Shop owner focuses on providing a fun environment driven by teamwork

March 7, 2019
They are definitely a photogenic bunch. Perusing the Auto Check Elite website and Facebook page, you’ll see photos of staff in race crew shirts being passionate about their work at this Katy, Texas repair shop.

They are definitely a photogenic bunch. Perusing the Auto Check Elite website and Facebook page, you’ll see photos of staff in race crew shirts being passionate about their work at this Katy, Texas repair shop. And diverse: besides employees from Houston’s environs, there’s one from Switzerland, one from Uruguay, while their boss, Matthew Roayaee (pronounced Roy-i-e), was born in England.

At a Glance:
Auto Check Elite
Katy, Texas
Matthew Roayaee
No. of shops
Years in business
No. of technicians
Total no. of employees
Square footage of shop
No. of bays
Vehicles per week
$2.5 million
Annual gross revenue

“My dad used to work for General Motors,” Roayaee reports. “He was sent to England to get training on hydraulics, (and) I was born in Wakefield.” His father also instilled in him a love of cars, “so when I was about 20 years old I had the opportunity to work in a shop.” Starting entry level as a janitor, he began working his way up through the ranks till he became a technician.

“When I was working as a lube tech,” Roayaee relates, “I got tired of waiting for the service writer to write up the ticket and go talk to the customer, so I took charge.” On his own initiative he’d sell and perform tire rotations or simple installs. The resulting increase in sales got him promoted. “I had no training; everything was trial by error.”

Within five years his ambitions kicked in again; Roayaee started saving money and trying to learn as much as he could about the business before buying the shop in 2005. “I had no idea what the hell I was doing,” he recalls, so he relied on the same impetus he used when an employee. He started with a skeletal crew — himself as service writer, a ‘B’ tech to handle oil changes and brakes jobs, and an ‘A’ tech for big repairs. In about three years they went from doing about $300,000 a year to around $1.5 million. The team of three quickly went to 12, and the eight-bay facility was overwhelmed with work. “There was no place for me to park cars,” he laughs, “I had to hire someone to valet cars across the street.”

They moved to a larger shop, but Roayaee didn’t like the location, and began looking at building a new facility from scratch. From a core group of employees he picked their brains for ideas on improving performance, and began customizing the design to better fit their needs. By 2016 the new shop was open. “In my opinion, this is as good as it gets,” he proclaims. “I’m not going to open another shop. I’m DONE.”

Permits, frontage location, zoning, all caused the plans to be made over nearly 20 times. “But it’s here,” Roayaee smiles. “It’s in a golden spot, and I feel like everybody that works here with me are rock stars. Everybody comes to work to play; I’ve built them a playground.”

Like air conditioning the shop against sultry Houston summer, making the doors electric to keep the cool in, even to how music is played. “I bought concert equipment — the speakers in the shop are taller than me,” comments Roayaee. “Nobody will spend $6,000 just on the subwoofer. It helps in building an atmosphere, a culture (where the staff) really has a lot of fun coming to work.”

Plus there are company outings to concerts, go-karting, NASCAR and Formula races. “That’s my way of saying thank you to the guys,” explains Roayaee. “I’m proud of them.” The reason why? He says their productivity is up around 130 percent to 140 percent.

“The way the parts department works, the service department works, everything is so smooth like gears in a clock,” he explains. “And when you run at 140% productivity, you don’t need as many people as you think.” At one time Roayaee had 15 employees—team members, he prefers to call them—only now he does the same work with nine to ten. “If I have two people that do 140 percent, that’s equal to three people who do 100 percent. And those two guys are really happy because they’re getting paid 40 percent more than they’re getting paid anywhere else.”

Roayaee looks at the shop’s workflow as a puzzle where every piece has to fall exactly into place in order for it to work. “I could have a technician who can blow ours out of the water — like he can do 200 hours — but if my parts guy can’t get parts here fast enough, if my service advisor can’t deliver the car fast enough, what good is that going to do? When it works, it’s through teamwork.”

Of course, this wasn’t all discovered by trial and error. Around 2010, Roayaee joined the Automotive Training Institute (ATI), “and that helped a lot,” he notes. “I got to meet a lot of good people, and learned a lot from shop owners in different states. I stayed with ATI for about four-five years.” During that period Auto Check Elite achieved Peak Performance within two years and won a Top Shop award.

It’s through such contacts that Roayaee keeps an eye on high tech market shifts, where he’s always willing to invest in new equipment. “I will never stop investing back in the business,” he asserts. “I’m the only shop that I know of in Texas, maybe the whole U.S. that has all the targets to calibrate sensors on self-driving cars. You can buy pieces, like self-parking systems for Nissans.”

He learned that body shops were replacing the sensors for these systems; however, nobody could calibrate them outside of dealerships. “It’s a painful job that doesn’t pay as much,” Roayaee notes. This calibration includes adaptive cruise control, crash avoidance, self-parking, self-driving — for which he has all the tools.

“I’m excited by this, because it’s my playground. If we get a car that needs to be calibrated, I go step by step and see how it’s done — because I get a kick out of it.” The downside? “One technician taking six classes cost $3,600. They’re not cheap, but what’s the alternative? I’m always fixing the hard stuff so I don’t get the long-hanging fruit anymore,” he laughs. “But we fix cars nobody else can fix; that’s what we’re known for. It may shift again, but that’s where the money is now.”

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