14. I remember my wife telling me that she was incredibly disappointed in me and that I had failed our family and failed her, etc. I can’t even describe it. Women get it, but sadly as men, we’re horrible about saying what we make is who we are and that’s our personal worth. That’s how we are valued on this planet. It’s not true at all, but that’s one of the many sins that men struggle with more than women. To hear those words was earth-shattering to me.
I remember falling on my knees in my garage, bawling my eyes out by myself and everybody telling me there’s no way out. You’ve got to see, if I had filed bankruptcy the way it works in the used car world, I could have done it all in one LLC. That one LLC was a different LLC from my others, but they all have the same name. That one LLC, I came in there and bought a new Suburban for me, you left and we filed bankruptcy as a dealership, what would have happened is you would have gotten screwed. You would have been stuck with the loan. We would have come and taken that Suburban out of your driveway. I did not know that.
There’s this thing in car sales where when the sheet metal goes into someone’s possession, but the title is still floating in the air and the money has been funded from the loan or from your checking account where everything’s passing, it’s a risky, unique area of time for about 48 hours there. I didn’t realize that’s what I had exposed everybody to. I told this guy like, “I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to file. I’m going to fight my way out.” I remember him telling me, “Are you sure you want to do this? Do you realize what you’re about to do?” I went through it. I ended up at a meeting where some people pass me the microphone. I spit off a bunch of answers. I was on my way out at that point. I had gotten through it. I read a great book from Ryan Holiday called The Obstacle is the Way. It shook me out of my headspace. I was stuck. We were marching around our master bedroom, around the bed, telling my wife over and over, “I’m going to find a way out.”
From 2012 to 2015, I was getting crushed every day, punched in the gut. I had no ambition. It was all gone. I was broken, bitter. I go to this meeting after I’d read that guy’s book, I’m getting back my mojo. I was like, “You may be smarter than me. You may be more educated than me. You may have a family that has money but you will not beat me.” I got that desire. I got that fire back from that book. When I showed up, they hand me the mic and I spin off all this stuff. I’m like, “They’re going to kick me out of here.” I closed my laptop, put it in my backpack, and zip it up.Sometimes, the world is ready for you before you are ready for the world. - Aaron Stokes Click To Tweet
I end the meeting awkwardly. I turn around, there are twenty guys there standing there with me, pinned against the wall. They start blasting questions. They started asking me, “How many cars a month should I have for this? What’s your gross profit going to be? What’s that close ratio be? How many neighborhoods do we need? How many cars per base, rooftops, competition, mileage? What side of the road should our shop be on? What are the miles and the highway should be on the garage? Do we do an LED sign or should we not?” Direct mail, Google AdWords, budgets, etc. I take it and spin it off. I didn’t know that the grind I’d been in had cemented this stuff into me. I had no clue. I invented this crazy mathematical formula that only works in service businesses that I have never taught anywhere else.
I started showing it to people and people were flipping out. This one guy chases me and he’s like, “Aaron, you need to teach me.” I was like, “I’m not teaching you.” He’s like, “You need to teach me.” I said, “I’m out.” I get out of there. He starts texting me. He got my number from somebody. I never even gave it to him. He starts blowing me up. He keeps texting me. I’m like, “I can’t help you.” My wife is like, “You’ve got to tell him no. Tell him a number that’s ridiculous.” He’s like, “I want to talk to you for a few times this summer, Aaron.” I was like, “$5,000, should I tell him that?” My wife’s like, “Tell him more than that.” I was like “$10,000.” She’s like, “Don’t be mean.” I was like “$7,000.” She’s like, “Yeah.” I text him $7,000. I’m like, “That’ll shut him up.” I knew you didn’t have much money. All of a sudden, he sends me a picture of his credit card, a picture of the back of the card and his billing address. I show it to my wife and she’s like, “Run it.” I was like, “I better record this stuff.” We went into the attic and we started writing on these 2×3 Post-it notes everywhere, all this information. I mapped it all out. Here’s 19.5 hours of content, 100 videos, roughly 7 to 15 minutes each on every topic under the sun, everything you’ve applied in any small business. I put it out there and show it to him. He eats it up.
Before you know it, we started telling people about it. I sold 10 or 12 of them for $7,000 or $8,000 apiece. People said, “We want to have a meeting.” In January ‘17, nineteen people came to Nashville. I promised my wife I wouldn’t travel. In the spring, nineteen again. I got mad that it was beating me. The next meeting, the fall, 34 then I hit 64 by the end of the year. I did $175,000 in business. I get into January of ‘18 and by the end of ‘18, I’d cleared 550 at a meeting and did about $3 million. I got into ‘19 and it continues to blow up. I’m now selling these video packages all over the world in about every English-speaking country.
People started to ask us to do coaching and mastermind groups. We kept saying yes to all of it. I’ve got three large masterminds, probably fourteen different tribe groups inside of those masterminds, sixteen employees in seven different states besides the 55 employees I have here in Nashville. We’ll probably get $5 million with that business. I have all these mastermind coaches beating my door down and asking me to teach them the secret and there is no secret. You go through something bad. You figure out something and then you offer it out there to the world and then people are going to have an interest. You can relate to them because you’ve been through more than them, you’ve made more and lost more than them. You can bring an impact.
Had I not believed there was a way out and had I not believed that it wasn’t over for me, I don’t know where I’d be right now. The crazy part was the world was ready for me before I was ready for the world. I didn’t see that coming. I didn’t see myself being thrust up onto a stage. I didn’t understand the reason I’d been a youth pastor for all those years. It was practice. All I do is run these events like a youth group, except everybody’s able to drink legally. That’s all we do is buy a lot of alcohol driving around in buses.
That’s how we do it, but all these 55-year-old men and women love it. It’s like summer camp. They show up at our meetings. I run it like a hotel. It’s hospitality-driven. I joked with you, I said, “It’s a church with a mandatory offering every month,” and that’s what we do. I’m still growing stores. I keep up with the stores here in Nashville for repair and I do the mechanical auto repair. I don’t do body shops, but I’ll keep growing that. I’ll probably keep doing my radio show, but what I do most of the time full-time is teach and coach all day, every day, and then crunch numbers. That’s the long story, but that’s the hard stuff that I’ve been through that’s chiseled me into who I am.
As you’re reading this, if you said to yourself, you ever felt like, “There’s no way out of this scenario,” or, “I feel like I’m in overwhelm. I’m in burnout. I’m getting crushed by what’s going on. I’ve got a lot of uncertainty.” You’ve heard one of the most fascinating, inspirational stories of going from being overwhelmed and crushed to transforming that into a business that is making a huge impact on many people and many communities, worlds.
Aaron, I want to dive back into it. You’ve got this holistic approach to building a business. You’ve got your auto repair shops. You’ve got Shop Fix Academy making a huge difference. You’re running three masterminds. You’re running coaching. You’ve got some private client work that you do. Let’s talk about parenthood. This is a selfish topic. What do you feel are some of the keys to navigating this holistic life or an integrated life? Some people might even refer to it as balanced, which I don’t necessarily personally believe in. I’d love to get your view on it of business especially as hypergrowth, high-achiever that you are, doing all the stuff that you’re doing with the home life. Talk about that a little bit, some of your keys to success around that.
I don’t believe in work-life balance. I believe we all should be together. My daughter’s school is around the corner. She’ll pop in this door all the time, eighteen years old and hangs out the couch. She plops on my couch. I’ll be doing a podcast and she’ll just walk in. She doesn’t even care. My son, I still remember he’s fifteen, probably when he was eight when we went through all the hell we went through. I was praying for him one night, put him to bed and he said, “Daddy, are we going to have enough money to pay the bills?” I remember going, “He’s listening to everything.”
When I realized that he had an interest in the business, what’s going on, and in wanting to know the employees’ names that I was either frustrated with or was happy with, I started connecting the dots. I started realizing I can’t treat these guys like kids. Our kids would say, “Look at the horses,” and we’d say, “They’re horses.” Our kids would “gugu, gaga” when they were babies and other people would go “gugu, gaga” with them and we would talk to them normally. I remember taking my oldest daughter, Journey, my wife would be gone. I’d feed her Doritos when she was a baby. She’d hold the chip and suck on the tip of it. I’d take it out and I’d flip it and she’s sucking the tip. I did this stupid stuff with my kids. I used to mow three acres with my Zero Turn with my son in the front. He falls asleep and be hanging there on a lawnmower. He’s a baby. He’s eight months old and people would be like, “Know your protection,” and he’s fine. People are like, “What are you doing?” I have those bump posts at a Zero Turn. I kept them on the front and I’d stick him in that. I took my kids everywhere, riding dirt bikes, four-wheelers, everything.
I was speaking at one of my conferences with hundreds of people in the room. My daughter is lying on the floor next to the podium, her AirPods in, her Spanish book open doing her Spanish homework while she’s in high school. She wanted to come to hang out with dad. She’s not shy so it doesn’t bother her. She walks upfront and lays on the floor as a junior in high school in front of all of our members. I don’t think it was a big deal. I had a line of people asking me, “How do I get my daughter to come to lay down at my feet when I’m speaking at a conference as you did?”
I don’t know how that happened either, but I talked to them about everything. They know that we make a lot more money than all their friends’ parents and we have to pretend like we don’t. I bought my daughter a car. What I did was she had to buy her first car for $1,000 from a customer. I don’t need to be doing this, but I felt like it’s helpful for her. I came in here and we worked on it together. We changed the oil together. We put in a cabin filter and air filter. The headlight had a bunch of fog in it and I helped her get the fog out of the headlight. She did fix this old car up.
We get it all fixed up. She drives it for two years and dad got sick of putting money in it so I decided I want to buy her a new car. I was going to buy her either a Subaru or a Honda. I’m sitting here going, “How do I not spoil my child? Teach them responsibility, let her be a little afraid, a little scared, but while she’s under my roof, knowing I can step in and help her, making her worry, I won’t, but I know I will under my roof. How do I pull this off? I came up with this idea with my wife to give her $26,000 cash. She came downstairs and said, “Sweetie, we want to talk to you.” Her name is Journey. I said, “Journey, I want to give you $26,000.” She’s like, “What?” I said, “I’m going to give you $26,000. You’re going to trade your car in. You can get either a Subaru or a Honda. I don’t care which. It has to pay for everything.” She’s like, “No way.” I was like, “Yeah.” She gives me a hug, gives her mom a hug and I go, “There’s one catch.” She’s like, “What’s the catch?” I said, “You get to keep the money that’s leftover.” She’s like, “That’s even better.” She didn’t catch it yet.
We go to the dealership. She decides on a Honda, a Civic hatchback, brand new. I know the guys over there are giving me a deal. It was like, “This one’s $21,000 plus tax. This one is $23,000 plus tax. This one’s $24,000 plus tax.” All of them, she could get under the $26,000 out the door with tax. One of them, she’s left $400. One of them, she’s left $2,200 and one of them she’s left $3,900. It wasn’t until she did the math and had her trade-in. She had to negotiate the trade-in. She’s missing cheer practice to write the check out of her checking account.
Her mom is saying, “It’s not a big deal. I know you wanted to write the check. She’s going to go to cheer practice.” I said, “She’s missing practice. She’s writing this freaking check.” My daughter sat there at eighteen years old and she wrote that check and signed Journey Stokes. She’s like, “Dad, I’ve never written a check over $100. I don’t even know what to do. It’s just only the third check I’ve even torn out of my checkbook.” I’m watching her struggle, but she struggled badly the night before. I didn’t let her buy it. I made her sleep on it.
She’s like, “Dad, if I buy the EX, I’ll have this feature, this feature, and I’ll have the backup camera. I’ll have cloth seats. If I get the LX, I’ll have leather seats. EXL had leather seats, but everybody who knows Hondas knows all the models. There’s another one that had nothing.” She’s like, “I think teenager Journey likes this one, but adult Journey would like this one.” She decides on black. She says, “I don’t know what to do. How much money should I save? Dad, that’s a lot of money to be leftover.” I knew that leftover money would sneak up on her, but I got worried I was wrong.Never stop recruiting because you're going to make mistakes. - Aaron Stokes Click To Tweet
Right at the end, I watched it sneak up and she struggled to make that decision. She couldn’t sleep the night before, which I loved that. I loved that she was scared to death she was making the wrong decision because she needs to make these decisions. Our kids need to make these decisions. When you’re in a wealthy family, it’s easy to take that character-building situation away from your child when they need it. I let her struggle. I let her go through it. She wrote the check, decided on the middle one, and she took home $2,200. She told me, “Dad, I’ve only got $2,900 in all my accounts.” She had saved up $1,000. She’s like, “It’s only $19.85 in my savings and I’m down to $920 in my checking. I’m freaking out. I’ve got to get a babysitting job. Who can I work with?” I’m like, “Thank you, guys. This is awesome.” I loved it because I never had that. I didn’t have that.
You have to talk to your kid like they’re a freaking adult. Don’t talk to them like they’re a teenager. You’re going to talk to your ten-year-old and tell them how much you love them. My other daughter, Ashland, all she says to me is, “I love you more.” In the middle of the night, I go up there and I told her I love her. She’s asleep and she’s like, “Love you more.” She rolls over like there’s always this contest between us. I talk to her like she’s an adult. When I asked them to go to the radio show with me on Saturday mornings and they don’t want to go because they’re teenagers and they want to sleep. I let them not go. I don’t beat them up. I do make them go to church. You make them do a few other things but the biggest thing is I talk to them like they’re an adult and I tell them everything that’s going on.
I hear you saying, Aaron, on a couple of levels is you talk to them, you include them, you live life together with them. It’s not compartmentalized or separate. You fail together. You succeed together. You communicate together. These are a handful of things that pop out for me overall. Thank you for taking us on that journey with Journey in her car buying experience, which is awesome. As you’re reading this, can you learn something from maybe the way that Aaron parents? How you do anything in many ways is how you do everything. If you can parent this way, likely you can build a team this way. Your team becomes a group of people who buy into what you do instead of being sold into what you do. There’s a big difference in those two. It’s about culture-building. Aaron is one of the best at building cultures.
I’m shifting the conversation a little bit here, Aaron. You’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of service business owners working in your repair business, working with Shop Fix Academy. You’ve got the businesses that you run. You lead by example as a servant leader and steward. If you had to narrow down, looking at your success. If you were starting over if you were giving advice to the, 19, 20-year-old Aaron and our audience with all the stuff in the last several months and things are changing at a rapid rate. There’s the threat of the economy taking a big deep dive, what are 3 to 5 breakthroughs or strategies that you would hope you would’ve known when you were nineteen that maybe you didn’t know and/or the 3 to 5 strategies that these are the needle movers? These are the breakthroughs that I know can help you transform. What would those be?
One would be every business that I help that’s always broken, cash, systems and people. I believe in cash capital, system capital and people capital. I meet clients all the time. They’ve got systems and they’ve got the cash. They suck at people. They suck at training people. They suck at being patient with people. They expect them to have the same commitment to the job because they say they supposedly did. It’s funny how we all think we were amazing employees whenever we were employees. None of us probably were because it wasn’t ours. We expect them to act like they have skin in the game, but they don’t. When you act like that, you are lying to yourself. You need people to be employees. You need people not to be as good as you. That’s how you build a business.
They want to exchange risk for security. You don’t, but maybe they do. It doesn’t make them a worse person. One of the main reasons they’re not succeeding and the number one area I always see everybody fail on by far is the people side, not cash, not systems. I can teach you systems. I can teach you cash. It’s the people side. If you don’t understand how to grow someone and turn them into something amazing, how to use the right tonality, how to motivate them and kick them in the pants and make them go, “I love Aaron Stokes,” when you leave.
To be able to know you cut through the crap, to have them tell another employee a sob story. You walk in and you go, “I don’t even want to hear it.” You go right to the heart of the issue and cut through all that. It takes a level of relational capacity that most do not understand how to build or have. It comes down to you understanding relationships and understanding people. That brings us back to what’s even more important the way I built Shop Fix peers, heroes and mentors. Peers are people you connect with on a you-to-you level and they get you. They understand what’s going on. Heroes are people that have done it and gotten ahead of you and you want to be like. Mentors are people that give you instruction with a relationship. The number one tip I can give anybody in business is to find a mentor. I still remember the day I sat in a man’s living room with ten people. He sat on the hearth drinking a Coors Light. He sat there and looked around the room and he said, “The wealthiest in this room will probably not even be in business in ten years. The smallest business in this room could be the biggest.”
I was the smallest that day and I am now the biggest. I sat in that man’s living room at that time. I watched this whole thing unfold. He’d have events at his house and I’d sit there on a lawn chair and wait for everybody to talk to him. I’d be the last person to leave. I didn’t care. I’d walk up to him and start talking to him. I knew nobody was behind me. I could talk as long as you need to talk to this guy. I still remember the day he looked at me and gave me permission to succeed. He said, “You’re going to do amazing. You could be better than me someday. If you commit yourself to it, you could be better than me.” It was like the ceiling that had always been there.
I still remember it was like somebody came and ripped the ceiling off. I looked up and I was going, “Have you seen that there, Dan? The sky is blue.” It blew me away and had somebody give me permission to be successful because I had this mindset that I could only be allowed to be this successful. When that guy did that, our relationship was born, I still talk to him all the time. I’ve watched him ascend. I’ve watched his wealth increase dramatically, one of the wealthiest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. As I’ve watched this guy and his success, I don’t agree with probably three-quarters of what he says. That’s crazy. A lot of people are not able to bring a mentor in their life that doesn’t have the same religious, political, business views.
People sometimes get hung up on the package that’s being delivered to you, being cared for by a certain person. You’ve got to honor the package. You’ve got to see it for what it is. When it lands in front of you, you’ve got to shut your mouth and you’ve got to listen. When that guy talks, I shut my mouth and I listen. A lot of times I disagree with what he’s saying, but he still has something to teach me. He’s still far ahead of me. I see all of his flaws and his deficiencies, but I see all of his strengths. I see all the stuff he’s got figured out. I still don’t. If somebody takes a position of reverence and respect towards somebody. You don’t have to be corny about it and go, “Will you be my mentor, Dan? Will you tell me what to do?”
You go and you find somebody and you say, “Can I take you to lunch? Can I take you to breakfast?” You get that going. You need them in your town. He doesn’t even live in my town. He lives in another town. When you get somebody like that around you, you build that relationship, you talk once a month, once every two months or whatever. If it’s meant to be, it will be like a 45-minute to a 2-hour conversation of catching up in everything that’s going on. Those conversations are powerful. Nothing can move the needle. A mastermind didn’t even move the needle for me as fast as having that one relationship, having somebody give me permission to succeed. This poor white trailer trash could be more than what I thought I was. Everybody out there who’s reading has to give themselves permission.
You have to find somebody that’s going to help teach you this part because this is the part that matters. You can learn the systems. I can teach systems. There are 100 people out there that could teach you systems. It’s a textbook study. We can all teach you how to manage money. People as an art form, it’s physical, emotional. You’ve got to remember. You’ve got to use your memory. What is this guy’s name? When you walk up to this employee, when you’ve got a lot of employees, it’s something that takes a whole level of skill. If you want to grow, you would have a real business. It’s not when you’ve got 2 or 3 people working for you and you to go, “I’ve got a business.”
When you get a real business, you’ve got a lot of people you’re paying to be responsible for things you don’t want to deal with anymore. You’ve grown and you know you had something large yourself at one point. That takes a lot of responsibility and it takes you to decide that you’re going to be given people. You’re going to get people. You’re going to be patient with people. If anything could have helped me more, besides the fact that I didn’t know anything when I was a kid, but I had heard that and been told over and over, understand people, learn about people. I have a quote on the wall from John D. Rockefeller. It says in essence that, I’ve got guys that can do anything, but the thing I pay most for, that I will pay more than anything else is somebody that knows how to work with people. That’s the key.
As you’re reading this, I hope that you’ve been taking notes. I’ve got 4.5 pages of notes, cash, capital, systems and people. What would happen for you if you could improve your ability to work with people, even a small percentage, 3%, 5%, 10% a month for the next year? How would that impact your business? What does it cost you if you’re not good with people? If you do not remember their names, remembering some of the things that move them, motivate them, demotivate them and more. What would it be worth for you to set up your peer-hero-mentor group, to get a mentor? There’s the Rule of 1-3-10. Your level of advice at $100,000 business is going to be different at $300,000, which will be different at $1 million. Your level of advice or mentoring will go up as you go up. You can’t skip by necessarily.
If you want to go up, grow up, build a framework of peers, heroes, mentors, find a mentor, whether it’s Aaron, who’s amazing at what he does in his industries and many other industries that it translates to or some of the work we do or others out there. By all means, find mentoring. Someone who has been there and done it. Who’s leading by example, who share some of your similar values. Aaron, what are 1 to 3 action steps that you hope our audience take from our conversation time now?
I coach a lot of people when they’re growing a business and they call me up and they say, “I want to open up a second location,” or “I want to expand into this new market,” or “I want to do whatever.” For those of you that have the opportunity, don’t mistake opportunity always as a good opportunity. When you’re on the road of preparedness, you’re going to pass a lot of streets, opportunity drive, opportunity lanes. Some of them are opportunity court, which means they’re a cul-de-sac. Go down that street. You’re going to boomerang and it’s not good. Do not jump into something until you have the cash capital, the systems capital and most importantly, the people capital that means bench strength. You’ve got people behind people.Get the right people, don't burn them out. Pay them well, line them up, and understand that you can't do business on your own. - Aaron Stokes Click To Tweet
Dan, who’s got a business can tell you, people will quit you. People will leave you. They won’t stay with you forever. People you can depend on for a long time are going to sadly betray you at some point. They may not betray you, but you’ll feel at least that way. Bad things will happen. What do you have in the coffers? What do you have saved up? You can save up a lot of money, but money will not ever solve the problems that ultimately are going to come your way. If you have the right people on the bus, it’s going to be a game-changer. I would encourage you, if you have the opportunity and you’re like, “I’m ready to grow.” Let’s stop and think for a second. Do I have managers behind managers? Do I have advisors behind advisors? Do I have salesmen behind salesmen? Do I have laborers behind laborers, etc.?
Backups, I know hiring fatigue can happen, but if you want to grow a company, if you want to do more, sorry, straight from Gatorade, get back out there on the field. Let’s go. You’ve got to keep interviewing and you may have to stay the interviews out. Maybe you get some more people involved so you’re not doing as many, but you never stop recruiting. You’re going to make mistakes and when you end up on opportunity court, it’s a cul-de-sac. It wasn’t the opportunity that was going to take you anywhere like you thought it was and you missed it and you didn’t take the opportunity lane instead. That’s the crazy part. We all see the opportunity. It’s like the sign is a little blurry. We can’t see the courts and we can’t see the lane or the drive.
You’re driving to the highway and fast and you mistake it. By the time you turn on it, you know when you made a mistake. When you make that mistake, you can get more money. The system piece, you can learn from another guy. You can get more systems, but if you have collateral damage on the people side, it’s going to cost you time and you cannot get any more time. Time is gone. I want to encourage everybody out there, get the right people, don’t burn them out, pay them well, line them up, get bench debts and understand that you can’t do this on your own. Those of you that have small businesses that are making good money, but you stopped growing. You keep thinking the next great way to do it is to leverage this or leverage that.
In our internet world, that’s a common language, which is stupid to me. You can’t leverage that. Until you start mentoring and growing your own people, you will not grow. You’re going to have a sucky boss, I’m a sucky leader, I’m a sucky whatever. Personal development, go back, chase the books. I’m sure Dan’s probably got 100 podcasts on that topic. You cannot do more until you learn more and you can’t earn more until you learn more. I want to encourage you, please dive into that stuff so that you can become all you can so that you can make a difference. Ending up in opportunity court is not going to change anybody’s life except your own in a negative way.
Speaking of that, Aaron, where can people go if they want to connect with you, learn more about what you’re doing? You’ve got a wealth of resources, tools, strategies, insights, programs, coaching, and mentoring available. Where can people connect with you?
I try to stay in the auto repair space. I speak at a lot of other events, but I try to stay there. If you go to Shop Fix Academy‘s Facebook page, there’s a lot there. I do a lot inside of Facebook groups. People don’t even think I’m on Facebook much, but I’m probably on Facebook 2.5 hours a day inside of hidden groups that other people can’t get into. A lot of the information you won’t be able to get there, but you can hit me up at Aaron@ShopFixAcademy.com. You can find me there. ShopFixAcademy.com is the website. There’s not much going on there. In fact, we try to make it look like there’s not much going on there. You won’t see anything about my coaching or masterminds. It’s all hidden.
We do everything inside of these Facebook groups. I will tell you that I do throw out some free videos and stuff every now and then on YouTube. There are a couple of things, but we are about to launch a whole business side, general business, trying to give some free knowledge out there on YouTube. Right now, the best way would probably be ShopFixAcademy.com, Aaron@ShopFixAcademy.com or message me on Facebook. I’m always on there. I’m on LinkedIn but I never get on it. My Instagram, I never get on it. I locked into Facebook because I can only master one thing at a time. I’m not that bright. I have free videos on the Shop Fix Academy Facebook page. There is some free stuff there. If you need a butt-kicking, that’s my style, me yelling at my smartphone. If you need something like that, you can find it there.
I’d encourage you, connect with Aaron at ShopFixAcademy.com. Connect with him through Facebook chat, get connected in a group. Find a way to get connected in a group. Get the details. Find out what you can do. You won’t be sorry. You will be sorry if you don’t get connected to this guy, but you’ll be happy. Connect with him at his website or Aaron@ShopFixAcademy.com. Aaron, it’s been a pleasure to have fun with you and keep up the great work.
I encourage you to take action with what Aaron has been sharing with you. Get a mentor, find a mentor, focus on the people side of it. It starts with you. Leadership starts from within, not from outside. Work on you, work on mentoring and being a mentor, being a coach. What is a CEO? It’s nothing more than being a mentor, being a great coach, being a great steward, a great leader and transferring that leadership to others. If you want to do more of that, connect with Aaron. If you never want to miss an episode, go to GrowthToFreedom.com/subscribe. Over 200 hours of insight, strategies, wisdom with people like Aaron. Seize the day. Make it a great week. We’ll see you next time on GrowthToFreedom.com.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Shop Fix Academy
- Jeremy Weisz – past episode
- The Obstacle is the Way
- Shop Fix Academy – Facebook page
- YouTube – Aaron Stokes
- LinkedIn – Aaron Stokes
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About Aaron Stokes
Aaron is the operator of 6 auto repair shops and the radio show host of "Fixin' Cars with Aaron Stokes" on Nashville's 99.7 WTN. His story is compelling and proves that little is impossible with hard work and determination.
His journey as an auto repair entrepreneur started in 1999 when he was involved in a car crash that left him stranded cashless across state lines, inevitably forcing him to work side jobs and study car repair as a way to fix his vehicle to get back home in Franklin, TN. Fortunately, Aaron had a solid foundation already in basic engine repair as a result of many years of fixing and “tinkering” with dirt-bikes and four-wheelers throughout his childhood. By chance, it was this event that triggered his love for car repair and inspired him to go into business for himself offering fast, convenient and reliable European auto repair. In 1999, Aaron started his first shop in a one car garage near Downtown Franklin. A few months later, he moved his business to an old barn located behind his house in order to be closer to his family. Five years later, solely from the quality of customer satisfaction and word of mouth recommendations, Aaron decided to try and expand Eurofix to a larger location in town. This "tipping point" was the catalyst that paved the way for future locations across Middle Tennessee which grew to 3 successful locations. In 2014, Aaron began the process of expanding again and this lead him to eventually add 1 additional EuroFix store. Then start a new brand of shops focused on American and Asian cars called "AutoFix". AutoFix has 2 locations. Along the way, he also started a Rental Car company and also hosts a very popular local radio show.
Aaron's decision to start Shop Fix Academy began after Aaron and several other shop owners who were friends with Aaron found themselves dissatisfied with other coaching and master mind programs they had joined. They found these other programs to be incredibly expensive, but offer little actual substance in their teachings. Because these friends had watched Aaron use his unique talents and techniques to grow, they encouraged Aaron to begin his own training and coaching program. He decided he wanted his program to be unlike anything else in the market!
When Aaron started Shop Fix Academy, he didn't want it to be like the other coaching companies that charged a fortune, but delivered weak content and little value. That's why Shop Fix Academy goes deeper, offers more content, and provides more value than anything else. We aren't looking to get rich off the backs of fellow shop-owners... we are looking to change the independent automotive industry from the owners down.