By William Johnson
Chris Myers is in some ways the accidental owner of five repair shop locations in the Wichita, KS, area. Not that he wound up a shop owner by accident; Chris never had a doubt that he would own a shop someday. He was and remains a man on a mission to provide his neighbors in Wichita with the high-quality service and repair he believes they crave and deserve.
His journey to owning those five locations has been far from conventional, and his operation’s growth and success far from ordinary, but the faith that grounds him and the beliefs that drive him are as clear as they are firm.
“I had worked for a few companies, both good and bad, and I learned some important things,” says Chris. “How to treat customers, and how I didn’t want to be treated as an employee. I wanted to have a shop to call my own and be able to run things my way.”
That mission first took shape when Chris developed a friendship with an owner who was looking to retire. Chris was ready to step back into the automotive industry after working as a commercial electrician for a time, an experience that taught him the office side of the business: service management, inventory, equipment purchases, and material planning for jobs.
Opportunity and preparation met in August 2009, when Chris purchased the business. The plan was for the outgoing owner to serve as a sounding board for the coming years as Chris learned the ropes of shop ownership.
Myers Automotive Andover
What the plan didn’t account for was one month later, when an equipment sales company put Chris in touch with another owner who was looking to sell. More than that, this business wasn’t just auto repair, but also a gas station, convenience store, and car wash. “Expanding to additional locations was always a possibility,” says Chris, “but I didn’t expect it so quickly.”
So, it was that Chris went from owning no locations to two auto repair shops and three other operations in the space of a few months.
“I didn’t know any better,” admits Chris. “I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to do that.”
The transition was not smooth. Chris had hired a manager to oversee the new location and related businesses, but at the end of the first day, that manager resigned.
“I’m still friends with him,” says Chris, “but what do you do? A lot of 80-hour weeks ensued.”
Complicating matters was the fact that the year 2009 was in the middle of the Great Recession, and that those shop owners were selling their businesses for a reason. “There were a lot of very early to very late days, not always with appropriate staffing,” says Chris. “I didn’t know that I shouldn’t expand. I wasn’t held back by fear.”
In spite of all of that uncertainty, doubt and seemingly unconventional business decisions, sales doubled that first month. “We gave the customer base something they were lacking,” says Chris. Just as he’d hoped, his neighbors in Wichita were craving something more from their auto repair choices, and they responded to his mission to provide excellent customer service and skilled repairs.
Strangely enough, history repeated itself.
In late 2016, Chris opened his third location, a brand-new facility he had built from the ground up. Within a month, he jumped at an opportunity to purchase a shop in West Wichita. Two locations were suddenly and unexpectedly four.
The company, by his own admission, was not ready to double in size in a month.
What followed was the kind of institutional drift that often affects multi-location operations. Chris was less able to keep his eyes on all corners of the business, and the people he hired to help him lead the locations were not running things up to the mission or standards that had led Chris to become an owner.
When it was obvious that the organizational drift was harming Chris’ core mission to care for his neighbors, he knew he had to take action.
“I had the wrong people in place,” admits Chris. “The culture I wanted wasn’t the culture we had. We were falling short.”
It was time for a major rebuild.
“A lot of times you start a rebuild from the bottom up,” says Chris. “But when the problem is leadership, you need a different approach.”
Stanley Konz, who had started working for Chris as a technician in January 2019, saw the rotting foundation up close. “The people in charge were taking advantage of Chris,” says Stanley. “They tried to put me in a compromised position so that I would side with them. I told Chris about what was going on in confidence.”
Chris cleaned house from the top down, keeping only those employees who were aligned with the company’s core goals. The only thing that mattered was whether they were committed to that mission of caring for each other, for their neighbors, and for their community.
For six hard months in 2019, Chris shut down the West Wichita location entirely to regroup and retrain his operation. “At one point, we had four shops and 15 total employees,” says Stanley. “But it was necessary.”
On December 16, 2019, it was time to reopen the West location. “I was there myself, along with a new system I was installing called Shop4D.”
The need for the right people went beyond those inside the organization, according to Chris. “I was not aligning myself with the right people and not asking the right questions,” says Chris.
In early 2021, Chris was ready to align with those right people and ask those right questions, and found what he needed in David Rogers and Terry Keller, the president and CEO of Auto Profit Masters and the minds behind Shop4D.
“It’s one thing to be naive, but you reach a point in business where you realize you want to do it differently. You want to tap into the knowledge of people who have that experience. Coaching was that for me.”
Through Auto Profit Masters, Chris learned how to interpret the numbers in his operation so he could evaluate decisions and measure the impact of any change he made, good or bad. Chris also received incentive pay plans for his team from Auto Profit Masters that rewarded employees for doing the things that protected and grew the business.
“You know what you need to do to increase your salary,” says Stanley, now the general manager for all Myers Automotive locations, about incentive pay plans. “It becomes much easier to understand how to control it. We focus on what’s important and everything else works itself out.”
Before closing to retrain, the West Wichita location had never turned a profit and was a constant source of financial stress for the organization. By a year later, rebuilt and retrained with a stronger team and key tools for maximizing efficiency like Shop4D, the picture was different.
In 2020, the four shops did a combined $2.6 million in sales.
In 2021, the same four locations did $3.7 million.
In 2022, sales had grown to $5.4 million.
Myers’ West location, once unable to turn a profit, has grown from $299k to $1.2 million.
That growth has led Chris to make good on another of his core beliefs: that a rising tide raises all ships. Since his team is on incentive pay plans, that means they gave themselves raises by helping to grow the operation. But true to Chris’ mission, the giving back hasn’t ended there.
“I love how the company has grown,” says Stanley. “It has helped us be a bigger part of our community. We’ve been able to add retirement plans for technicians. We had opportunities to create life skills programs for high school and special needs students. We’ve seen some of those kids come work for us, and we’ll see them go to college and beyond. The biggest impacts we’ll see haven’t even happened yet.
“I love helping the next generation of technicians grow up,” adds Stanley. “I love that they can have it better than we did 20 years ago. I’m thankful every day. I fully believe that I work with the best group of guys growing in what we do.”
For Chris, the mission needs to remain the same, no matter how large the operation grows: to run an operation that stands apart in its steadfast commitment to protecting customers and employees.
This has remained true as Myers Automotive opened its fifth location in 2023 just outside of Wichita in a town called Towanda, and must remain true as he eyes expanding into additional locations.
“I don’t want to open locations and just grow for growth’s sake,” says Chris. “I want to get my will out of the way, and I believe that means the future of this company must include giving back to our community.”
Once working 80-hour weeks to hold together his fledgling operation, Chris now manages his five locations remotely, thanks to the tools inside Shop4D and the coaching he receives from Auto Profit Masters. Instead of micromanaging to ensure that the team is performing to his standards and hitting critical benchmarks, he is able to spend more time with his wife of 23 years and his two young sons, aged five and six.
His eyes are always lifted up, however, and focused on improving the lives of everyone in his organization and community. With a clear mission, critical tools and coaching in place, and a team culture built on caring for others, Chris has a lot of reasons to hope for the future.
“I hope that this company continues to have the impact that I know it can on the community,” says Chris. “I hope that maybe my sons want to work for this company someday. I hope that the people in this organization and their loved ones want to be a part of this.”
Read the article here on Shop Owner Magazine.