A veteran Volkswagen car mechanic in Raleigh, N.C., Charles Sanville is the writer, talent, AV guy and producer behind The Humble Mechanic, a YouTube channel with more than 140,000 subscribers. He knew nothing about podcasting when he started six years ago. Five hundred episodes later, he quit his day job. Here’s his story.
The year was 2011 …
What inspired you to start The Humble Mechanic?
I started my site in 2011 as a blog. It started because the Volkswagen dealership I worked for at the time was such a cool place. It had that cool VW vibe — even the sales managers wore tie dye to work. It was real chill, real laid back.
People would come in and buy a car and, next thing you know, they’re in to buy a car for little Johnny. Then next thing you know, they bring it in for maintenance because Johnny’s headed off to college. Next thing you know, Johnny’s back to buy a car for his wife. There are places that truly do care about their customers.
I wanted to show folks that most of us mechanics are really good people and care about our customers.
Most everyone has a bad mechanic story, so I wanted to share some of the good. I also wanted to share the experiences that professional auto mechanics have — and help anyone interested in becoming a mechanic navigate the very high-tech automotive industry.
It’s been surprising how many people have emailed for advice or I’ve spoken to in person or on the phone. I’ve had people say, “Hey because of you, I did what I always wanted to do and changed careers,” or “I was nervous about getting into the industry, and you helped me not be scared to dive in.”
I get “you should shave,” a lot, too.
Were there any wrenches thrown into the works early on?
Day one might not be the day to bring in the pros, but if you’re serious about your business, it’s worth it.
But with the help of some tech-savvy friends and YouTube, I got myself going. Later, I hired someone to help me build what I really wanted and to make it work.
How did you identify your specialty within the industry?
This was very easy for me. I didn’t have to identify my niche — I lived it. Cars are scary to people. But European cars seem to be extra scary to owners and to mechanics. I wanted to ease the fear and explain how they work.
I get feedback like, “Hey, I saved a bunch of money, and now I’m gonna tackle the next thing on my own.” It’s important to me to know that what I’m talking about is what people really want know. So one video a week is devoted to answering audience questions.
What’s your business philosophy?
Doing the right thing is never wrong. It might cost a little now, but the investment will be worth it.
The perception of the masses is that mechanics are out to screw people, that we just want to take advantage of you. I know those things happen — there are times where technicians are put in situations where they could make that choice.
Sometimes, it’s hard to make the right decision because it’s going to cost you more time or your customer more money, but doing the right thing pays off — hopefully in the short term, but definitely in the long term.
The Humble Mechanic’s tech toolbox
What online tools do you use for your business?
I purchased 10 domains from GoDaddy, and I use WordPress for my site. I use a handful of plugins that help me run my membership side and notify customers. The tools from MailChimp and aMember have been great.
MailChimp is the email service I use. It alerts my followers automatically that I have made a new post, or put out new information. It was easy to set up and does what it says with no effort.
I wouldn’t be able to run my premium membership club without them. That’s a big part of my revenue.
aMember allows me to easily manage premium members. I can email them quickly about a new private post or new download. Plus, it’s easy to manage their accounts and put out any customer service fires that might come about.
Small business advice
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since starting your business?
I would say learning when to pay the pros to do a task. I spent hours learning how to build a site. Hours on a very simple task that a pro could do in minutes and at little cost to me. I could have used those hours to focus on my business.
Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?
Just get started. You don’t have to be perfect. Waiting for everything to be perfect is a great way to never get started. If you start moving forward and run into an issue, fix it then. Don’t worry and stress over the issues that may never happen.
When I started my podcast, I was just kind of scared to press record and talk to a little black box. You know, trying to sound intelligent and make sure you get the lighting and audio right. At first, I tried writing out what I was gonna say … until I realized that I’m terrible at writing. Finally I’m like, “Charles you could easily record a video and edit it faster than write it out first.” So now I do a quick outline for myself and press record. Writing the description for YouTube is probably my least favorite part.
I feel like I’ve made every mistake that you can make — messed up the audio, messed up the video. What it all boils down to is staying true to your message and putting out good and accurate info. It is simple, but not always easy.
And hey, it’s better than going into an office every day — I get to play around with cars.
In May 2017, Charles left his job of 13 years to make videos and teach for California-based SSF Imported Auto Parts. Charles spends a few weekends a month in San Francisco or LA teaching Saturday-Sunday classes to technicians from VW/Audi/specialty shops or their competitors. His podcast is listed on Feedspot’s “Top 100 Auto Blogs Every Car Enthusiast Must Read”. Check out The Humble Mechanic, and then follow him on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Also published on Medium.