A common misconception is that all entrepreneurs start their own businesses. While many do start from scratch, others find their passion working in a business and turn it into their own. Shey Knight and Jeff Bryant did not begin their employment with Autosport with plans of ownership – or even plans of careers in the automotive industry – but as they worked in the business the opportunity for ownership was the perfect transition to entrepreneurship.
Autosport opened its doors in 1979 as a mustang restoration shop. In 1985, following a hail storm, it converted to a body shop, and that same year in-between college semesters, Shey started working for Autosport and began writing estimates and learning the trade. The following year, Jeff began working at Autosport after school and summers. After graduating from Jacksonville State University in 1989 with a degree in business and minor in real estate, Shey left Autosport to work for CKM Realty and Southtrust Bank in Birmingham. In the meantime, Jeff became lead refinish technician in 1989 and went on to take on a management position. Shey was recruited back to Autosport in 1990 where he began his career in auto collision repair. Shey and Jeff bought into the business, and under their direction transitioned to a new business model. They also expanded, adding a second location in Tallassee before moving that operation to Troy, and then opening another location in Valley.
In 2006, the industry faced changes in direct repair programs with insurance companies and preferred shop networks. Automotive shops were forced to choose between benefitting the insurance company or the vehicle owner, and Autosport chose the latter. “It was a clear fork in the road,” stated Shey, “and we took the path seldom taken,” finished Jeff. Without the hundreds of regular insurance company referrals, they had to reinvent themselves and learn how to market once again. “For more than a year, we literally moved a desk to the middle of the shop repair floor and observed every repair operation, every movement of customer vehicles and staff and we traveled to more than a dozen collision repair shops across the country that were known as industry leaders,” said Shey. The information that they gathered, along with the book that they wrote from their internal observations, became their standard operating procedures and created a system that they had never seen before in the industry. They created drive-thru lane repair systems™ which resulted in 50% more efficiency allowing them to repair cars better and faster with a declining work force. This led to Autosport’s website name being changed to www.betterfasterrepairs.com. They backed that promise up with another system that they created called “guaranteed on time or it’s free™.” They also learned that customers wanted options when choosing to have a car repaired and this led to the creation of Autosport’s “Repair Plan Options™.” Their customer service and customer-focus paid off, and the business continued to grow. They consolidated their Valley location and in 2009, Jeff and Shey purchased the business. In preparation to invest in their current location, in 2012 they sold their Troy location after serving the Troy market for 12 years.
In 2013, Autosport contacted the Auburn SBDC office for assistance in developing a 5-10 year strategic business plan. “The SBDC has been very instrumental with assisting us to develop future planning ideas and strategies including business plans and succession planning. Our contact with the SBDC has always been professional and has promptly responded to any of our requests.”
Autosport is actively engaged in supporting the local community and is passionate about programs for children and youth. They have sponsored many youth and area high school programs from theater to sports. Autosport has also sponsored two “back-to-school shoe events” for the Big House and regularly supports Youth for Christ, For His Kingdom, and Back to the Dawghouse football camp for young boys. They are currently working on creating a “200 mile journey” aimed at teaching young drivers how to drive and maneuver safely on our highways. They have hosted anti-text and drive events aimed at curbing this deadly epidemic.
Jeff and Shey are actively involved in giving back their industry. They also frequently consult with shop owners across the country and are active members in CCRE, SCRS, Alarise, SafeCars, and regularly attend industry conferences across the USA such as the SARC, CCRE, and NACE. They recently visited Washington, D.C. with numerous other shop operators across the country to meet with representatives about enforcing the 1963 consent decree and safe vehicle repairs. Autosport is a certified Post-Repair Inspection site.
What first began as summer jobs unexpectedly led to long careers and business ownership. Through the years, Jeff and Shey experienced many changes in the industry but kept their focus on exceptional customer service and maximum quality and efficiency. Their growth is evidence of their success, and as typical entrepreneurs, they constantly seek out the best methods to add to their unique business model.