When was Star Import Services established?
Star Import Service began in 1983 when Frank McGeown left the Buick-Miller dealership in Gainesville after a disagreement with the Management and Service Writers regarding the Technician pay. Management was implementing a pay schedule that reduced commission to technicians while increasing service writers commission. Frank vehemently disagreed with commission pay. Frank knew that it would incentivize quick work and a dog-eat-dog mentality between technicians. So, Frank began working out of his garage using cigarette containers as parts storage in the front room at his house, until he moved into a building with vehicle lifts.
Why a Mercedes Benz Only Service provider?
Frank had only worked for Mercedes-Benz dealerships from when he returned from Vietnam in 1968 through 1983, when he started Star Import Services. Frank was named Mercedes-Benz of America Technician of the Year in 1979 and 1980.
When did Star Import Services move to 2219 NW 71st Place in Gainesville?
We started in a 3 bay garage just across US-12 in 1983 and stayed there until 1988 when our current building was constructed. We own the property, and our building style is the most unique of any auto shop in the area allowing open entry into the garage where work is performed.
When did you decide to continue your grandfather’s business and make it your own?
In 2017, after moving to Gainesville from Colorado, Frank and I decided it was time for me to start implementing new strategies to grow the business and over time take over the business. I had great success. Then after I graduated from the University of Florida with a Master’s in Accounting in May 2021, I had an opportunity to go to work for Deloitte in Atlanta. I thought about taking that leap, but due to COVID, our revenues dropped over 60% from 2019 to 2020. I knew if I headed to Atlanta, I would have left the business struggling and it may not have survived. Again, I had worked hard from 2017 to 2020 to grow the customer base and implement strategies at the firm. So, I stayed and took over the business. In May 2021, new customers made up 30% of our transactions. I knew if we made it to when people were driving normally again, the firms performance would be better than pre-COVID. Through Dec 2022 this theory has proven true as we've had our best calendar year since 2007.
How does the Star Import Services team fit into this success?
Josh is the focal point of our team; without him our firm would likely shut down. He has been a technician for us for approximately 20 years, and our Master Tech for 4 years. Josh was trained by Rick Reynolds who had 34 years of experience at our firm before retiring. Eric has been with us 5 years and his father previously worked for us in the 1990s. Our team is mission focused and understands each other’s roles which allows for efficient workflow.
How do you balance work and family life?
Only hang out with them outside of work on holidays. Joking aside, it’s not always easy. My grandfather and I are very similar but being that we are on different points on the timeline in life, I tend to be more risk-seeking and he tends to be risk-averse so when it comes to business decisions it's nice having a differing perspective. Sometimes though that can make progress difficult. Many ideas I've implemented since 2017 I had to do so through insubordination and then asking for forgiveness. If I did not do so I would likely be in Atlanta pursuing other things. In other words, you need Patience and Forgiveness. Patience because in a small business with limited resources, outcomes do not happen overnight and Forgiveness in the sense that you may be wrong and say things that you would not say to a regular coworker.
Who is your mentor?
My mentor is my mother. She had me shortly before turning 19 and worked extremely hard to get her degree in Accounting after having me, and then providing for my brother, sister, and myself for many years thereafter.
What is your favorite part of the business?
My favorite part is waking up on Monday morning and knowing I am in control of the week and can have a serious impact on the outcome of the firm, my life, my team, and my customers lives. At Star Import Services, I love that I have control over the outcome of my time, which is something I never experienced working for others.
What is your favorite quote?
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
How did the pandemic affect your business?
The pandemic nearly destroyed our business. We were coming off 50% revenue growth from 2017-2019 and so at the very end of 2019 we hired an employee, purchased, and upgraded a lot of equipment, and were making those Capex decisions with the understanding that "things" and our firms growth was going to continue. The first 90 days revenue in 2020 were double 2019 first quarter, and April 2020 revenues were 10% of the total (yes, a 90% revenue decrease) from the prior year. We did not return to pre-COVID revenues until Oct 2021. However, this ended up being a blessing because despite the revenue loss, we were still seeing new customers and have doubled our customer book since March 2020. Now that economic behaviors have returned mostly to normal, we are seeing the benefit of this perseverance.
Is there a moment when you knew your why?
I knew my why during COVID. I was coming in every day and seeing the business at arguably its slowest level ever and on the edge of some difficult decisions. It forced my hand to decide if I wanted to commit to the business and grow it to what it was (our highest revenue years were 1990-2007 when Frank was actively involved). As the only grandchild and last generational family member in the firm, I could not let such a huge part of my childhood fail without me trying and so far, it’s working.