While some business owners have grand entrepreneurial dreams for years before they take the leap, others, like John Cannon, are found by their business. My Car Doc has been built on Cannon’s belief that even if you don’t have money to throw at a problem, you’ve always got some way to help people. That belief came from his mother while he was growing up in rural Texas. She said if all you had to give was a hug and smile, give it.
As a young man in Texas, Cannon worked in the restaurant business and even was a hand on an emu ranch. Yes, you read that correctly, an emu ranch. He was in school at Sam Houston State University when he got an offer for a well-paying job in Lafayette, Indiana. He said he figured he would come work for the summer and return to Texas to resume his studies in the fall. The job didn’t pan out the way he’d been promised, but he stayed.
“I had no real aspirations to own a business,” Cannon said. But then as you often hear, he met a guy. He had gone to Lincoln Tech to become a mechanic and the man needed a mechanic to work his business idea. The idea was for a mobile auto tech to come to clients and service their cars. Cannon said he thought the idea was great, but that he didn’t think the owner was positioning and marketing it correctly. After eight months, the man gave Cannon his walking papers saying he was closing down and going home to Toledo.
Cannon asked him if he could run with the idea and with an affirmative answer, Cannon started My Car Doc.
“I had always been in middle management,” Cannon said. “I led small groups within businesses, but I knew nothing about owning and operating a business by myself.”
With his last $60 and the support of his wife, Suzi, Cannon bought a supply of oil and filters. He spent the next day putting together a printed menu of services and printing business cards. On the third day, he borrowed a work van and then set off to engage in a true guerilla marketing campaign.
He mapped out a plan to cover office complexes offering on-site services like oil changes. He tucked his home-made business cards next to the buttons in elevators. He dropped cards in vending machines to be found when office workers were getting an afternoon snack or drink. He stopped into each office and left menus with the receptionist. He talked to everyone he met in the halls.
The next morning, he was off to the next office complex on hi list, determined to drum up business.
When the calls started coming in, he’d exhaust his supply of oil and filters and buy some more. If there was a little extra left over, they’d pay the electric bill, then the rent.
“It was nerve wracking,” Cannon said. “But God always provided. I just trust and it always works out. It might not be what I expected, or wanted, but I get what I need.”
That was in 2004 and it was truly a shoestring operation. His customers called his green sheets of services the “Chinese menu” and began referring him to their friends and family. He and Suzi continued to spend a couple of days each week plastering business cards and menus across the businesses of Indianapolis.
Business evolves and you have to adapt
“At the time we started, I knew nothing about running a business,” Cannon said. “Our stuff looked like some kid printed it at home. Maybe it was charming and cute, but it was by luck that we got the business we did.”
Without really know what it was called, he set about creating a brand for his business. He named it My Car Doc and his service calls were called house calls. He called himself the “chief surgeon” and showed up in scrubs with his little black tool bag and latex gloves. “It was like a doctor in the old west,” Cannon said. That was the idea he had in his head, a doctor coming to help when you needed it.
He began talking to other business people and learning from them. He credits Ron Sukenic and Nikki Llewellyn with teaching him how to network and build business relationships and alliances. He said that John Karamanski and John Wiley taught him about the business community and how to do business in this community.
The original business model was built on 100 percent house calls. Cannon intended to eventually hire more people and put them in vans, too, hoping to have three or four around the city. He worked up to that and he says he moved into the role of professional networker. He was building clientele, but not doing any of the actual work with clients.
He’d reached his goal, but along with that came problems with clients not being happy with mechanics. It wasn’t their work or the service, it was their attitude, cleanliness and punctuality that topped the complaints. “I couldn’t get employees to change their behavior,” Cannon said, “so one day I fired everybody and went back to working in the van by myself. That was the first expansion and contraction of the business.”
The next adaption to his business model came with social media. “Twitter absolutely changed my business,” Cannon said. “It was the newest latest social craze and I just started answering questions, giving free advice and sharing funny stuff. It was show business and it started generating work.”
At the height of his Twitter experience, Cannon says that about 25 percent of his business came from Twitter. Then with everyone upgrading to smart phones and his creating a My Car Doc page on Facebook, the ripples became a wave. He said he was getting service requests across several different platforms.
He was back to doing all the scheduling and all the work on his own. It was overwhelming and he knew something had to change.
One step he took was to build alliances with auto garages. He found he could sub-contract big jobs out to shops and that helped with the timing. While they worked on jobs that took several hours, he could service smaller jobs himself in the meantime. “I scheduled the work, picked up the client’s vehicle, got the service done and delivered it back to the client,” Cannon said. “The client didn’t have to do anything.”
While that alleviated some of the volume of work load, Cannon didn’t feel he had the control he wanted over the quality of the work and, as important, the integrity of the sub-contractors standing behind their work. “Several times I would have to make something right with the customer myself,” Cannon said, “and sometimes I got burned with that.”
It was time to revamp the business model again. He said he came to understand that the concept of a mobile car service was what people didn’t understand. They didn’t grasp how it worked – that he would come to them to do the work.
He knew it was time to change the business again and with the knowledge and experience he’d gained over the prior years, he decided he would eventually own his own shop. That was in 2013 and he started doing his research. He started paying attention to what people said about shops and noted the top three or four complaints. “Quite honestly,” Cannon said, “nobody ever seemed happy. They felt like they are held hostage. They don’t know how long anything will take, when they would get their vehicle back or what it would cost in the end.”
Cannon knew he wanted to build something different, so he started designing the Car Care Clinic in his head. “I wanted to make it unlike anything else,” Cannon said. While he was planning, he was saving money aside and searching for locations.
Finally, in the fall of 2015, he found a location and set up the Car Clinic. “The real thing about opening this place,” said Cannon, “is that while I was solitary in my van, my income was limited to the number of cars I could touch. I had so many clients and was overwhelmed. It was the tipping point.”
The Clinic’s atmosphere is akin to that of Cheers. “Only without the liquor,” Cannon said. “The funny thing is that friends and clients come in just to relax and hang out a bit. I really like that they feel welcome here. If you’re having a bad day, and you are if you’re at the car shop, right? Our job is turn your day around and make it better.”
Build business on a strong backbone
It is on purpose that integrity is the backbone of everything that Cannon and My Car Doc stands for and does.
Although Cannon was not pursuing a life as an entrepreneur as a young man, he said that he had read an article about a study conducted of the world’s richest billionaires and what they had in common. Their No. 1 business strategy was to diversify your income streams and the No. 1 belief is that you have to have integrity in everything you do. He said that impressed him.
“It’s hard to gain trust because of this profession,” Cannon said. “I’ve been a used car salesman and a mechanic. If I had ever been a politician, I’d be the most hated man in the nation.”
With that in mind, Cannon says that honestly helping people in their life and pursuits infiltrates all that happens with him and at My Car Doc. For instance, he has continued the Friends and Family Plan where he picks up client’s vehicles and brings them in for service.
Making things easier and better for others doesn’t just include auto mechanics at this shop. Cannon is a firm believer that helping includes promoting and supporting other small businesses in the area. So while his shop is full-service offering everything from oil changes to engine changes for vehicles, his shop is also a place where you will find cards and referrals to other businesses that he can say are run by good business owners. His first choice is to always source his business needs locally and that’s why he can honestly say, “I know the service, the owner and I want to share and promote them.”
That’s refreshing, because sometimes it is hard to know where to turn when you need something. “I like to promote other businesses that have the same core values (as I do),” Cannon said. “If you need someone to sell you soap, you want to find the person who’s going to be honest with you.”
Feed your dreams with purpose
Building a business takes work, dedicated and determination. But Cannon proves that when you add in a healthy dose of humor, honesty and fundamental purpose, it is possible to make your dreams come true.
With a home base now, My Car Doc is poised to grow with more mechanics and more clients. After four consecutive years on the Angie’s List Super Service Award and being voted No. 1 in the RTV6 Indy A-List, there doesn’t seem to be anything standing in his way.
Cannon has big plans for the future and each idea is based on honestly helping people and making their lives easier and better – and happier. There is always an element of fun and humor in every conversation with John Cannon in person and online. Follow My Car Doc on social media and keep an ear and eye poised for some surprises.
They say that a small business is a reflection of its owner in many different ways. Stop into My Car Doc and you will immediately see and feel the values and core of John Cannon.
John Cannon | Owner
My Car Doc
8246 Allisonville Road
Indianapolis, IN 46250
Hours: Mon. – Fri., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.