Starting a small engine repair shop is a great way to start your own business if you are mechanically inclined. Startup costs are modest, and the requirements are usually less compared to mechanics who work on cars and trucks. In Michigan, for example, there are no state laws requiring that you get a license to repair small engines.
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, a good small engine mechanic makes over $20 an hour as an employee. As a business owner with overhead and no one to pay you benefits or vacation time, you should consider charging a bit more.
Becoming a Master Mechanic
Small engines cover a broad spectrum of machinery, including two-stroke and four-stroke engines. If you're just getting started, it may not be realistic to think you can work on every machine your customers may bring to you. Without some training, just because you are experienced working on Honda lawn mowers doesn't necessarily mean you will be able to diagnose and repair a Briggs & Stratton portable generator.
For some people, particularly those who are mechanically inclined, learning as you go can come naturally. However, this takes time, and you can't expect customers to pay you for the time you are learning. After all, nobody will want to pay you for six hours of work on a project that would take someone else an hour.
There are a couple ways you can develop your mastery of mechanics while working. Taking courses in engine repair is one option. Another is to specialize only in the types of engines with which you are experienced already. A third is to be honest with your customers, like saying, "I haven't worked on this type of motor before" and then charge them only for the time you spent fixing their problem rather than the time you spent learning new skills.
Getting Your Business Running
Before your business gets started, you'll need to write a small engine repair business plan, detailing such things as:
- Where you will work (with good ventilation)
- What types of engines you will repair
- Where you will source parts
- How much you need to charge
- Who will be your customers
- How you will make additional revenue
- Tools and equipment you will need and their costs
According to Entrepreneur, you should be able to get your business up and running for as little as $10,000. This could be much less if you already have the tools, and you're able to work from your own garage. Check state and local government requirements on getting a business license, registering your business and whether or not you need to be bonded. You will also need commercial insurance for liability and theft.
There are plenty of ways to make additional income, like fixing and reselling used engines and equipment, renting outdoor power generators you have fixed or refurbished or getting manufacturer certification to do warranty repair work.
Marketing Your Small Engine Repair Shop
While you are writing your business plan, make it a point to do some market research. Talk to local dealers of the equipment on which you want to work to find out if there is a demand for those types of repairs. If there is, these dealers could be a great source of referrals.
Putting a sign in your yard and posting ads on Craigslist will help, but don't expect these types of passive marketing to attract many customers when you start out. You will need to get out and talk to people. Go to the local marina if you're near water or stop by the local farmers' co-op if you live in the country.
Depending on where you live, there is a good chance that the winter will be your slow season, with demand rising in the spring and summer as people realize their lawn mowers, boat motors and leaf blowers aren't working properly. Treat everyone you meet as a potential customer, and as your business ramps up, you should expect word of mouth to be your greatest marketing tool.
- Entrepreneur: Small Engine Repair
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Outdoor Power Equipment and Other Small Engine Mechanics
- The College of Davidson and Davie Counties: Small Engine Repair Introduction
- LawnSite: Trying to Start a Lawn Mower/Small Engine Repair Shop
- Michigan State License Search: Lawn Mower Repair
- People put a lot of equipment out for trash pickup that is easily repairable. Stop and ask to take it off their hands. This is a great source of parts and or fixer-uppers!
- Be sure you have a safe place to store the combustible gas and oil you will need to have at your small engine repair shop.
A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.