Sunny days are here again

This year, Mike Aronow took his toolbox home from the shop because “The guys were pushing me out the door.” After almost 14 years as a shop owner, all the pieces of his business were in place, and Mike faced what he called the hardest period of his career: letting go. In this case, that means getting out of the way and letting the business he built run.

Sunset Auto Import Service first opened on Sunset Boulevard in Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas. In two years the business outgrew that location and moved around the corner. Now in a beautiful new two-building facility with eight bays, Mike’s five techs invoice about $1.5 million a year.

Originally they specialized in Asian imports, but by the time they moved Mike had learned that wouldn’t work. “It’s hard to tell Joe who drives a Toyota, and whose wife drives Mercedes, and who has three diesel trucks for his business, that he has to go to three different shops.”

Recognizing that “you can’t do it all,” Mike’s agreements with other local shops allow him to sub-let the work he can’t handle. Now his customers come to him for everything. “I try to meet and exceed all my customers’ needs, and I’m honest, win or lose for the shop.” He says his customers are extremely loyal, and he estimates his customer base at about 10,000, generating about 5,000 work orders a year.

Handling the heat

A lot of that work is a result of being in the desert. “Here we’re fighting the heat. If the cooling system is not at 100 percent capacity, we’ll see internal engine failures, transmission problems… the heat is what we fight.” That’s why one of his favorite tools is a four-gas analyzer. “Hold the probe at the neck of the radiator. Within seconds you know if you’ve got a blown head gasket. We test every car that comes in for overheating because (head gaskets are) such a common problem.”

Mike’s techs are also armed with a several scan tools, including a few OEM scanners. He spends a lot of money to keep them updated, but he says “it’s impossible to stay on top of that game. At any given time I’m about 80 percent covered.”

Mike places a high priority on technician training, and he has lots of resources. “We’re an ACDelco TSS shop, so we get free training from ACDelco. We spend a lot of money with Worldpak, so we get a lot of training from them. And we’re very lucky because we live in Vegas and there’s a lot of the training that comes into town (with trade shows).”

When asked how the recession affected his business, Mike said the cash-for-clunkers program really hurt. “The first week of that program I saw about 40 to 50 thousand worth of business pulled off our lot. It killed me. It was mid-summer, our busiest season. Cars with blown head gaskets, transmissions, A/C issues…”

But the shop only lost business, not customers. Today Sunset Auto Import Service is growing again, because Mike says “We count our profits by happy customers, smiling faces, not just by dollars.” There’s one more reason too, one Mike shares with all his employees. “I’m having fun, I love what I do.”