MOORHEAD — The number of businesses Matt Lachowitzer has started in the last 10 years makes him one of Fargo-Moorhead’s entrepreneurial rock stars.
Is it any wonder then that rock stars will play at the Matt’s Automotive Service Centers’ business birthday party?
This Saturday, June 22, Lachowitzer and his customers, suppliers, friends, family and ’80s rock fans will bang their heads to ‘80s glam bands Warrant and Slaughter (and local band Unleashed) to celebrate the company’s metal-versary at the shop at 1150 43½ St. S. in Fargo.
Lachowitzer said he and his wife began planning the event 18 months ago.
While none of that time appears to have involved Lachowitzer growing a mullet, it has included buying more repair shops, and dealing with the ruin of his original shop when heavy snow took down the roof in March.
As of Friday, June 14, more than 2,400 tickets had already been sold to fans of “Up All Night” and “Cherry Pie,” including all of the VIP tickets, Lachowitzer said.
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“I’m just big on doing something different. So, we’re like, let’s do a concert,” Lachowitzer said Monday, June 17.
Lachowitzer wanted bands that would strike a power chord with his customers: most of them 35 to 50 (but it can’t hurt that he’s a fan of Warrant and Slaughter, too).
“This event is not for me. It’s for our staff, it’s for our vendors and it’s for our customers. That’s really what it is for. And music is something that brings people together,” he said.
The doors open at 4 p.m. Saturday, with Unleashed starting at 4 p.m., Slaughter at 7:30 p.m., and headliner Warrant at 9:30 p.m. The music stops at 11 p.m. The ear ringing may last longer. Four food trucks will be there to satisfy concert-goers munchies.
At his shops, tickets (if still available) are $10 for customers who buy any product or service, or $25 otherwise, plus taxes and fees. They are also available online for $30 apiece, plus taxes and fees, at eTix, he said.
Other sponsors include Gate City Bank. L2 Contracting, Goldmark Commercial Real Estate, radio stations Y94 and Froggy 99.9, Goodyear, PPG brands and Shotgun Sally’s (which will also host an after-party event).
Finalizing the rockin’ party plans has made this week busy, but Lachowitzer is busy all of the time.
Put me in, coach
In the last 10 years, the serial entrepreneur has started eight businesses.
- Matt’s Automotive;
- Matt’s Automotive and Collision Center;
- Lachowitzer Investments, BFD Investments and KRK Industries, which manage his real estate holdings;
- Hammer Industries, which makes floor cleaning products;
- Hammer Promotional, which handles promotions, and;
- Hammer Consulting, a business coaching and consulting firm.
Lachowitzer began coaching and consulting a few years ago.
It has become a passion.
“I found there was a lack of good training available in our industry,” Lachowitzer said. There’s a lot of tech training, but not enough sales and customer service training that focuses on ethics.
“I really like to see the lightbulb come on when I train somebody,” Lachowitzer said. “It was really rewarding for me, more than anything I’ve probably ever done in my life.”
Now, he’s an independent consultant, devoting a week of every month to coaching by phone and online, and traveling about six weeks a year for on-site visits.
“It’s kind of grown into its own animal,” he said.
Getting into the automotive business wasn’t a straight-line endeavor.
He grew up around farming and got a college football scholarship. Then he hurt a knee and lost that scholarship.
Afterwards, he set his sights on farming and took large diesel equipment repair classes, but he didn't enjoy those studies.
It wasn’t until he turned to auto mechanics training that he knew he was on the right road.
“I’ve been doing this ever since. I came up as a technician,” he said. In fact, until 2015, he still worked as a tech until a shoulder injury forced him from the service bays.
His first shop was in Moorhead at 1234 First Ave. N.
“It was just me and one lift, 10 years ago this month. Then we grew it into two lifts. Then I bought the building eight months later,” he said. Later he remodeled the building into a four-bay shop and “I thought it was done.”
After that he bought a shop on Fargo’s Main Avenue. Then, he bought land next to the Moorhead shop and turned it into an eight-bay facility.
Next, he bought the former WOW Radio Bar at 1150 43½ St S. in Fargo, turning it into a 10-bay shop. In 2018, he opened his own collision center in the former Corey’s Custom and Collision at 6108 53rd Ave. S. in Fargo.
At the end of 2018, he purchased Mike’s Southside Auto at 1617 32nd Ave. S., reopening it under his brand in mid-January.
In March, snow collapsed the roof of the original Moorhead location. The three-lift Center Avenue shop was purchased as a temporary location until the old shop can be razed and rebuilt, he said.
Recently, Lachowitzer agreed to buy Todd’s Alignment and Repair, 2911 16th St. S., Moorhead. That deal should close June 28, and it should reopen as Matt’s Automotive in July.
“Every time I buy another shop, I tell my staff I’m not going to buy any more for a while. And it seems like I make it six months at most and I usually do something,” Lachowitzer said. “That’s the way I’m wired, I guess.”
Giving is a key
The fast growth came down to a combination of location and opportunities to meet unfilled market niches, he said.
Even when the former Moorhead eight-bay shop was open, “there were a lot of times we felt it wasn’t enough. There were times we were busier than what we could take on,” he said.
“The same with our other Fargo stores. Sometimes, it’s just opportunities that came up to us, too. The last three that we purchased in the last couple years, all three owners were either looking to get out of the business or retire. It just kind of worked out,” he said, adding. “We want to grow, too. I don’t want us to be stagnant. I think that’s a big piece. We actively want to grow.”
Lachowitzer said auto repair can be a tough business: It requires buying a lot of specialized equipment, insurance is “ridiculously” expensive, and it’s hard to find skilled workers.
But he says his business philosophy clicks with his customers and employees.
Charity is a core value.
Lachowitzer said his sister is a cancer survivor, so he likes to do things for the Ronald McDonald House or Make-A-Wish.
“Anybody that stays at the Ronald McDonald House, we will automatically fix their cars for free. No questions asked. Our day of service is another one, where we’ll fix 10 people’s vehicles in the community for free. It’s gotten to be a really big event. Last year’s impact was over $30,000,” he said.
About 65% of his marketing budget goes toward charitable events, he said. He’d make it 100 percent if he could.
“It’s things like that … that makes me tick, that I enjoy,” he said. “To me, there’s nothing better.”
Lachowitzer employs about 34 people. He’s proud of the impact his businesses have on the area’s economy.
“People don’t think auto repair is a really sexy business, that we don’t have a real big economic impact. We’re not a hip brewery or something like that, but we do over $8 million a year in sales in these two communities. That’s a very significant impact. It’s not a small thing,” Lachowitzer said.