This article is courtesy SHOP OWNER.
Doug Leitzke knows a thing or two about energy. His town, Gillette, Wyoming, is known as the “Energy Capital of the Nation,” sits on vast resources of coal, oil and methane and provides nearly 40 percent of the coal used in the U.S.
Personally, Leitzke runs on a burning passion to be better, do better and make situations around him better. There’s no waiting around for things to change. You want progress? Make it happen.
The owner of Octane Garage says building his business from the ground up – literally – has allowed him to channel his passion into a growth strategy with no real end in sight.
“I had a shop with a partner from 2006 through 2014 – that’s when I got introduced to the NAPA AutoCare family,” Leitzke explains. “When I had the opportunity to sell my part of the business it gave me a chance to reconsider my strategy.”
A self-professed “leadership-skills nerd,” Leitzke says he has long consulted experts for guidance on managing his business and employees.
“I love diving into books to help figure out what my next step should be; guys like John Gordon on leadership, Zig Ziglar on the sales side. If you can’t sell the job and you can’t sell yourself to people, then you’re not going to make it. So, I’ve always strived to try to make myself better and that’s going to help make the team better.”
A strategy of positive teamwork drove Leitzke to imagine his ideal facility and make it a reality.
“I realized there was so much that you get when you partner with NAPA. I could see the success and the more I combed, the more I analyzed it, I knew it’s a proven system. I thought if I did it from the ground up, that would give me an advantage. And then if I have the right techs, I think it gives me an even bigger advantage. That was when the excitement overtook me,” Leitzke recalls.
“I had been good friends with Kevin Record, my local NAPA store owner and one day I said, ‘I’m thinking about building a shop from the ground up and making it a NAPA AutoCare facility.’ Kevin didn’t take me too seriously at first because he was used to me joking around. I said, ‘I’ve had some time to think about it and I think I’ve got the formula figured out.’ Once he realized I was very serious about this and that I knew what they wanted, I went from doing a little bit with him to doing a lot,” he says.
“We do it all – windshields, engines, transmissions – because I felt if we’re more diverse, obviously that’s going to minimize our risk for failure,”
Octane Garage opened officially in December of 2016 and Leitzke credits his team for making his startup an immediate success. “I had the right people who wanted to come to work for me. I told them ‘I want to put some blood, sweat and tears into this,’ and it was crazy. It was very good project.”
Octane does everything, Leitzke says, from the common and traditional four-wheel-drive ¾-ton pickup to the surprisingly unexpected import market.
“We do it all – windshields, engines, transmissions – because I felt if we’re more diverse than our competitors, obviously that’s going to minimize our risk for failure,” Leitzke says. “We do a lot of imports because in Wyoming, there’s not a lot of places that actually will work on them – we welcome them here.”
Leitzke says a sizeable investment in parts for import repairs, with help from his local NAPA store, has helped him capture the local market, but so has his team’s investment in the strategy.
“I would not be able to do that without (service manager) Dave Stein. Dave may look like a kid, but he’s actually 30 years old and is amazing with customers, amazing with techs. He worked at a Dodge dealership and he also originally worked at Enterprise. He comes from a customer service background that fits my strategy well.
“In addition, Mandy Gagliano takes care of the books and anything else that needs handled. And then obviously my four techs in the back – Nick Steiner, Dalton Carroll, Rob Wagner and Eric Fooks do an amazing job.”
Leitzke says he’s not an ASE Master Technician like some of his techs but he is ASE Certified, and likes to get his hands dirty from time to time, just to stay busy too.
However, staying busy isn’t really a challenge these days, Leitzke admits, as he balances time between serving on NAPA’s AutoCare Advisory Council and finalizing the recent purchase of his local NAPA Auto Parts Store.
“Yeah, I’m spreading myself a little thin,” he acknowledges. “I’ve inherited 54 employees. My friend Kevin Record is retiring from the store that has been in his family for 43 years. It’s been a good process, because most of the team knew me or knew of me. In Wyoming, the local guy is usually the one people want to work for – not some big city suit coming in that they’ve never seen before. I’m willing to get dirty, I’m not afraid to scrub the bathroom, and put the freight away and learn from people who know how to do their job. And if you’re not learning from your employees, you’re going backward. The biggest thing is maintaining humbleness.”
Leitzke says the fear of taking on too much has been eased knowing that he has Octane Garage handled. “Dave and Mandy used to work together for six and a half years and both wanted to come when I built this place. Dave knew my goals wouldn’t stop at Octane Garage. He told me ‘You need me;’ he was really putting the sell on me! And it made sense, so I can keep formulating going forward. And obviously, Dave’s not afraid to get dirty either. And I mean, we’ll just all just get the job done. It works so great.”
Leitzke says “It’s pretty awesome to have a couple of people like that, so that you don’t have any financial worry, you don’t have any worry with your customers. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now, which is taking my next step into the store ownership, into spreading the strategy and this culture that I’m developing.”
Commitment to the people who’ve helped him get where he is, Leitzke says extends to the community.
“The biggest thing we do is we support veterans and active military and law enforcement. I have a huge respect for all of them. So, when we built the new facility, we started every Veteran’s Day to give free oil changes to all the veterans, active military and first responders. We don’t care what you drive – we had one guy bring in a dump truck!”
With so many veterans in need, Leitzke knows he can only do so much – but some experiences have been particularly memorable.
“We changed the oil for one vet who had an old Pontiac Montana minivan. He hadn’t been able to change his oil in 14,000 miles. His fuel filter was clogged and his wipers were just gone so we changed those. We just told him, thanks for your service. It’s hard to see a 70-plus year old man cry, but you give him a hug. I mean, that’s when you know it’s worth it.”
“You take care of the customer and you don’t have to worry about the numbers. You take care of your employees, giving them rein to make decisions, and it’s going to move the company forward.”
Leitzke says the investment in time and parts probably totals $10,000 on that day – and he couldn’t do it alone. He credits his community for its phenomenal support. “Kevin Record and his local NAPA store helped me both financially as well as donating people all day to make sure the Veteran’s Day event was a huge success.”
A little positivity goes a long way, Leitzke says, and attention to constantly getting better at customer service extends to a much broader audience. As owner of the local NAPA Auto Parts Store, Leitzke’s community now include five other local NAPA Service facilities as well.
“That’s what excites me the most – I know that I can build not only my Auto Care, but there’s five other Auto Cares in Gillette who will benefit,” he says. “When I met with everybody, they were excited because I’m this guy from Gillette, Wyoming sitting on the NAPA AutoCare Advisory Council helping to make decisions for the whole organization. They know that I will take care of all the Auto Care centers and they understand that now they’ve got this ally who’s not just their store owner but is going to help them along.”
It’s a simple strategy, he says. “You take care of the customer and you don’t have to worry about the numbers. You take care of your employees, giving them rein to make decisions, and it’s going to move the company forward.”