Chris Stephens is part of a three-man hit team of hope in a series called Garage Rehab, now back for season two on Discovery.
The experience Chris has running a real garage is invaluable to the people who seek out the show star Richard Rawlings in a bid to up their bottom line.
Fans of the show know that Rawlings has built an empire as the owner of Gas Monkey Garage in Dallas, TX, and his returning newer series premise of “rehabbing” struggling garages across America is an informative watch.
It gives observers who might be garage owners great tips on improving their balance sheet.
In this series, Stephens is partnered with New Yorker Russell J. Holmes along with Richard as they travel the country to find garage businesses in need of restoration and rethinking business plans.
The three men use their collective experience to overhaul the company from top to bottom.
Discovery teased us the new season and said:
“This season, in addition to working the biggest build in GARAGE REHAB history (a 20,000 square foot collision repair shop), Richard and his expert team take on their most important rehab yet – a veteran-run garage that teaches automotive repair skills to men and women transitioning out of military service.”
We spoke to Chris Stephens about this exciting season two of Garage Rehab.
Monsters and Critics: Are you down in Texas right now with Rawlings?
Chris Stephens: No. I actually live in Maryland. I have my own automotive shop out here in western Maryland. It’s pretty cold here.
M&C: You guys all come together for the production I assume?
Chris: Yes. Well, we travel all over the country, I don’t really need to be based in Texas.
Actually my other co-host [Russell Holmes], he was living in Long Island, New York, so we were both traveling from the east coast and going wherever these garages needed our help.
M&C You guys went to Sturgis, South Dakota. You would think that no auto shop in Sturgis would be in trouble. How did the Jacobs (family) find you?
Chris: That was the Season 2 premiere. They knew about the show. They know how it works. They [Jacobs] were like, “Listen. We need help.”
They had a great gas station, but actually what you come to find out that gas stations themselves, you don’t make a lot of money off the gasoline.
You need to get them in on everything else from either your merchandise or your convenience store stuff, and then obviously with the service.
They weren’t servicing motorcycles, and their service department was very disorganized, and they weren’t taking full advantage of the one million people that
come to Sturgis for that one+ week a year.
M&C: It would be cool to be at a destination where you could actually look at things, either historical stuff like a museum when waiting for your car. Right? Nobody wants to just sit there and read an old magazine. You want to see things and some buy or eat some good things.
Chris: The other thing is automotive shops have a had a pretty bad rap over a couple of years.
We’re trying to make them a little more inviting…my rule is always like, “If my mother can’t go in there by herself, feel comfortable, get in her car serviced and use the restroom there, then you’ve got a problem.”
I always try to do that way. If it feels unwelcoming, we need to change that. If the size
are confusing on what they do, we need to change that.
Even the process, the step-by-step on how a car gets serviced, we should change that too. A lot of these places, they’re surviving off of word of mouth or because they’ve been around forever, but they’re not really gaining any new customers.
We want anybody to be able to see a shop and look it up on the internet, and it’s very clear on what they do and what they service. That’s what we’re trying to change.
M&C: Sure. Rehab costs money. These people are reaching out to you because obviously they’re skating on thin margins. Where does the money come from and how does Richard get paid? How do you work that part of it?
Chris: Yes. I think it’s because, you’re right, it’s this one last attempt. Right? Because of what Richard Rawlings and Gas Monkey, like the rods, they’re following.
What they can do for this company is a lot different than what a bank can loan you money. The bank might loan you money. They’re not going to tell you how to use that money really, and what they can do for it.
Richard puts it all on the line. Even after we do this rehab and you’re having trouble, you still have almost this hotline. You have this Gas Monkey behind you to help you along the way.
That’s a lot of the behind the scenes that nobody knows about is that we’re helping them. Me and also Richard, even after we leave, we still stay in contact with the owners and employees if they’re asking for any other tips, or if they want to change something.
We’re only out there for a couple of days and we finish this entire garage.
But we’d love to stay with them for a couple of weeks like a newborn or a new puppy. Once they start figuring out how everything works, we give them everything.
We give them all these ideas, all this new equipment, and we change their entire business. Sometimes it can be very startling for them like, “Oh my God. Now, what do I do?”
We know we have to stay on the phone with them, through emails, and DM’s, and Instagram, and social media. We’re trying to help them build along the way. I think we’ve done a pretty good job on that. That’s stuff you just don’t see on TV.
M&C: Well, it’s obvious when a hydraulic lift is repaired or replaced, or equipment is upgraded, that helps the business.
What are some low cost or no cost things that garage owners, can do immediately to their own shop to up their dollars where people actually like coming there even they have to get their car repaired?
Chris: One of the easiest things is cleanliness because it doesn’t cost any money. If you’ve got junk cars, and every shop does, if you’ve some cars sitting out front, out back, and on the side, it’s going to look like a dumpy place. It really costs no money.
Actually, you can make money selling scrap, money getting rid of these trucks.
If you’ve got a project car that’s been living inside your shop, which every shop does, I’ll actually figure out how many square feet that car takes up in the shop, and then tell them how much it costs them per month if they’re leasing this building.
That eye-opening like, “Oh my God. I’m spending 500 bucks for this car to sit there?” You go, “Yeah.”
Sometimes it’s time to cut it loose, clear your slate, and have a nice clean place because nobody’s going to come and be like, “Oh you got that old Camaro sitting in the corner. Now I know I can trust you working on my mini-van.” That never makes any sense.
I think the three things, and this can apply to any kind of business, make sure it’s clean and organized, which should cost you no money.
Also, the signs. I really say less is more because a lot of these shops will have 200 signs on their property.
Sometimes we’ll count up to 50 signs on the front of where to park, and we
service this, and we can do mufflers, and brakes, and transmissions. Yeah. We know. You can do it all. Simplify your signage.
Make it clearer and easy to understand. I think those are some of the freebies that any business can apply.
M&C: It seems like a lot of these garages, too, are a repository for antique signs with our money source. You can call the American Pickers, right, and say, “Hey.”
Chris: I’m telling you I’ve got a rule because I own my own shop out here in Frederick, Maryland. I’ve had it for 15 years. We specialize in vintage and classic European cars.
It’s hard to stay up on that cleanliness and staying organized because you need these old parts around.
Where some other place that does general maintenance, you don’t need old parts around.
My rule, this is a rule of thumb, is it (inside of garage) should never have anything more than $500 hanging on a wall.
What I mean by that is some of these gas station signs, or old dealership signs, are worth big bucks.
There’s no reason for you have that in your shop just so somebody can look at it especially if you’re already struggling.
Some of the first things, I’ll come into a shop and go, “Well, I can count up $1500 bucks worth of just gas stations you’ve got hanging up. That will pay your rent for month, right there.”
That’s my rule of thumb. Never have anything more than 500 bucks.
Also, why have someone else’s logo hanging up?
I understand it’s cool to have a Harley Davidson sign or a Ford sign, but you’re not Harley, and you’re not Ford.
You should have your own logo up there. One of the
things about Gas Monkey Garage is when you pull up, it doesn’t say anything else other than Gas Monkey Garage.
You know his logo. You know his sign. Inside, he’s starting to collect, and he’s allowed to do that, but on the outside, he has nobody else’s logo but his own.
That’s a really good thing. A good thing to go on is if you’ve got a business
have your logo… not someone’s else’s.
M&C: You guys are like a marketing SWAT team. Tell me about the garage run by veterans that also teach automotive repair skills to people transitioning from the military. Can you tell me about this coming episode?
Chris: [Laughs] Yeah. I can probably give you some teasers about it. Yes.
This is for any business is we need more places for veterans to get acclimated back into this society, but also a place for that comradery where you’ve got that real brother and sisterhood that comes together because that’s what they’re used to.
They’re overseas and they’ve got to work together. They’re really protecting each other every day.
Then you come out here, and it’s a different ball game. I like to see a place where people can go. They want to look. Just guys and girls, and they’re overseas, and they come back over.
When they’re at war and they come back, they don’t want to sit at home. They want to get together and have that comradery again.
This is a shop that is exactly that. We basically help put together a plan and a layout where not only can they service vehicles in their community, but also they can teach other veterans on how to work on these vehicles.
There’s some twists that we’ve done, but also there’s no handicap. Everybody can use the equipment. It’s very easy for them to work around it.
If you’re disabled, we have specially built equipment for disabled vets. I think this is going to be really, really, it’s going to be awesome. It’s probably going to tug at your heart string a little bit though.
M&C: Can you tell me where this garage is located?
Chris: Travel from the Atlanta, Georgia area.
M&C: Then you went to South Dakota…
Chris: Sturgis, South Dakota. That’s a beautiful state. I’ve never been up there. I’m telling you if you ever need a vacation spot to go, see Mount Rushmore.
Not only is Sturgis a big deal, but
there’s so many millions of people that come to South Dakota, which where they’re at, Sturgis is very close to Mount Rushmore. Just the tourism too.
That’s another thing. They (Jacobs family) needed to capitalize on that. Yeah. We’ve done South Dakota and California. We went down south, pretty far down south, maybe the farthest down south [you] go in this country. I’ll leave it at that.
M&C: Where else?
Chris: Two islands (in the south), yeah, that needed help. You’ve got to think, they’ve had some bad storms come through a lot of the resort areas, and they need help too.
M&C: Was that Padre Island (Texas) you were down in?
Chris: Close to that. Yeah. Say no more. We’ve been everywhere. The only thing we haven’t been up to is the northeast.
I’m hoping that we’ll see a little bit more northeast come up in the next couple of garages that we’re going to be doing.
M&C: I’m sure space is an issue too in the northeast. I know you guys were seeing outside of custom builds and we having older cars, people are driving hybrids and electric cars now. That’s a whole different skill set. Do you have an opinion about that or anything you want to say?
Chris: Well, one of the problems that we’re going to see with a lot of the hybrid and electric cars is disposal of the batteries when those need to be changed.
A lot of hybrids contain more than six batteries inside the vehicle. We’re going to have to have special shops that know how to service and properly recycle these batteries.
I haven’t seen that yet because
still that hybrid technology is a little bit new. We will be seeing that.
We are going to see shops that specialize in hybrid technology and electric cars.
Personally, I haven’t been around it. The shops that we’ve done are a little bit more established. They’ve been around for 15, 20 years, so they really haven’t been messing with those.
Even when we were out in Sturgis, as we’re doing the shop, as we’re trying to work on the shop, customers they’re still coming in.
It’s everybody from me, Russell, or Richard, or even the camera guys go up to these customers and go to explain the situation, “Oh we’re currently rehabbing this garage, but yet they’re still open. Here’s a phone number. You can contact them.”
Here was a Tesla SUV in Sturgis, South Dakota that needed a tire changed. That tire is different on a Tesla than a normal vehicle, so we have to make sure that he’s going to have equipment that’s going to be able to service everything even as simple as a Tesla tire.
Yes, the SUVs, the electric vehicles, the hybrid vehicles, they’re going to be a little bit different to
Having the programmable equipment to be able to reset and inspect a tire pressure monitor system on some of these newer vehicles
We make sure that if they’re going have anything to do with tires or that kind of maintenance that you’re going to have the equipment that’s going to be able to scan that basically make sure that that car never has to leave to go to another shop or dealership.
It should stay with you. You should never have to send it down the road. That’s what we try to do.
Garage Rehab premieres Tuesday, January 8 at 8PM ET/PT. New episodes will continue to air Tuesdays at 9PM ET/PT.
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