Connects Techs with shops
Mount Horeb-based business also seeks to promote the trades as a viable career path
Growing up in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, Jay Goninen started answering phones and writing deposit slips in his father’s automotive repair shop when he was nine years old. “I got in trouble with my mom one time when she called, and I answered, ‘hello?’ instead of ‘Dan’s Auto Shop; this is Jay.’” he laughs. After high school, Goninen went to a technical school to learn about working on cars in more detail and immerse himself in the family business. “I went back to work for my dad and was terrible at it,” he admits. “I was an immature 20-year-old and not passionate about it at all.” Unexpected knee surgery gave him an out. “My doctor said, ‘You can’t be on your feet for eight to ten hours a day,’ so I parted ways with my dad and didn’t know what I was going to do,” he says. “I could talk to people, but I’d had no exposure to the business world and didn’t have a Bachelor’s degree.”
Goninen went to work for Diesel Injection Service in Sun Prairie in a customer service and sales role. “The ad said, ‘If you want to talk to customers about parts, this is the place to be.’” he recalls. “I got confident in what I did and moved into sales at the semi-trailer dealership Badger Utility.” Goninen’s big career break came during his six years working at Bobcat as a sales rep and district service manager, overseeing the Midwest territory and managing relationships between dealerships and manufacturers. “One of the multi-location dealerships I represented offered me a job to run their parts and service department,” he says. “I ran aftermarket and oversaw all the parts and service departments at seven dealership locations.” As he grew his skills, Goninen realized that there was a continued need for techs in the field and that they were hard for employers to find. “From being on the shop side as a tech to managing a lot of people, the issue continued,” he says. “My dad’s still in business, and I think back to his difficulties finding mechanics. He used to say, ‘I can’t find a darn wrench anywhere.’” In 2005, Goninen purchased the website domain name findawrench.com, although it took him until March 2017 to feel like the time was right to launch a new business. Find A Wrench is a start-up company that helps shops like car dealerships and independent repair shops recruit and hire mechanics, automotive technicians, and diesel technicians. The launch of the company coincided with the birth of his son, now two. Goninen and his wife, who had been managing apartments, decided that was the time to take the leap. “I wrote part of my business plan in the NICU, after my son was born,” Goninen says. Find A Wrench tied Goninen’s whole career together, and he credits his diversified background with helping the company grow quickly.
“Our first customers were people I called up to tell them about my new business and helped them find someone for free,” he says. “We wanted to offer affordable rates for small businesses, so we moved from offering our services for free to building our network into a flat fee service, where the shop pays us a retainer, and they pay us a fee once we find them a mechanic.” Find A Wrench transitioned over from that core product until late 2018/early 2019, when they switched their core product based on the challenge of finding mechanics to an assisted self-recruiting program. Find A Wrench will help clients put together their own recruiting plans with a six-month subscription. Clients work one-on-one every week with a recruitment consultant, who are hired freelance recruiters, trained by Find A Wrench. The recruitment consultants conduct a market analysis for all the company’s clients. “My dad is using us,” says Goninen. “In a 30-mile radius of his business, there are eight people active on job boards and over 150 jobs, so we’re helping him use a proactive strategy to build his Rolodex and recruit.” Goninen bootstrapped his business for a year before enrolling in the Small Business Development Center’s Entrepreneurial Training Program in February 2018, on the recommendation of an acquaintance.
At the end of the course, he met SBDC business consultant Linda Davis, who has advised him ever since. “It’s an awesome class,” he says. “Every presentation was important. As an entrepreneur, you wear every hat for everything. The weekly course presentations helped me see which things I could do, like sales and marketing, and what I needed to hire for, like accounting and legal counsel.” Goninen says it was meaningful to hear from industry professionals who are immersed in each line of work. “There were a few UW students in my class, and both of our interns at Find A Wrench are UW students,” he says. “I’ve encouraged them to go to those classes, to learn from people you’d pay a lot of money to go see speak.” When Goninen began working with Davis, he needed support as he wrote his business plan. “I wasn’t looking for financing at the time, but I knew I needed to write a business plan and didn’t have the discipline to do it on my own,” he explains. “We had started growing, so I started meeting monthly with Linda. As we worked together, things would change rapidly, as is common with a start-up.” Goninen’s product and staffing plan evolved as he worked with Davis. “I figured out how critically important the business plan was to the business,” he says. “I realized we needed financing to keep growing.” When Goninen went to meet with the bank and shared his business plan, they were impressed. “Linda keeps me accountable and on task,” he says. “She can take the high points of a conversation and help get it onto paper.” Davis has helped Goninen refine his marketing strategy and tactics. “Our first mistake was doing all social media and digital marketing, using one marketing message for everyone,” he says. “Now, we’re trying to get content-driven. Shops might be more interested in the money and business side of things, and mechanics are more interested in the lifestyle side.”