It’s the American Dream: owning a business and being your own boss. If you’re a heavy duty tech or are otherwise drawn to the big rigs, opening a repair shop might sound like a dream come true. The cold, hard fact is, no matter what your background, opening a business isn’t easy. It requires planning and being prepared. It also requires an investment. Typically, it takes money to make money. However, you don’t have to put your dreams on hold if you’re short on funds. Starting a heavy duty shop with no money, or very little of it, is possible. You just need to know how to go about it.
Become a Specialist
Even if you’ve worked on trucks and machinery all your life, it’s a good idea to get ASE certified if you’re going to open a heavy duty repair shop. Getting that certification shows customers you know what you’re doing. Plus, it will come in handy a little later, when we talk about advertising and getting the word out. The ASE offers more than 40 certifications including Master Status for working on:
- medium to heavy trucks
- buses (school or transit)
- diesel engines
- drive trains
- electrical systems
- HVAC systems
- suspension and steering
- truck equipment
You’ll need educational and/or work experience to qualify for the test. What’s more, this is one of the things you will need to spend some money on. Overall, you’ll pay registration fees (which run between $36 and $78 per certification), you’ll buy test-prep materials (around $38/certification), and pay for classes if you need to take them. In the end, you could wind up paying as little as $363.00, but the cost of classes could make that price go up into the $1,000 to $5,000 range.
When the goal is starting a heavy duty shop with no money or as little as possible, begin by getting the minimum certifications you need. That might mean starting out with just the basic Medium-Heavy Truck certificate. However, plan on continuing your education to earn more certifications. The more types of equipment you can work on and the more specialized you can get on all of it, the better your shop will look to potential customers. It goes further than that, though. Offering a wide range of services opens up multiple streams of income for your shop and for you.
Opening a Mobile Mechanic Shop or Starting a Heavy Duty Repair Shop at Home
Paying for space is one of the biggest costs shop owners face. Using your own garage makes starting a heavy duty shop with no money easier. You won’t have to pay rent or buy a building. If you don’t have shop space of your own, consider asking friends or family to use theirs. It would be great if someone offered you their garage rent-free. But, if you aren’t comfortable with charity or they aren’t comfortable with giving the space away, negotiate with them. Make a deal to use the space for a year with no rent with the stipulation that, if you’re profitable, you’ll start paying for using their garage after 12 months. By then, you’ll know whether or not you can make a go of the business and should be able to afford a reasonable rent payment. If not, you move out and they have their space back.
Opening a mobile mechanic shop is another way of starting a heavy duty repair shop with no money. It won’t require any rent costs because you’ll be working out of the back of your truck. You can write off the truck insurance, fuel, and upkeep through the business. And, if you have a truck payment, a portion of that should be deductible, too. Mobile heavy duty repair is a great niche market to get into. Since you take your services to the customer, they don’t have to worry about getting their trucks to you. What’s more, you can make it even more convenient for them by offering to do the work they need around their schedule to minimize downtime for them. That can mean working evenings and weekends, but it will help build the business. Plus, you can compensate for that by giving yourself time off during weekdays.
Loans for Starting a Heavy Duty Shop With No Money
If you don’t have money for the necessary tools and equipment, you’ll probably have to consider taking out a loan. If you decide this is the way to go, don’t jump at junk-mail offers of $250,000 or more for your business. Most of them come with short repayment terms and high interest. Shop around a little, instead.
Make your first stop the local Small Business Administration. True, it’s notoriously difficult to get an SBA loan. However, if you go through their red tape and meet the criteria, you could end up with money for everything you need with a long-term payback (as much as 10 years), and a single-digit interest rate, around 6 to 7 percent, plus fees. It’s a sweetheart deal for starting a heavy duty shop with no money that’s worth the effort.
If you don’t qualify for an SBA loan or don’t have the patience for the process, there are other alternatives. It’s possible to get a 1 to 5-year loan with interest rates comparable to the SBA, but there’s usually some stipulations for qualifying. Lenders might only talk to you if you’ve already been in business for at least a year and are profitable. They might require that you do a certain level of business each year, like over $200,000. And, they’ll definitely want to see a good credit score, like 600 and above.
Even if you don’t manage to get ideal financing, there are still other options. You can take a cash advance on your credit card or settle for a short-term loan with a higher-than-great rate. But do those only if you have a solid repayment plan and the discipline to follow through with it, and make those your last resorts. Try to avoid ACH Advance loans and ones with daily payment plans altogether.
If you’re interested in starting a heavy duty shop with no money, you probably aren’t independently wealthy and you’re looking for the shop to provide an income. That’s completely reasonable, but there are some things to think about when the business first opens.
First, top earners in the auto repair industry earn around $59,000 per year and that working in the specialized area of heavy duty repair, you could wind up earning over $100,000 annually after you’ve built up the business. That said, in the early days, you’ll probably need to budget for a much smaller salary. But don’t fall into the trap of taking only what’s left over at the end of each month. You’ll usually find that nothing is left over. It’s a mysterious element of owning a business but, if your salary is in the budget, the shop will usually make enough to pay you every month.
There are compensating factors to owning a shop and taking a low salary in the beginning, too. Things like setting your own hours or the shop covering the cost of your vehicle if you decide to go mobile. Owning a heavy duty repair shop isn’t necessarily for everyone, but if you’re the right kind of person, being your own boss is the ultimate perk and worth the trade-off of a smaller salary at the start. Just keep your eye on building the business and giving yourself a raise as your bottom line gets bigger.
Getting the Word Out
Businesses that get customers with no advertising at all are exceptions to the rule. You need to get the word out, so people know you’re there. Google and YELP have free options for starting a heavy duty shop with no money, and getting on social media can help no matter how new your shop is. If you have at least a small budget for advertising, you should also look into setting up a website. It’s another write-off, and it’s a great way to let people know about the services you provide. Plus, a website is the perfect place to brand your shop for heavy duty repair and showcase the specialty areas you’re certified in.
Business cards and flyers are other low-cost ways of getting your shop’s name out there. Flyers can cost less than .10 cents per copy and some sites even offer to make free business cards. There are a ton of ideas out there for marketing your repair shop, and many of them are surprisingly inexpensive.
A Unique, Affordable Marketing Strategy
The most affordable way to market your shop is to hit the pavement and start knocking on doors, especially if you want to land fleet clients. Meet the managers in person and let them know what you can do to keep their trucks compliant and on the road. Ask for their PM business and give them a break on your labor for signing the deal. If you have great software like Fullbay, you can even help them download it and show them how to use the customer portal to request repairs, track PM scheduling and history, and even pay invoices. The best part about Fullbay is that it does all that for your customers while doing even more for you like helping with inventory, ordering, and scheduling jobs. When you’re trying to start a repair shop on a shoestring budget, tools like Fullbay are worth every penny.