Reversing the Industry Image | November 2019
Every new customer is wary of subpar repairs and overbilling. How do you overcome that and break the old stereotype?
“President Truman said, ‘The buck stops here,’ and I believe in that philosophy,” says Dean Phelps, owner of 6 to 6 Auto Service (Lincoln, Neb.).
“The customer isn’t a number. They’re Molly Smith, for example—we know Molly, and she has three kids and needs her car to get them to school and herself to work.”
Some industries have the luxury of simply counting clients as numbers and input; the more input through the entrance, the more output (revenue) per quarter. In auto repair, however, it’s not that easy. Clients depend on trust—trust that you’ll fix their car right the first time, and trust that you’re not charging exorbitant fees to do so. The question you have to ask yourself is: what kind of owner will you be? How will you reflect upon the industry as a whole?
Most professions can’t hold a peg to how often the common repair shop owner has to overcome century-old biases about the quality, timeliness and value of their services. Luckily, there are more shop owners than we can count working to reverse that image; here are a few whose methods yield trust, goodwill and loyal customers.
Follow a clear and actionable mission statement.
At Parkway Automotive (Little Rock, Ark.), Mike Davidson manages his shop under one primary rule: Can you fulfill the mission statement?
“It is the mission of Parkway Automotive to provide ethical, reliable service to the motoring public,” he quotes.
Thirty years ago, Davidson asked an insurance agent how to keep his premiums low, and the agent said, “It’s simple—hire the right people.” From that innocuous conversation, Davidson has built a successful shop with loyal customers and a team that he knows can handle any client or situation whether he’s in the shop or not.
“Our customers aren’t just buying a water pump—they’re buying us,” he says. “I want my team to interact with the clients at the highest levels possible.”
To that end, the mission statement empowers team members to make decisions without constant oversight. Davidson believes hiring the right people yields a team of leaders who are able to collaborate, solve problems and move business forward without always double-checking with a manager or boss.
“As shop owners, we have a choice about who we bring into this industry,” he says.
“For too long we’ve hired the wrong people. The schools told us who to hire and that doesn’t always work; the cars are too complicated for technicians who struggle with math or understanding theory and operation.”
Davidson asserts the modern shop owner has to (and should) work harder than he or she used to when it comes to hiring.
“We kiss a lot of frogs, but that’s the work of an owner. If you find and hire the right people, however, you’ll have less stress, and if they fit under your mission, you’ll be profitable,” he says.
Use every resource available.
In Missouri, Mike Goodwin leans on the Missouri State Motor Vehicle Inspection Checklist, a state-required form to get new tabs for cars over five years old. It’s as thorough—and monotonous—as any government form.
But for Goodwin and his shop, Buddy’s Automotive (Independence, MO.), it works.
“The inspection is a great way to showcase your services,” Goodwin says, “and it has to be done, so there’s no better way to do it than one-on-one. It makes the second visit go smooth as silk because they’re already in our system with a VIN, car and contact info, and now I can talk to them by name.”
Goodwin cites it as a foolproof way to keep his database crisp and to prevent “wrong car/wrong person” as license plates and VIN get recycled.
“In the past 12 years, that’s how we’ve put together a comprehensive base. It also helps the overall culture to get to know our customers,” he says.
“People can tell if you want to try and help them or not; we do everything we can to make a professional impression and keep people at ease. It’s our hardest obstacle. People say, ‘I’ve been screwed so many places, what makes you different?’
“If we can greet them at the inspection, they’ll see.”
Meet as many customers as possible.
“If you do the right thing every single time, people will come back to you,” says Dean Phelps, owner of 6 to 6 Auto Service. For Phelps, that begins and ends with being present at his shop as much as possible.
“I don’t do any of the service advising anymore, but I chat with our customers and employees every day,” he says.
“Our shop stands out because we know our customers and we understand they are real people, not a number or a dollar sign.”
Phelps understands there’s plenty of competition, but knowing his customers and employees is key to his shop’s success.
“This is my business,” he adds, “that I’ve put my heart and soul into, and I want to be on-site as it continues to grow and thrive.”