By serving diesel as well as gasoline-powered vehicles, Russ Sargent has built a diverse business known for its clean shop and friendly service in a rural town of Grain Valley, Mo., about 25 miles east of downtown Kansas City.
While diesel is the most important niche for the business, it also is known for being spotless and approachable.
“One of the biggest compliments we get is how clean our shop is and how friendly and inviting we are. When women come in they say they don’t feel intimidated. We make customers feel welcome and comfortable as soon as they walk through the door,” Russ said.
Location presents opportunities. “We have I-70 frontage which makes our building visible from the interstate,” he said. “We’ve got a staff sergeant emblem on our building, which is our company logo; it attracts a lot of attention, including military families. We offer both active duty and retired military personnel a discount.”
The family earns the military affiliation. Russ’s sons both serve: Kyle, Army E-6 staff sergeant has been serving for 11 years; and Hunter, Navy engineman E-2, has one year of service. The Sargents also have a daughter, Katelyn.
In addition to cultivating customers in a 15-mile radius of rural towns to the north, east and south, Sargent also seeks work from Blue Springs to the west. “We have a steady flow of Blue Springs customers that followed us here when we moved from there almost 10 years ago. We are grateful for their loyalty, as they gave us the momentum we needed after relocating to Grain Valley.”
Shop operations The Sargent shop began in June 2004 at a then-existing Sinclair gas station in Blue Springs. Business quickly outgrew the facility. Three years later, Russ moved the business to Grain Valley, where he built a new shop. “Our intention was to continue to grow the auto side while also adding tractor trailers and RV’s,” Russ said. “Within six months at the new location, we realized the majority of our work was 1-ton diesel pickups and below. We quickly adapted to the demand, and that became our focus. The business has been percolating at a steady pace since.”
Six people, including Russ, the owner, work at Sargent Auto and Diesel.
- His wife, Alison, is co-owner and works in the office.
- Mike Jones, the service adviser, is responsible for the pleasant phone manner. He has been working at the shop for a year and has 35 years in the business.
- J.C. Lawton, an ASE-certified master tech, has 11 years in the shop and 36 years of overall experience.
- Technician Damien Tovar came aboard earlier this year and has 24 years of experience.
- Lube Technician David White is a new hire with two years of experience.
Russ offers ongoing training through NAPA, ATI and O’Reilly.
“There is usually some type of training every month,” Russ said. “Sometimes not everyone can attend a class, so one of the guys will go and then share what they have learned with one another.” According to Russ, being able to diagnose drivability issues is so important and often times one of the most complex things faced in any shop. “These classes prove to be a valuable asset to keep us up to date on the latest technology.”
Diesel repairs, which represent 60% of the work, come from contractors requiring extra power for pulling their machinery, and RVs. A couple of fleet accounts include Jackson County and Alloy Wheel Repair.
In the gasoline category, the shop works on any model but specializes in Ford, Chevy and Dodge, reflecting the preferences of the customer base.
Roughly 80% of the gasoline work is in these three domestic lines.
Of all vehicles that come into the shop, pickups comprise 65%.
The shop has six bays, all with lifts. Sargent looks to several sources for parts: NAPA, BG, Ford, Chevy, Dodge, O’Reilly and Factory Motor Parts.
Diagnostic OE tools, updated continuously, reflect the three main domestic lines, plus Snap-on SOLUS, Snap-on MODUS and TPMS tools.
The average ticket for the shop ranges $500-$600. It offers a warranty of 12,000 miles/12 months on all repairs, and a 24/24 extended warranty for certain repairs.
Dad, grandads Russ represents the third generation of automotive repair professionals in the family. He has been devoted to automotive repair, beginning with his curiosity from childhood.
“As a kid I always enjoyed following my dad around on the weekends. He worked on cars and trucks as a part time job. I would follow him, watching what he was doing, and I picked up a lot of his traits along the way. I still have some of his tools that he gave me. I really cherish them now as he has since passed away. I also have pictures of both of my grandpas hanging on our office walls. They were both mechanics and both owned auto repair shops.”
Among the traits Russ has applied is his father’s approach to vehicle repair. “I try to get it in my head how something works. When you understand how something works it is a whole lot easier to diagnosis the problem. I want to understand the vehicle before I even approach it – either through researching online manuals or memory of past experience.”
Outlook At 49, Russ said he has no interest in expansion; the current shop allows for plenty of growth. His youngest son has shown some interest in running the business, but the family has not set a plan for succession. Russ said he expects to remain at the helm for some time.
Steady growth, enhanced efficiencies and keeping up with technology are Russ’s goals for the business.
“Technology is growing rapidly. As an independent shop it can be very challenging.” Russ said. “We are succeeding through hard work, persistence and always doing our best to serve our customers.”