#DIY…Auto Shop?

Everyone knows a family member or friends who likes to/is capable of doing project themselves. With the prevalence of YouTube videos and easy access to parts online it’s easier than ever to do a non-extensive car repair on your own. According to a report by AutoPartsWarehouse more than 90% of hobbyist mechanics working in their own driveway say they would continue to do the work themselves even if their financial situation improved significantly.

These industry trends got John Pennella, owner of The Garage in Wichita, Kan, thinking about a business opportunity that would provide DIY mechanics with commercial-grade spaces for performing their own repairs in the comfort and safety of an actual shop. He opened Auto Shop DIY, after thinking of ways to lease his shop’s time and equipment for fewer overheads than traditional full-service centers. “I’m not getting any younger,” Says Pennella. “So it’s a way of creating a low-overhead facility with very minimal employees to manage. There’s a lot of money on the rent side of it, but there are [ways] to generate additional revenue.”

 Auto Shop DIY

After moving The Garage (opened in 2005) to a three-building property in 2009, Pennella decided to close down the low-margin lube portion of the business in 2014 and dedicated the 3,00 square feet of space to Auto Shop DIY. This was designed to deliver higher margins with dramatically less overhead than a traditional repair center. “For the most part, a lube center requires personnel, and personnel are expensive,” Pennella says. “The lube center was no longer creating the kind of income I would have liked, so I started thinking about how I could do something a little different.”

Pennella got the idea for the DIY repair shop while visiting his sister and her husband who is stationed at the Fort Sill United States Army post in southwestern Oklahoma. A hobby shop space was located on base where retired personnel could work on their own vehicles, with all the common tools provided. In addition, Pennella is a private airplane pilot and had experience with pilot-assisted maintenance, where owners can work on their own planes with optional assistance from a trained aircraft mechanic. Putting those two ideas together he planned to turn over four bays of his current space to cater to a DIY audience in Wichita, a growing metro area with nearly 400,000 residents.

The vision was to provide at-home, DIY mechanics with a climate-controlled indoor garage space, a 10,000-pound life, basic hand tools, a laptop, six-inch vice, stool and access to an air compressor for an hourly rate of $29.99. For specialty equipment like the shop’s hydraulic press, transmission jack or pneumatic tools are available at additional charges. If a customer has questions or gets stumped, one of Pennella’s technicians is dedicated for assistance purposes for $49.99 per hour.

 A Complex Proposition

Auto Shop DIY doesn’t take away potential customers from Pennella’s other business, it’s more like an opportunity to capture customers his business would never see otherwise. Specifically true do-it-yourselfers looking to do their own repairs in a cleaner, more spacious facility than they have available at their home garage.
“If you’re a true do-it-yourselfer, you car probably never gets into an automotive facility,” he says. “That’s the business I’m going after – the person that doesn’t have a way to put [their vehicle] up in the air, but would figure out some way to do it. This is a safer, easier way for the do-it-yourselfer to get the work done.”

Despite word-of-mouth, and enthusiastic reviews from early adopters and other shop owners, Pennella hasn’t seen the amount of business desired, though he expects a large winter-time boost because of the heated space. For the first full year Pennella projects $300,000 in revenue for the Auto Shop DIY segment.

“I’m very optimistic because the people I talk to at car shows, everyone I talk to thinks it’s an awesome idea,” he says.

Building Awareness and Gaining Positive Reviews

Though the do-it-yourself repair shop concept is still new, many DIY shops can be found nationwide with a simple internet search. With more recognition from aggressive advertising, Pennella has seen an increase in new customers.

“It’s not designed for the average guy doing an oil change, because I can’t figure out a way to cut the price for such a small job,” he says. “Today’s cars have all these shields that you have to remove…[and] you find out real quick, getting a car in and out in a half an hour is pretty tough to do.”

Recurring customers from The Garage have often rented space at Auto Shop DIY for repairs they rather do themselves and vise versa. Rennella has seen many positive reviews on Auto Shop DIY’s Facebook page boasting a clean, safe environment, good prices and customer service.

 “As a business owner with a [traditional] repair facility, you can’t get people to even go to your Facebook page, let alone write nice reviews of how excited they were about your repair job,” Pennella says. “They go on [the Auto Shop DIY’s] Facebook, post pictures and are just excited about it all.”

Steve Geret