The growth of the business speaks for itself. Hughlett started in a 2,500-square foot, five-bay facility. Rick's Automotive has expanded to a 16,500-square foot facility with 18 service bays.
Hughlett's success is a result of his ambition and sheer determination to be the best in the field. His interest in the automotive business budded in high school when he attended vo-tech school. After graduating from high school, he first went to work as a tire buster at Kmart and later worked as a service tech adviser at Montgomery Ward. He is ASE certified with L1 certification.
His experience led him to open his shop in 1980. He rented a 2,500-square-foot facility that housed five service bays. His wife, Karen - who he married after high school - helped him start up his business, along with a helper and parts runner. Today, Hughlett employs 25 people, which includes 12 technicians, four service advisers, a parts person, a shop foreman, three porters/ parts runners, two managers and two secretaries.
Hughlett started in the automotive service industry straight out of high school. What he most enjoys about his job is promoting his business and improving the image of the auto repair industry.
Hughlett currently has 110 fleet accounts servicing ambulances from 16 nearby counties. Ten of his techs - who are all ASE Masters - have become experts at servicing Ford F-350 and F-450 ambulances. In addition to working on ambulances, Rick's Automotive services Fisk Limousines, which supplies the campus transportation buses for local Southwest Missouri State University.
One of Hughlett's keys to success is the relationship he builds with his customers. For instance, Hughlett says he and his staff attend the meetings and functions of his fleet customers, which can help them understand their needs better. Involvement in many local projects and organizations is also a priority for this shop owner of nearly 25 years.
"I encourage our staff to be involved [in the community]," Hughlett said. "People like to do business with people they know, and you have to get out and meet people and give back to the community that supports your business."
In fact, it is this business philosophy that underlies all of his motivations and activities as a business owner.
The courtesy van is one of many special touches that Rick's Automotive extends to its customers, which has enabled the business to thrive in the almost 25 years it has been in business.
Hughlett does not just give lip service to serving his community - he lives it. When he added on to his shop, he had to raze a fourplex apartment and a house. He had the house moved to the other side of town and donated it to Habitat for Humanity. In addition, Hughlett supports numerous organizations such as The American Cancer Society, United Way, Springfield Boys & Girls Clubs, the American Red Cross and a Christian boys' ranch called "Lives Under Construction." Giving back to his community also involves serving on the advisory board of Ozarks Technical Community College's automotive-technology curriculum program. He enjoys speaking at career days in local junior high and high schools as well as to SkillsUSA (formerly VICA) teams at the local tech school.
Besides staying involved in his community, Hughlett invests in advertising to get the word out about his business. Various advertising avenues include billboards, bus benches, movie theaters, basketball courts at local colleges, and spots on several radio and television stations.
Rick's Automotive is equipped to handle vehicles for fleet service. His technicians not only handle common repairs to vehicles such as ambulances, but they also work on equipment used by emergency medical technicians, including sirens, and lighting and cooling systems.
Hughlett's loyal staff of 25 people include some who have been with him for more than 20 years and others who have been with him for more than 10 years. He says he would love to "clone" his staff and believes they are the "best of the best." Three family members are included among his staff. His youngest daughter, who is 19, is a secretary at Rick's Automotive and a son-in-law (married to another daughter) and nephew serve as two of his porters. He feels the advantage of working with family is that they can learn the business and may want to become more involved in the future.
Hughlett's involvement with ASA is extensive. He is a 20-year member of ASA-Missouri/Kansas and helped cofound the Springfield Chapter. He served as president several times and has been on the board of directors for Missouri/Kansas. He earned his Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) designation in 1998. He firmly believes ASA offers the best training available anywhere.
"When I first began the business in 1980, there wasn't a whole lot of good training going on in our part of the state so I started traveling to get training. I noticed that most of the better training was sponsored by ASC, which later became ASA," said Hughlett. "I am a member of national as well as ASA Missouri/Kansas, which holds one of the largest training events in the country for technicians and managers. This year, the Vision show had more than 800 people in attendance."
Hughlett's future plans for Rick's Automotive are simple: Keep improving on what they're doing and accommodate their continuing growth. If he sticks with his plans - and his track record shows that he will - he may have to build a few more shelves to accommodate those honors to come.
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