As the assistant manager at a Jefferson City auto parts store, Joshua Lehmen interacted with many customers every day. But he never could have guessed where one conversation with two former Xerox employees — and a leap of faith — would land him 10 years later.
Lehmen was familiar with the men. They weren’t mechanics, but they frequently stopped at the store to pick up oil and filters for their mobile oil change company. One day, they mentioned they were selling the business.
“I thought about it for a month and wasn’t sure it was right for me,” Lehmen says. “They asked again, and I thought about it for two more months. Then I thought, if you don’t try something, you don’t know what it can do for you, so I tried it.”
After putting together a business plan and securing a business loan, Lehmen was officially a business owner. Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and pair of old overalls, the uniform he wore through his first winter as a business owner, he took the 1989 Chevy half-ton, two-wheel-drive pickup truck he bought with the business out on the road to change oil in cars and commercial vehicles.
“When I bought the business, I had a customer list that was about 30 lines long, and all the tools I got with the business came in a little box,” he says.
After six months in mobile oil change, Lehmen realized that oil changes alone were not going to sustain his business. Although he had gotten out of “turning wrenches” several years earlier and sold all his tools, he decided to draw on his training as an auto technician to increase business. He rented a 12-by-24-foot bay at a local shop and began doing repair work along with mobile oil changes.
“As it went on, I got busier, and then I rented out the bay next to me and had two bays,” he says. “Then I got the third bay. I was working by myself, doing onsite oil changes and repair work, and I kept getting busier.”
When the building housing his bays went on the market, Lehmen jumped at the opportunity to purchase it and expand his business once again. Within three years of acquiring the business, Lehmen ran a four-bay facility, complete with a full office and waiting area.
For more than six years, Lehmen worked day and night by himself repairing vehicles, doing mobile oil changes and developing a satisfied and loyal customer base.
“I worked seven days a week, and I was there nights until 10 p.m. working on repairing vehicles,” Lehmen says. “The latest I worked was 4:45 a.m., putting in an engine for a commercial company that needed the vehicle by 6 a.m.”
Lehmen’s sleepless nights and outstanding customer service paid off. Two years ago, in order to service a large and steadily growing customer base, he built a new eight-bay automotive repair facility located on Railton Road, just off Highway 179 in Jefferson City, and surrounded himself with a top-notch team of five employees.
“There are six people working here every day, and there is no way I could provide the customer service we provide without my team,” Lehmen says. “The team is a huge part of the success of this business. It can’t be done without them, and I make sure they know that every day. They are phenomenal, and they are the best at what they do.”
Although the old facility averaged 110 invoices per month, the new shop averages between 350 and 400 each month. Lehmen attributes his team’s success to honesty; quality parts that last; and thorough and meticulous labor that comes with a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty, all geared toward satisfying customers. In fact, On Site Oil Change and Auto Repair Shop was voted the No. 1 mechanic and No. 1 auto repair shop in Jefferson City by the 2013 News Tribune’s Readers Choice Awards — proof positive of the quality service Lehmen’s team provides.
Lehmen is adamant that his team is to thank for much of his success, but he is also thankful for a family that understands his drive and work ethic. After all, he hasn’t taken a vacation in 10 years, since the day he started the business. But his wife, Alicia, and sons, Theodore, 5, and Calvin, 1, are supportive and understanding of the business and Lehmen’s heavy workload. And Theodore knows just where to find his play tools in his dad’s toolbox.
“Theodore is always talking about the shop and the tools,” Lehmen says. “I have good family support. Without them, everything would be a lot harder.”
As he services engines, transmissions, brakes and more at the shop, Lehmen stays true to the company’s roots. He still goes out on the road to change the oil in commercial vehicles but has upgraded from the old Chevy he once used. He also keeps future growth in the back of his mind.
“Of course it is always a dream,” he says. “I never thought we’d be as big as we are today. I take every day one step at a time. If the opportunity comes for more growth, I’d love to do it but would like to do it slowly and make sure it is done right.”
As he looks back on his journey, Lehmen is certain he made the right choice when he decided to give business ownership a try.
“It’s been a fun road,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed every day of it. I think back and think it was worth it. Every step has led me to where I am today.”