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GreatWater adds new signage to acquisitions but keeps the original shop names. Shown here is one of 14 Butitta Brothers Automotive locations in northern Illinois, which GreatWater bought in 2021. GreatWater adds new signage to acquisitions but keeps the original shop names. Shown here is one of 14 Butitta Brothers Automotive locations in northern Illinois, which GreatWater bought in 2021. COURTESY OF GREATWATER 360 AUTO CARE

Buying spree: Grand Rapids auto service company adds to dozens of recent Midwest acquisitions

BY Kathy McCarron, Tire Business Thursday, February 23, 2023 11:57am

HUDSONVILLE — Dytech Auto Group Inc., d.b.a. GreatWater 360 Auto Care, has been on an acquisition spree the last couple of years, taking over nearly 90 independent auto service locations in the Midwest.

You probably haven’t noticed the names changing on those acquired shops in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. That’s because, unlike many major merger/acquisition players, GreatWater said it makes a point of retaining the individual businesses’ identities — and their legacies.

The company has been acquiring single- and multi-location businesses in a variety of markets. The company’s largest acquisition so far, by store count, happened in December when it bought Tire Tracks USA, a Bradley, Ill.-based dealership with 14 stores and a warehouse in northern Illinois.

The dealership signage is still emblazoned with the Tire Tracks name but will add, in smaller print, “a GreatWater garage.”

“Our goal and our plan is to never change the name,” GreatWater COO Scott Kear told Tire Business.

“We never go into an acquisition with the intention of changing the name. That’s the last thing we want to do. We’re buying these shops because they’re obviously well-run shops. They’re in neighborhoods we love to be in. They have a strong reputation. Why would we want to take that away?”

Since February 2021, GreatWater has grown to 96 locations after starting with seven Dykstra Auto shops in the Grand Rapids market.

In 2003, GreatWater CEO and majority owner Jim Dykstra bought the auto service dealership his father Richard had founded in 1984. After expanding the dealership, he established Dytech to acquire other auto service businesses where the owners didn’t have a succession or exit strategy.

The acquisitions went full throttle in 2021, when Dytech bought 50 locations, including Rockford, Ill.-based Butitta Brothers Automotive with 14 locations; in 2022 it acquired another 44 shops.

So far this year, Dytech has added two more: Trans Works Transmissions L.L.C. in Portage, Wis., and Farnsworth Auto Plus in Aurora, Ill.

About six months ago, Dytech decided to market itself as GreatWater 360 Auto Care to better resonate with consumers on what the company does, Kear said.

“As we buy all these shops, we have to affiliate them somehow. And obviously that GreatWater logo we hope is going to help,” he said.

GreatWater plans to continue acquiring shops this year but has no specific target number or markets, Kear said.

“We’re not targeting demographic areas, we’re targeting solid legacy neighborhood shops that want an exit strategy. We want to acquire at the right pace where we can continue to be effective and continue to serve those communities the right way. Is that 30 shops this year? I don’t know. Is it 60 shops? I don’t know, because we don’t know what the year holds. …We want to do it the right way, not the fast way,” Kear said.

He said the company has the capital for all these acquisitions due to the help of investors and the fact it is acquiring successful businesses.

“At the end of day we are buying very profitable shops. We come in and hope to make them more profitable,” he said.

Two years ago, the company was doing all the pursuing of potential shops to buy.

“As we’ve grown from seven shops to 96 in basically 24 months, the word gets out there. So we’re starting to see more and more people approach us,” Kear said, noting that many of the owners who sold their businesses are now referring GreatWater to other shop owners.

Preserving legacies

Kear noted there are many independent shops, from single-store to multi-location dealerships, whose owners are ready to retire but don’t have a family member to take over or have a succession plan.

“For those cases where they don’t have an exit strategy, they’re excited for us to come in and talk to them and give them a fair price for the legacy they built. ...

“We protect that. The reason we’re doing so well is because we put the people first. We put the team first. We don’t come in and make swooping changes,” Kear said.

“At the end of the day, anybody can buy a building and some equipment. You’re acquiring the legacy and I think that’s why we’ve done so well is people warm up to us. A: We give them an exit strategy and B: We’re protecting their legacy that they’ve spent X amount of years building,” he said, adding, “There’s not a lot of companies that are doing what we’re doing, the way we’re doing it — protecting the legacy, for example.

“We’re not coming in and stripping companies down for a financial win. We’re investing in and helping them to grow and providing career ladders for the employees.

“If you look at the industry, there’s not a tremendous amount of people doing what we’re doing. I think that’s part of what makes us so successful.”

After a purchase is finalized, the biggest change for the acquired shop is new point-of-sale software for accounting integration with the rest of the company, Kear said. Then an on-site team oversees and assists in the operations for the first two weeks.

Eventually, over the course of the ensuing months, the company may add the shop to its corporate marketing campaigns, depending on the market; amend the signage to include the GreatWater name; provide uniforms with the GreatWater logo only, so as not to confuse customers; and change the color scheme of the building and interior to the corporate blue and gray.

“We have to be cautious about coming in and splashing our name all over the place right away. So we work towards that,” he said.

GreatWater prides itself in buying successful businesses and making them better: providing updated equipment and renovations if needed, offering employees better benefits and a more extensive career path within the company, and offering customers a nationwide three-year/36,000-mile warranty on all its services.

Kear said GreatWater allows the acquired auto repair shops to continue providing the services their local customers have come to expect. In regards to specialty shops, such as Tire Tracks — which focuses on tire sales — and Trans Works —which is heavy into transmission work — GreatWater has expanded their automotive service offerings so they can be “one-stop shops” for their customers.

All GreatWater garages offer full automotive services and all major tire brands, Kear said. Tire Tracks will continue to supply tires through its warehouse in Joliet, Ill., and a network of vendors supplies parts to all the shops, he said.

Upholding values

“We look for good quality businesses with strong Midwestern family values and we go from there,” Kear said. “We don’t look at the financials first. We actually look at the family values of the business before we even get into the financials.

“It’s really important to us because of the culture that we have and the culture we’re continuing to expand on. We’re basically 96 rooftops but they’re all neighborhood shops and that’s very important to us.

“When Jim embarked on this journey to grow from seven shops to where we’re at today, it was about making sure we continue to live the values that his dad taught him when his dad opened the business in 1984. … There’s times we’ve had to walk away (from a potential shop acquisition) because maybe we learned our values didn’t align. It doesn’t matter what the price of the business may be, it’s the values and the family values that come first,” Kear said.

And what are those values?

He said, externally, the company’s values include:

  • treating customers with respect and honesty, doing what’s best for them rather than what’s best for profit;
  • taking pride in your work and don’t take shortcuts; and
  • if you make a promise, no matter what, keep your promises. At the end of the day, stand behind your work. Your name is only as good as the work you put into it.

Internal values include providing a healthy work/life balance for employees.

“We’re very proud of the fact that none of our shops are open past 6 p.m. None of our shops are open on weekends. We very much put a family-first culture out there,” Kear said.

“We want a healthy work/life balance. There are times we buy a shop and they’re open on Saturdays. Typically in the first 30 days of new ownership we close them on Saturdays because we don’t want them working; we want them with their families.”

The company said it also invests in on-going employee training and provides a career ladder by offering job opportunities throughout the network.

From Tire Business.

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