Paving His Own Way
You hear about it all the time in this industry. Children, following in their parents’ footsteps, take over shops when the time comes for them to retire.
Although Justin Fisher did take over CARSTAR Yorkville from his father, Dean Fisher, this is not the typical industry story. Justin did not grow up wanting to work in the industry. He never pictured himself taking over the shop from his father. In fact, Justin says he never wanted to work for his father at all. After college, where he obtained a degree in business administration from Northern Illinois University, he worked as a project manager for a manufacturing company that designed and built cafeteria and food service environments. After he took the company national, Justin found himself interested in purchasing a business.
Dean opened his Yorkville shop in 1994 and had 20 years of success before he decided that he wanted to pursue a new challenge—vice president of operations for CARSTAR corporate. So, when Dean mentioned to his son that he was interested in him taking over the shop, it was perfect timing. On January 1, 2014, Justin took over sole ownership of the company from his father.
By planning ahead and using his knowledge from outside of the industry, Justin was able to keep the Yorkville shop a success and even opened a second location, CARSTAR Poplar in Ottawa, Ill., three months ago. In fact, Justin has been so successful he was named the 2018 Franchisee of the Year at CARSTAR’s annual conference. Justin shares what the transition was like with FenderBender and his thoughts on what has allowed him to remain successful.
When you took over, was there any tension between you and your dad?
It was a seamless transition because he was ready—that makes a huge difference. With sons growing up in the business, there can be tension if the father isn’t ready to let go. My dad let me go in and do what I needed to do while he coached and mentored me through the process.
Did he offer you any words of wisdom?
Not specifically but throughout the process, he would add his thoughts and let me evaluate. I think it was fun for him because he had an outside set of eyes evaluating his business and his process. It was educational for him, too, I think.
You didn’t grow up in the industry. How do you think your unique background has given you a different perspective?
I think a lot of people that are stuck in the industry don’t know how it is in other industries. Things are hard in other industries—it’s not just this one. I managed a couple of different telemarketing companies out of college and that’s a different world. There are definitely worse things out there.
When you transitioned ownership, do you think it was difficult for the people that worked for him to look at you as their boss?
I would say most definitely, especially because I was the son of the owner. You know, it was “What does this kid who’s only 30 years old know? What’s he doing in this industry? What’s he doing buying a store? How does that make any sense?” There was a few months of that. But, my leadership style is a little unorthodox and they responded really well to it and we were able to overcome some of those challenges very early on and establish a nice culture there.
Can you describe your leadership style?
I’m a coach, a mentor—I don’t dictate things. I don’t micromanage. I delegate. I put people to be in a position to either be successful or fail, [as a leader] you have to allow yourself to watch them do that.
Twelve of my 15 employees are under the age of 36. My operations manager at the Yorkville location is in his early 30s and I trust him to make those decisions. It’s been fun to be able to watch that growth. I’m all about reflective supervision. Attitude reflects leadership and that’s how we manage.
Being a millennial yourself, do you feel you’re better equipped to lead them?
Maybe that’s the case, I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint it. I don’t know if there’s a different peer respect level. I’ve done a lot of research on millennials and it seems like it was easy to make that transition for me.
I’ll take techs coming out of schools and make the investment to train them and educate them to build them into our system rather than taking someone that’s more seasoned but might be set in someone else’s ways and stuck in an old mindset. I think you can teach an old dog new tricks, to a certain point, but I think there’s opportunity to be had with an eager and motivated millennial.
What’s it been like with the second shop?
It’s definitely more difficult. I put a lot of work and effort into it. We have a high standard at my Yorkville location, so I needed to make sure it all came up to those standards at the new location.
I was able to retain the staff there, which is awesome and they’re all great. The culture was there, which is a great building block. If I hadn’t already had that piece there, it would have made it much more difficult. We made building upgrades, equipment improvements, general education—everything we have in place at Yorkville—that’s all starting to take place at the new location. We’re trying to get caught up and do everything we’ve done over the last three years in Yorkville in six months, which is challenging, but manageable.
You were named the 2018 Franchisee of the Year, which is a huge honor. What do you think has allowed you to be so successful?
It’s a tough question to answer because I’m humble in the fact that I haven’t been in this a long time and I don’t necessarily think I deserve that award. Corporate staff will always tell you it’s the KPI metrics and there are shops that are top performers. We’re one of the most innovative and progressive stores in the network and that success has been driven from the culture that we talked about. I think that has a lot to do with it. We’re team players. We help peers set examples and we have a constant improvement mentality.