In the shadow of Detroit's Big Three automakers, Windsor Ontario's MSJ Automotive Services is a "best practices" shop that's a Carquest Excellence Award winner and also an SSGM Garage of the Year finalist.
In 14 years in the business, John Sawatsky knows cars. As owner of Windsor, Ontario’s MSJ Automotive Services, Sawatsky is a licensed and ASE certified technician as well as a former Super Late Model stock car racer with an office full of trophies. These days, however, the 44-year-old father of three races the balance sheet and in the process has developed MSJ, an AutoPLACE bannered shop, into a ten-plus-three bay operation that employs fifteen. The shop is something of a flagship for CARQUEST Canada, as the firm’s 2002 Excellence Award winner for Canada, as well as an SSGM Garage of the Year finalist for two years running.
The facility is nondescript on the outside, but in the bays, attention to detail has produced a comfortable, productive work environment. The ten-bay main building is approximately 10,000 square feet, and a dedicated 2000 square foot three bay emission building houses a Drive Clean dyno and emissions repair bay that’s clean and bright enough to serve as a seminar room for regional AARO (Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario) meetings.
Sawatsky is quick to attribute his firm’s success to the skill of his staff. “We have eight ASE certified people, he declares, adding, “we enjoyed the challenge. I wrote it at the same time. It was as challenging as the original “C of Q” exam. For the individuals its good for their morale, but from the point of view of the consumer, I’m not convinced that Ontario has understood what ASE is compared to the U.S. In the ‘State’s it’s almost mandatory to be a recognized quality shop.”
Sawatsky feels that recertification is good for the industry: “I believe the trade would be better quality if we did that. Maybe every five years or so. Training is very important.”
On the management training side, Sawatsky has attended Bob Greenwood’s E.K. Williams courses as well as AARO events and recommends management training as a given for a competent shop.
Some of the results of the training are a focus on the front office and attention to employee retention. “Employees are the biggest challenge; making sure they’re qualified and happy. Keeping staff can be a challenge. I’ve been very fortunate with that”, notes Sawatsky, who’s employees average about ten years of service. Compensation includes medical, dental and pension benefits.
Alternate fuel conversion is a specialty, as well as fleet maintenance for customers such as the Windsor’s police department and FedEx. Interestingly, Sawatsky prefers to subcontract alignment work. Systems are integrated through a network running PACE software with Mitchell1 On Demand at two terminals in the bays.
Another “secret” of success at MSJ is a very small inventory of fast turning parts and a good working relationship with the firm’s parts suppliers. Naturally, as an AutoPLACE shop, Sawatsky does the majority of his business with the local Carquest store. “I believe in a good relationship with our suppliers, says Sawatsky. “To shop around to save money…the theory is wrong. It’s their job to find parts, so we can get on with what we do best.
MSJ Automotive Services is centrally located in a major Canadian city, but the flavour of the operation is decidedly “down home”. Can you run a “best practices” operation and still have fun these days? John Sawatsky answers simply: “Absolutely”.
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