Technician / Owner
Waterbury Service Center
How did you get your training to be an auto technician?
Albert grew up on his family’s dairy farm in rural Vermont where it was expected that everyone help with all the chores necessary to run a farm. At age twelve when his father told him that if he wanted “supper that night, he’d better get running” he started learning how to maintain the farm equipment. “I got the toolbox all together and started helping and I’ve been tinkering ever since.”
After high school Albert joined the Army and was part of the Desert Storm campaign in the first war with Iraq. Working as a combat engineer he quickly picked up the practical skills in keeping the armed vehicles operational and safe. He furthered his education studying Auto Diesel Technology at Laconia New Hampshire Vocational Technical College.
For the next 16 years, Albert worked as a mechanic at multiple shops learning more at each job. “I became extremely good with turning wrenches and working on diesel cars and trucks. I turned to bodywork for a while, which wasn’t my thing, but it allowed me to see that my strengths were mechanical and technical work.”
After almost a lifetime of working for other people, Albert opened up his own two bay shop ‘Waterbury Service Center’ in the heart of the Waterbury Village in Vermont.
What are your words of wisdom for a new auto technician who is discouraged?
Whenever you get stuck on diagnosing a problem Albert advises to first “take a break from the problem, and sometimes the answer will come to you after you give yourself a chance to calm down.” If that doesn’t work, he suggests brainstorming with other qualified techs. “It is easy to fall into the trap of struggling to conquer the most challenging problems while someone else might have the solution”.
Albert also advises techs to invest in their customer’s best interests. “With so many career options available, ask yourself if your heart is in it. If you think only about the money, being a tech might not be the job you’re best suited for.”
What were the biggest setbacks you have had to overcome in your career?
“Growing up on a dairy farm with a father who didn’t attend school, I was taught that working hard was much more important than education. When I got to high school, I struggled with reading and writing. My history teacher saw that I was failing, and she warned me that I wouldn’t make it into the Army if I flunked out. I wanted to go into the Army and wanted badly to leave the farm. This teacher encouraged me to buckle down and taught me something special. She taught me that people can learn in different ways. In my case, I loved music. I played the guitar, trombone, baritone, and trumpet. I played in the high school band, and one time put on two solos. No kidding! She noticed that while I had trouble reading words, I could pick up sheet music and read all the notes. With her help I was able to incorporate the music notes to my schoolwork, learn good reading and writing skills, graduate high school and eventually got a business degree from the University of New Hampshire.
“Eleven years after opening my shop, Hurricane Irene hit Waterbury Vermont hard and basically destroyed my business. I seriously questioned whether I would rebuild or close my shop.” What motivated Albert to motor-on was that the community viewed Waterbury Service Center as an essential contributor and his customers rolled up their sleeves and helped clean up the mess. For that reason, he didn’t give up.
For years Albert worked alone at his two-bay shop. He thought it was cheaper and easier to just do everything himself rather than hire an employee. This turned into a financially and physically painful lesson. “Took a while, but I finally figured out that I needed outside help. My advice is to get business training ahead of time and don’t be afraid to bring in help.” Over the years Albert has had various apprentices work with him. Albert talks about one eager young female student who showed potential. “Andrea’s been working for me for nearly ten years in between going to school. She started out sweeping floors, and I found out that she was a fast learner by just watching me doing repairs. One day I was busy answering phones and doing other stuff with a set of tires in my hands. She took over and changed out the tires. Then another time I had a shoulder operation, and she was able to be my second set of hands and figured out how to use the Mitchell shop management system that I had purchased but wasn’t using to its potential.”
What ASE Certifications do you have?
Currently, Albert has three ASE certifications: Brake, Suspension & Steering and Drivability
What do you enjoy most about being a Shop Owner?
“My customers! I really enjoy taking care of my customers. Helping them keep their cars safely on the road and teaching them how to maintain their vehicles”.
What are your 'Words of Wisdom' for new Shop Owners or someone thinking of opening their own shop?
Albert encourages new shop owners to consider two points. First take advantage of any training offered by the suppliers or the OEM and hire a business coach. Become actively involved in overseeing the financial health of the shop. Explore shop management software and business management tools that make sense.
Secondly, build upon the customer experience by seeing the repair journey through the eyes of the customer, especially female customers. “Women want to know what the tech is doing to their car. If you pay attention and explain what, when and why, you're going to have a great business. When I first took this shop over, I had 25% female customers. Now it's 90% and they are good and loyal customers."