The Main Street Garage: Building a Dream
Toby Cossette, co-owner of The Main Street Garage in St. Augustine, Fla., obtained an associate of arts degree from North Dakota State College of Science. However, he followed his passion and served as a master technician for import and exotic import diagnostics and repairs at Sports Car Engineering.
For one year he was a full-time Formula Continental sports car road racing driver and service tech. He also worked for many years as a master tech for GM, Mazda and Chevy dealerships. In his own words, he explains his journey to shop ownership.
“Within St. Augustine, U.S. 1 is named Ponce De Leon Blvd. after the Spanish explorer who explored and named this new land ‘la Florida,’ which is now our state name. We are located less than two miles from what he claimed was a ‘Fountain of Youth.’ This site, along with the existence of the oldest standing school building in the U.S., which is located in downtown Old St. Augustine, attracts thousands of visitors yearly and many must drive right past our business. This provides us with ongoing exposure and helps draw business from those tourists who break down while visiting.
“I opened the shop, on my own, in 2010. Back then I was service technician, receptionist, accountant, clerk and cashier. Fortunately, the business has steadily grown, and we now have three full-time employees.
“In mid-2015, an opportunity arose for me to purchase the property. Unfortunately, I was not in a financial position to purchase this prime location. It was then that my father, LeRoy Cossette, and his wife, Lynn Adams, stepped in with the needed finances and we formed our partnership. I knew then that this repair shop was here to stay.
“I am ASE Master Certified with L1 advanced certification. I also am GM Master Certified and Mazda Certified. The other certifications with other manufacturers are not worth mentioning since they carry no weight. I will not hire any tech without at least 10 years full-time experience due to the level and variety of vehicles we service. We work on everything including, but certainly not limited to, Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Toyota, Porsche, Jeep, Ford, Honda and Land Rover.
“I am one of the few who still works on all the classics and custom-built vehicles such as a 1949 Desoto, a 1973 Charger, 1932 and 1925 Rat Rods. We have the knowledge and equipment to address every module on the new vehicles but still rebuild carburetors and distributors on the old vehicles, such as 6-volt systems, 12-volt systems, and positive ground systems. Yes, we do!
'I strongly and actively encourage our technicians to challenge themselves and seek advanced training and certification.'
“Gross profit is only running about $1,223 per month due to extensive purchasing of new equipment and tools. However, that figure is steadily climbing every single week. Our average expenditure on tools and equipment over the last two years has been about $12,000 each year.
“We are very thorough on our diagnostics and guarantee, to our customers, that ‘if we diagnose an issue and perform the necessary repairs based on that diagnosis, should it subsequently not repair the issue presented, the customer will not be charged a dime for that repair!’ We never replace parts based on a fault code!
“I absolutely love what I do and could never imagine doing anything else. Unfortunately, far too many technicians and repair shops are stereotyped as untrustworthy, and all because they only see the dollar signs, not the individual(s) with vehicle problems. I know that it is possible to do the job correctly and make a good living doing so, without resorting to unscrupulous tactics. I am frustrated when I hear about a shop replacing parts solely based on a fault code, and then when it doesn’t repair the fault, they falsely advise the customer ‘the computer told me to replace that part, so you obviously now have another problem.’
“That is why so many customers, to this day, ask repair shops to plug their vehicles into ‘the machine’ believing that it will tell them exactly what is wrong.
“As an individual who spent years as a single father, just when I had left the dealerships and starting my own business, I learned how critical the family vehicle is to the well-being of the family and truly understand the urgencies and time constraints on a family with a disabled vehicle. I will work with them to make the experience at our shop as painless and quick as possible.
“I know many of my customers expect nothing less than perfection, and although I recognize that perfection is not humanly possible, I do strive to attain that level of service by assuring that:
1. The level and quality of service will be equal to or better than any other repair shop;
2. I will stand behind the work we perform and the products we sell. I guarantee, to them, that our work will be satisfactory, or we will do whatever is necessary to address any issue of concern.”
Does your shop offer general automotive repair or do you tend to specialize in specific makes or types of repairs?
We service any make/model, and any issue or concern, from engine rebuilds to drivability concerns.
What is your business philosophy?
Our primary goal is to do whatever is necessary to satisfy the customer.
Where do you buy your parts?
Advance Auto, unless a dealer part is required.
What is your approach to technician training?
I strongly and actively encourage our technicians to challenge themselves and seek advanced training and certification. I personally provide training to them and suggest online courses that I know will benefit them and hasten their certification. I also pay for any ASE testing that they choose to take.
Parts purchases: What influences your parts buying decisions? Rank from 0 to 3, with 0 having no influence and 3 having the greatest influence.
Brand recognition 0
Perceived quality 3
We only choose parts that I would install in my own family’s vehicles. Customers are fully informed regarding parts needs, purchase options and recommended option with explanation of why we suggest a specific option.
What influences your parts buying decisions?
Safety, reliability and cost to the customer.
How does ASP benefit your business?
My father and partner, LeRoy, keeps up with published articles that relate to our business, which includes ASP at the top of the list. When information of value is found, he shares that with me and our staff. Information obtained through ASP helps us understand what is going on in the industry and presents new technology, which helps us better serve our customers. ■
THE MAIN STREET GARAGE
St. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA
Owners: Toby Cossette, LeRoy Cossette
Business founded: 2010
Number of bays: 2 inside bays, 1 outside bay with hoist, 2 dead bays (no hoists)
Number of certified technicians: 1 ASE Master Certified w/L1, GM Master Certified, Mazda certified; 1 Ford certified
Shop size: 2,000 square feet plus outdoor lift
Number of vehicles serviced per month: 32 (average)
Hourly labor rate: $100
Average job ticket price: $375
Gross profit: 16%
Average spent on tools & equipment annually: $12,000
Vehicle makes serviced: domestic, foreign, vintage, custom