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While driving in my car the other day, I found myself scanning through my XM radio stations looking for something worth listening to. I landed on a station that was totally dedicated to the 1960’s music. As I heard these old familiar songs my mind took me back to those “good old days” of high school. Memories of homework, dating, proms, Friday night basketball and football games and just hanging with friends flooded my mind. Another vivid memory of those days was the excitement of getting my first driver’s license. Getting that license was the gateway to a new found freedom of not having to rely on mom and dad for transportation.
The process of getting the license seemed to take forever. First you had to take a driver education class. Once you passed the class you had get your parents to haul you down to the department of motor vehicles where you had to pass a written and a driving test. In order to pass the written test you could only miss no more than three questions. The pressure was on. As I took my completed test to the counter to have it reviewed by the examiner, my heart was racing. Did I study enough? Did I get more that 3 questions wrong? What will my friends say if I come home and have failed the test? Did I pass?? Then it happened…..PASS!! What a relief!
However, this was no time to celebrate. There was still the driving test. But wait…. that meant the dreaded parallel parking part of the exam. Could I really do it without crashing into those orange cones strategically placed to test my parking skills? With sweat running down my face I maneuvered my dad’s car perfectly into the designated parking area and passed with flying colors. The result of all my blood, sweat and tears was the issuance of my “Learners Permit”. For the next two weeks, I could drive a car, but I needed to have a fully licensed driver (over the age of 18) in the front passenger seat. I think I drove my parents crazy for those two weeks. I was constantly nagging them to let me drive. I circled the date of my two week probation period on the calendar and two weeks to the day, we headed back to the department of motor vehicles to make it official. They snapped my picture and issued me my first driver’s license. The best day of my short 16 year life!!
Now that I had my license to drive, the only thing that I needed was a car!! While my parents were good at letting me take their cars, I longed for the freedom of not being restricted to using a car only when mom and dad were not using it. In my senior year of high school, my dream was finally realized. My first car! I purchased a used, 1962 Chevrolet Corvair from my uncle for $500. It was a gold color and was a 4-speed manual transmission with the stick on the floor. Life could not be better!!
Since those days, a long time ago, I have had numerous vehicles in my life. Like most of you, I can remember each car, and they all bring back great memories!! Your first new car, your first family van, the neighborhood truck, and that little spots car you have always dreamed of. Vehicles have always been and will continue to be a part of our lives. We count on them every day to get us and our families where we need to be. Just try not having access or using your car for just a few days. It is painful. Taking good care of our vehicles is more important today than ever before. Regular oil changes and following recommended scheduled maintenance will keep your vehicle in good working condition.
During the next few weeks, I hope you will all take a few moments and reflect back on the vehicles in your life. Just like music, remembering the vehicles in your life will bring back those great memories of the past and might just bring a smile to your face as you remember the” good old days”.
Local Xpress Lube Service Center Locations Receive National Motor Oil Matters Certification for Commitment to Quality
Three Xpress Lube Service Center Installers Become 1st American Petroleum InstituteMOM-Certified Locations in Southern California
Simi Valley, Calif. – January 8, 2014 – Xpress Lube Service Center is proud to announce that its three locations in Simi Valley and Ventura have become the first American Petroleum Institute (API) Motor Oil Matters (MOM) certified motor oil installers in Southern California. MOM is an API program that identifies motor oil installers that adhere to the highest possible industry standards and deliver quality motor oils.
“Since 1971, we’ve always prided ourselves on being a premium service, and when something comes along like this that brings even more credibility to what you do, it’s a great thing,” said Thomas Haugh, Operations Manager, Lube Pit Stop Inc. “We’re excited to be the first installer in Southern California to join the MOM program. The MOM seal lets consumers know that we are a company you can trust, and that we’re only pouring high quality motor oils into consumers’ vehicles.”
In order to qualify for MOM, install locations are required to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to quality, prove their dedication to accurate record keeping and transparency and agree to random audits to ensure only quality oils are installed in consumers’ cars and trucks.
The three Xpress Lube Service Center locations have been recognized for passing these rigorous requirements.
“These Xpress Lube Service Center locations have demonstrated an impressive commitment to their customers by making sure they deliver only high quality motor oils,” said Kevin Ferrick, API’s Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System manager. “By achieving Motor Oil Matters certified status, all three of these locations proudly display the MOM certified symbol, an easily-recognized sign that assures consumers they will get the quality oils recommended by their vehicle and engine manufacturers.”
The locations in Simi Valley and Ventura offer a full range of automotive services, including oil changes, power steering service, transmission service, fuel injection service, coolant services, and others.
“We understand that it can often be confusing for consumers to get their cars serviced, with competitors offering unreasonably low prices for incorrect, low-quality motor oil that is not right for their vehicles, “added Haugh. “Consumers should only trust installers that are certified by the API, as we only pour the correct grade and correctly rated motor oils into consumer’s vehicles.”
API recommends that consumers visit www.MotorOilMatters.org to find a Motor Oil Matters (MOM) certified oil change location near them, get informed about the vital role quality oil plays in their vehicles, and download the helpful MOM oil change checklist to take to their next oil change. Oil-change locations and motor oil distributors that share MOM’s commitment to high quality motor oils—and submit to independent, third party auditing— are the only locations that have the opportunity to be recognized by MOM through the Motor Oil Matters distributor and installer licensing programs.
About Xpress Lube Service Center
Established in 1971, Xpress Lube Service Center stores are a locally owned and operated family business, and have three convenient locations at 2170 First St. and 4560 Los Angeles Ave in Simi Valley, Calif. and at 4624 Telephone Rd in Ventura, Calif. For more information, visit http://xpresslubelps.com/.
FRAM®, a leading U.S. oil filter brand, today introduced the FRAM Pro Series product line, a set of specially designed oil filters that align oil filter selection with the specific oil – conventional, premium conventional and full synthetic – used most frequently by installers during oil changes. FRAM launched the FRAM Pro Series at AAPEX 2013 in Las Vegas and is currently rolling out the product line to professional installers nationwide.
“When you look at the market trends, you see a clear distinction in the good, better and best categories of quality oil offered during oil change service jobs,” said Josh Gordon, director of marketing for FRAM Filtration. “FRAM Pro Series brings filtration back into that conversation around oil changes by providing professional installers with a first-of-its-kind product line that aligns the oil filter with the specific oil. We believe the FRAM Pro Series will be a major advantage in helping professional installers drive more business in the competitive environment we see today, as end consumers are making less frequent service visits.”
FRAM Pro Series features three filter choices for the professional installer. FRAM Pro Synthetic® is engineered for synthetic oil with long-life protection up to 15,000 miles. FRAM Pro Plus™ is designed as a trade-up filter aligned with synthetic blend and premium convention oils for extended change intervals up to 10,000 miles. FRAM Pro® provides a quality filter engineered for vehicles that use conventional oil with more regular change intervals of 3,000 to 5,000 miles.
“Your end consumer wants to know their car is being serviced by a quality product they can trust,” said Gordon. “FRAM Pro Series instills confidence in end users by helping them choose the filter that optimizes their engine oil.”
FRAM Pro Series launched with more than 126 available part numbers. A comprehensive portfolio of online and collateral tools made available to professional installers and technicians by FRAM supports the rollout of FRAM Pro Series.
For more information on FRAM Pro Series or FRAM® products, call 1-800-890-2075 or visit framproseries.com.
D-Patrick Body & Glass returns as a Top Shops winner
By Tim Sramcik, Contributing editor
A funny thing happened when Greg Hagan turned 18 and began a career in restaurant management: He actually started down a path that would eventually make him body shop director of D-Patrick Body & Glass, a Top Shops finalist for two straight years.
Sound odd? After all, when it comes to managing the two types of businesses, food service and auto repair, there are plenty of similarities — but there are even more differences. Moreover, helping run D-Patrick poses a special kind of challenge because it’s a dealer shop for a business that sells and services nine different automotive brands, including luxury lines such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
The former restaurant manager and the dealership developed a formula to make their relationship work. In the 12 years since Hagan first arrived at the Evansville, Ind.-based shop as a service advisor, he and the business have transformed a shop that once generated $300,000 in annual revenue to one that today makes more than $7 million a year, and includes four locations and 44 employees.
Their formula for that success involves a combination of cutting-edge repairs, dedication to customer service, and a willingness to think outside the traditional “repair box.”
This Top Shop returns to ABRN’s pages having spent the past year riffing on that formula, building on what it does best with a few new twists.
Speaking of the past year, D-Patrick spent part of it celebrating its 2012 Top Shop status. The shop made sure to include this recognition on virtually all of its marketing, including everything from its signage to its estimates.
“When you receive national recognition, you shouldn’t be quiet about it,” says Hagan. “You should let your customers know what you’ve done and be proud of it.”
D-Patrick invested a bit more in its marketing, especially its online efforts. The shop purchased the rights to the web address AutobodyEvansville.com. The website launched after what Hagan calls a year of “collaborative effort” from many members of the D-Patrick team.
Previously, the shop site was just a part of the D-Patrick dealer site. Hagan says the change was necessary to help customers more easily locate the shop online. “We feel that by having all of our body shops on one site separate from the dealerships, it will break the ‘brand’ placed on each shop and the vehicle makes they are associated with,” he explains.
The site also makes use of search engine optimization, utilizing common search keywords incorporated within the new site’s web pages. The shop also went one extra step and created a mobile version of the website to make it more accessible for customers looking for a repairer on a mobile device (mobile search engines are engineered to look first for mobile websites).
The shop also invested in more traditional media outlets. It released several radio commercials have been released in the past several months along with recording updated versions of ads that will be aired in the coming months. These commercials focus on educating prospective customers on what to do following an accident, along with touting the shop’s repair processes.
To help coordinate and carry out these efforts, the shop brought on a marketing intern, who helped with the website, promotions, social media and flyers. The shop also started attending news and networking events with the local Chamber of Commerce, sponsoring a booth at its Business Expo to help build corporate connections.
It reached out to the community more than ever, with efforts aimed at advocating literacy and education. A local library celebrated its 100-year anniversary with an event where attendees could learn 100 different activities. D-Patrick sponsored a booth where it taught families the importance of regular car maintenance and then demonstrated how to check oil levels.
Recognizing the importance of such personalized contact, the shop adopted a similar approach towards educating and getting to know D-Patrick’s car buying customers. This past year, it hosted its first new owner event, where new car buyers returned to the dealership for a dinner. While there, representatives from every D-Patrick service area met with the customers to familiarize them with their service options and to get to know them personally in a family atmosphere.
Hagan says the event was so successful that D-Patrick now schedules them monthly.
Even with these efforts, which are proving their worth, Hagan notes that “there’s no magic wand” when it comes to attracting new customers. The most effective marketing job starts when the customer comes to the shop. The service and work that follow are the best type of marketing.
Together, all these efforts help D-Patrick reach its ultimate goal, “owning the relationship” with the customer. This means getting them into them back into a repaired vehicle they’re satisfied with or into another D-Patrick vehicle if their ride is totaled out.
Of course, dealers often have better access to OEM repair information and certification opportunities. D-Patrick makes full use of these options. The shop is certified to work on BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volkswagen and Nissan models.
Being able these repairs is a plus for any shop, but they come with enormous challenges, namely the cost, training and other investments that are necessary for maintaining certification.
Equipment can be particularly expensive, especially the tools required to work on luxury automobiles. Maintaining the necessary training can involve going well-beyond the kind of commitment most shops are used to making. Hagan notes that D-Patrick soon will be sending one of his techs to Germany for training to maintain certification for one of its luxury lines.
Even with these expenses, Hagan says the certifications are a necessary investment in the shop’s future and its customers. Moreover, he sees the industry heading in a direction where OEM training will become increasingly necessary.
That doesn’t mean training D-Patrick dismisses training from other outlets. Hagan is quick to note that I-CAR training is a significant part of a shop’s training mix. In fact, he’s an I-CAR instructor and teaches several classes each week.
“We give our employees as many opportunities as possible to gain knowledge and information,” says Hagan. “Today, you have to know as much as possible and have access to the latest information or you’re not going to perform a repair correctly.”
Hagan notes that just recently the shop was performing repairs on an older model BMW. Even though they had performed similar work on related models, they made sure to check the latest repair updates, which contained an all-new installation procedure for the replacement part.
“It was a good example of the need to stay up to date and the need to be as thorough as possible,” says Hagan.
The same lesson holds true for Hagan and D-Patrick management. They’ve been part of a dealership body shop 20 group for nearly five years now. The group shares ideas, discusses how shops should respond to certain business situations provides members with feedback on theories and suggestions to improve their shops.
Hagan notes that he’s gained particular insight into lean operations and customer experience. Shop tours have proved especially enlightening. “We get to see others putting their ideas into action through practical means so that we can judge whether the changes are worth the time and effort,” he says.
Looking back on a new direction
D-Patrick spent 2013 placing that same kind of analysis on one of its own creations — it’s fourth location, which is not tied to any of the dealerships. It provides independent mechanical and collision work and tires all under one roof and under the D-Patrick name. The business took this direction as a new way to introduce the D-Patrick name to new customers and, according to Hagan, “to do something different.”
In an industry where shops obsess over where every dollar is spent, taking an enormous risk for the sake of trying something new might seem wasteful or a poor use of investment funds. For D-Patrick, the risk is logical. They already know how to run a successful MSO. Now they’re leveraging that ability to build their business in a slightly new way. They’re a dealer shop and, at the same time, independent.
Hagan says the risk is paying off as customers are finding their way to the business and revenue is growing. Just as D-Patrick took the time to grow its dealer shops, it will be patient so that it can better realize all the potential its latest venture holds. What could make more sense from a shop that specializes in the unusual?
Top Shops 2013 Sponsors:
By James E. Guyette
Being named a Motor Age Top Shop is icing on the cake for owners Steve Yacovone and Jürgen Ankert as Sun Valley Imports of Tempe, Ariz. also celebrates the shop’s 20th anniversary.
“The 20 years went by like 20 days,” says Yacovone, marveling at their beautiful facility set amid a spectacular scenic backdrop.
Overlooking a golf course and the famed Camelback Mountain, “the shop has views that everyone would die for in their houses – so there’s a ‘wow’ factor” as patrons bring in their high-end European vehicles for repairs, according to Yacovone.
“We bought a body shop five years ago – it’s ultra-modern, and we bought it from the guy who designed it.” The collision repair element was at first retained on a sublease basis as the partners retooled portions of the building for mechanical work; later the body shop business was brought in-house based on Yacovone’s previous five-year stint at a major insurance carrier that had an extensive training program.
Grossing $900,000 annually from eight bays averaging $540 per ticket, the shop’s walls of glass signal the full-service transparency that Ankert and Yacovone display when dealing with their customers.
“Sitting in the waiting room you can see every bay in the shop,” says Yacovone, describing the clarity that the clientele experiences.
“It’s just customer satisfaction. We’ve gained their faith and trust,” he points out. “We explain what happened, what needs to be done and we try to make the price palatable. We try to give them choices about spending their money because we’re consumers too. The job needs to be done right, and the customer needs to not have to do that repair again.”
A core value at the company is to “Give a Little Something Extra That is Not Expected.”
“To us,” says Yacovone, “good customer service means going beyond expectations. We train our staff that when they are servicing someone’s car and the door is squeaking, even if the car is there for something else, just put some oil on the door so it doesn’t squeak any more. That extra care is what’s going to make the experience beyond expectations. It sounds so cliché, but that’s what customers want and that’s what sets us apart. It’s the little things that make a difference to our customers. We strive to serve our customers to this level every day,” he elaborates.
“Another core value is to ‘Educate the Customer.’ Many years ago I noticed that when a customer drops off his or her car for service and decides to wait, he or she often takes a walk around to the service bays to see what’s going on with their car. We started making it a practice to take the customers back to the service bay and point out where the failure was and what it would take to fix it. That wasn’t something that was common practice or accepted in the industry. But we took that to one more level,” says Yacovone.
“Many auto repair shops have beautiful customer waiting areas, but few have a view into their shop,” he observes. “As far as I know, we were the first. It makes a great working environment, as a business can’t have unprofessional employees when there’s a viewing window. That is our philosophy; the customer should see and understand what’s happening. It goes back to our value of educating the customer.”
Fit, form and function are prime priorities when components are being selected as the staff of six services nameplates that include Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Mini, Porsche, Smart, Rover and Volkswagen.
“We won’t use cheapie parts,” Yacovone declares, especially when German vehicles are on the lift.
“My partner Jürgen is from Germany, and he likes to use parts from The Fatherland. We always joke around, ‘show me your papers,’” to ensure that a part’s quality is assured, he reports, adding that the shop does seek less costly alternatives when available. Two key German manufacturers routinely compete on price.
“With our experience, if there’s a part, and we can save the customer some money, we’ll use that part,” says Yacovone.
“Jürgen had extensive education in the repair and service of German-made vehicles, having earned a Master’s degree in Automotive Technology in Sinsheim, Germany,” he notes. “I call him ‘Doctor’ because his Master’s degree is equivalent to a PhD in the U.S., and Jürgen certainly is our ‘Doctor of Cars’ with over 35 years of training and experience straight from the manufacturers.”
Yacovone’s interest in European cars began as a youngster. “When I was in my late teens I bought an old Porsche as a restoration project. My frequent trips to the Porsche dealer for parts prompted them to hire me, and even though I was going to school to be a nurse anesthetist I succumbed to my passion for Porsche and continued night school in business while working as a service advisor for the Porsche dealership.”
Ankert and Yacovone later became acquainted while they were both working at a family owned Porsche dealership in the Phoenix area. It became time to move on when the owners “sold to a conglomerate” that implemented a series of negative policies, according to Yacovone.
“Our customers were the ones who started the thought process of starting our own business because they were not happy with the changes,” he recalls. “Our customers had had dealings with this type of business model before – it was profit-profit-profit. It was a drastic change. They went from a family owned facility to a corporate profit-making facility.”
The clientele “did not want to lose the personal relationship and level of service that we had been providing them. They encouraged, even pushed, us to open a business.” Thus was born Sun Valley Imports in 1993, originally located at a high-traffic auto mall site until the duo purchased the sleek body shop building. Customers and technicians alike have remained loyal over the years, following Ankert and Yacovone as they set about building the enterprise, which carries a Better Business Bureau A+ rating.
Out on the floor, they have emulated management procedures found in large dealership operations. “We use a dispatch system in the shop that consists of a wall-sized dry erase board with each job being followed through its various stages,” Yacovone explains. “We also utilize a technician time clock for each technician that tracks the job he is on and the ones he has finished. Estimates are accomplished by the shop foreman and service advisor. This helps to increase productivity with the technicians.”
Potential equipment buys originate from the technicians with oversight by Ankert, who serves as shop foreman. “They have seen a need from their daily involvement with repairs. We then assess the frequency of use and return on investment before we make a purchase,” says Yacovone. “We have a separate savings account used for most tool purchases and then we purchase as-needed after doing our due diligence. We also utilize lease-to-own for some of our major equipment purchases.
Attitude is the main attribute sought when a candidate is being sized up for employment.
“I can look past a lot of things if a guy or woman is excited about coming to work here,” Yacovone says. “Sometimes I take someone without as much training because I train them anyway. I like people with a smile on their face who are eager to come to work – and the customers are glad to see them.”
Air conditioning is among the most common repairs, as are problems created by the relentless sunshine that beats down in Tempe’s desert locale. “When I moved here 30 years ago you had to cover your dashboard because they would crack within a couple of months,” he recounts, adding that OEMs have since done much to develop components that can take the heat. And most motorists keep their vehicles garaged or otherwise in the shade.
Still, though, “rubber and plastic parts fail faster here than in other climates,” according to Yacovone. “A lot of times the check engine light is on because of a plastic part in the engine.”
At age 63, Yacovone is contemplating retirement, and he encourages others in the industry to consider your own situation. “That has to be a thought even as you enter the business – how to get out of the business; it doesn’t go on forever,” he advises. “Jürgen and I have worked with an attorney and financial advisor on our succession plan, taking steps to protect each partner in case something were to happen to the other one and putting a plan in place for when we do actually retire.”
2013 Top Shops Sponsors:
One of the most bandied-about phrases in the industry is working on the business not in it. Brad and Lisa Pellman were able to make that really happen in their shop.
By Tschanen Brandyberry
Few owners are able to say they’ve graduated to the point of working on the business rather than in it, but Brad and Lisa Pellman proudly can stake claim to that achievement.
The husband and wife team also can proudly call themselves owners of the 2013 Motor Age Top Shop. The business, Pellman’s Automotive Service in Boulder, Colo., has been in the top 10 for the last three years, cracking the top spot this year. The couple was ecstatic when they were told the news this fall, a testament to their hard work over the last 18 years.
The Pellmans have, like many others in the industry, put their lives into the shop, starting from nothing and building a seven-bay location they improve regularly each year. It’s just one way those who have known the couple over the last two decades can see how they’ve been able to move to working on the business.
“It’s definitely worth the hard work to get to this point by hiring the right people, training the right way, creating a team that works together and then honoring them,” Brad Pellman says. “You trust them to perform the duties they’re hired to do. … You then step back and try not to micromanage. Once you do that, and a lot of owners are afraid (to do so), but that’s the reason you hired and trained these people, so you can do that. That’s when you’re really going to benefit and you gain freedom.”
The Pellmans know what it’s like to be on the other side of the business, as Brad spent 17 years working in all facets of the automotive repair industry before they set off on their own in 1995. The road hasn’t been easy, as evidenced by the devastating floods the Boulder community experienced earlier this year. Thankfully, the shop and Pellmans’ employees all were safe.
“We came in and opened the Saturday after the flood,” he says. “We knew we’d have car after car towed in. We were talking with all of our customers, trying to help them through the flood decision process. Everyone who works here knows someone who was flooded out, had car damage or who is homeless. It’s a tough time.”
Because of the owners’ ability to look at the business from a high level, the shop had several cars they had been collecting throughout the year that were in good condition, but had slight problems. They are working toward fixing up the vehicles to donate to those in need following the floods.
The Pellmans both hold their AAM certifications from the Automotive Management Institute (AMI), training that adds to their ability to run the business effectively. Brad Pellman explains how both of them became to believe in training and took advantage of all of the courses they could while encouraging — and requiring — their employees to do so, too. He explains how credits began to build, finally reaching a point where they just had to take a customer service test.
“I was very impressed I could get to that point, and it kind of happened automatically,” he says. “I have this diploma now that I really feel great about. It was just believing in continuing training; it was the final credential that you achieved a goal.”
Lisa Pellman adds that she still believes in the designation, as well as continuing training. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado, while her husband keeps active his Master Technician status with ASE.
“I do believe that every technician should be ASE certified,” he states. His five technicians are ASE and MACS certified, with the sixth tech coming on just this fall. Even on the service side, his service manager and parts manager both are ASE certified, while two other service specialists still are new to the company and working toward it. “We’ve grown three or four techs from lube position on up. You shouldn’t be pigeon-hold that you’re my brake guy; to me it’s more of a building block. The more they know about cars, the better they’re going to be at (even just one service area).”
His wife adds that the technicians are proud of it, too. “We recently changed uniforms,” she notes. “They’re proud of their patches on their sleeves.
The dedication to bettering himself, his employees and the shop is something Brad Pellman brought to the business from before day one. He recalls how when they started out, he saw many opportunities to improve on service to the public. He started in a dealership setting before working part-time at an independent shop while attending college.
“It was hard to believe it was the same industry, because they had none of the same principles in place,” he explains. “It was cramped, dirty and you didn’t really want a customer to be in the office while their car was being worked on. There were a lot of things I didn’t like.”
When the Pellmans ventured out on their own, he took those memories with him, making sure everything is clean from the equipment to the floors.
“I don’t look at other shops around me as competition. If I’m going to view someone as competition, I’ll compete with the dealership,” Brad notes. “I think we’re a professional environment and highly skilled.”
Cultivating the Right Team
Dan Levin knows how professional and highly skilled the shop is and how far it has come over the last 18 years. He’s been there officially for 15, with three more before that as a customer.
“We just kind of liked each other right off the bat. When I opened a shop of my own, he was one of my first customers,” Brad Pellman says, recalling how Levin came to work at the shop. The service manager suddenly lost his job at a car rental business and asked what he could do to keep his bill at Pellman’s Automotive Service low. “I said you could help me do things and that will keep the price down. I got to know him and realized he had a pretty good mechanical ability on his own, because he was trying to save money. He’s a really likeable guy. He’s friendly, open, the kind of guy you want to hang out with.”
The business was growing and Pellman knew they needed someone in the office, as he was a full-time tech. He offered Levin the opportunity to become a service specialist. “I said, ‘I’ve been watching you work, you have mechanical ability, you have the right personality. I know I can teach you how to do this and you’ll be great at it.’ That was 17 years ago and it’s been great.”
Levin knows he is allowed to make decisions for the company if the Pellmans are not there, and Brad’s reaction — whether it would or would not be what he would have done — is not as important as that Levin made a decision.
There is a similar story with lead technician Eric Wright, who has worked at Pellman’s Automotive for 15 years. “It’s been the same kind of idea I want to instill in my employees,” Brad Pellman explains. “We’re all here to do our job, do the best job we can and serve the customer in the best way we can. If everybody’s doing that, I don’t have to supervise them that much.”
Strong leaders like Wright and Levin help both Pellmans focus on their own roles and growing the business. The couple has been able to give back to the industry beyond their shop, too, maintaining an active aftermarket presence. They are a Tech-Net member since 2004, and have an active local Tech-Net group for which Lisa coordinates the meetings. They also have been on the CARQUEST National Advisory Council for multiple years. Brad serves on several national automotive association boards including the ASE Board of Governors and the Car Care Professionals Network (CCPN) Committee. He is also the current Mechanical Division president for ASA Colorado.
“I’ve always thought that our industry should be thought of better than it is, especially more so when I started back in the ’80s. Everybody hates an auto mechanic. It shouldn’t be that way,” Brad Pellman says. “We’re out here helping people every day, either to protect their investment or get to work. There’s no way we should be thought of in a bad light. We should be thought of at the same level as doctors or police. We’re out here to help the public.”
That thinking is a main reason he became more and more involved in the aftermarket at a state and national level, which he says was a natural progression. He adds that while some owners claim they don’t have time to work outside their shop, there are large knowledge gains to be had by doing so. While you’re learning that the industry is bigger than just your little area, you’re helping to make it better and growing your own piece of the pie at the same time.
“I saw it as a great way to move forward and maybe help me take my philosophies out to a higher level and promote us more in the industry and help make decisions to reflect the industry in a better light,” Brad Pellman says. “I think we’ve come leaps and bounds in 10 years. I’m excited about that. I just hope we can keep doing that. Being a part of AAIA and ASA, it’s an honor for me to be asked to do these things. It says to me that they respect my opinions about the automotive industry.”
Encouraging Training and Feedback
The national reach the shop now has helps make possible some great training opportunities, both locally and nationwide. For example, the Pellmans requested from their TechNet group a service advisor class. TechNet created the program with a pilot class in July, and a nationwide program launch in September. The couple explains that the class has a lot of information on interacting with people and customer service in general
“It really seems to be spot on with how I would like customer service to be run in my business,” Brad Pellman says. “This is the type of training I received at the dealership. It’s something that we in the industry haven’t had and it’s extremely important. It puts (service writers) on the same level as the technician in terms of ongoing training in our area.”
The owners and all employees take advantage of a mix of training including in-house, online and off-site classes, and ask for what they need more of. The owners also have taken their team on the road to national ASA events and the VISION Hi-Tech Training & Expo in Kansas City, Mo.
“We think it’s important for (employees) to invest in training,” Lisa Pellman states. “This is a career. When they interview, we tell them how important it is. Then we lead by example.”
“There’s just no way you can be a professional technician today without training,” her husband adds. “The cars change every year; they change quickly. We’re going to see them change a lot in the next 10 years. I want to invest my time in technicians that want to invest in themselves If you don’t want to do that, you’re probably not a candidate for my place.”
While that might seem harsh to some technicians in the industry, the tradeoff is a boss who will listen and respect your ideas. Technicians are very involved in identifying the need for new equipment and tools, as part of the shop’s monthly shop meeting is devoted to this topic and the shop’s “Equipment Wish List.”
“I’m a cautious buyer,” Brad Pellman cautions. “When a technicians comes to me saying we have to have something, I go out and see why: What’s the need, how much are we going to use it, is it for a special car and that’s the only one we’ll see, can we make another tool or another way work to solve the issue.”
If possible, the shop will do a trial period on new equipment, and typically pays cash for all equipment or negotiates interest-free deferred terms. The Pellmans anticipate the need for tools costing more than $10,000 and budget for them.
In addition to input on tool and equipment, the shop recently took ideas when it revised its inspection report, which Lisa Pellman explains started with a need for a more professional looking report.
She says the process began by going looking at various options out there and sharing those with a select group of technicians, who gave feedback on what they thought would work best. After narrowing it down, the new forms were shared at the shop’s monthly meeting and given to technicians and service employees to use for a week. Both sides had a lot of feedback, which allowed the owners to create a form that saved them all time. She cites one example as more places to circle options instead of filling in blanks.
From the inspection forms to changing oil distribution on the floor to using Google Talk, these all are ways the Pellmans involve their employees in some decisions in the shop.
Google Talk is not the only form of communication in the shop, but rather an illustration of how technology is implemented. All employees are able to use it when they have a question that does not require an immediate answer, and cuts down on time in walking the long pathways through the older, 9,420-square-foot building.
“It’s not taking people away from the phones,” Brad Pellman notes. “We try not to have our technicians do anything but work on cars. That’s where the money comes from.”
Google Talk, along with a heavy presence in the front office, helps accomplish this. “Sometimes we’ll pull TSB information, we’ll do research for them while they’re working on another car. We order all the parts. The technician doesn’t have to worry about translating the technical lingo to the customer. We have people trained to do that. That’s our philosophy and that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
While the Pellmans have worked hard to get to the point in their careers where they can walk away from the shop for an extended break, they are not completely separated. Brad Pellman still maintains his credentials, but works on staffing and operations. Lisa Pellman continues to do marketing, human resources and bookkeeping.
But she found some help for the marketing this year, by bringing on a marketing consultant to help them refine their marketing message and create some press releases.
“We felt it was nice to get an outside perspective,” she says. “We felt we had different messages in different places. We wanted to get a cohesive message.”
After interviewing employees, reading reviews and more, a new message was created centered around why customers like the shop and keep coming back. Lisa Pellman says they’re now working to get the message onto the website, fine-tuning what already is out there. They all are more confident in the message they’re now sending, and the feedback they’re getting.
In addition to the marketing consultant, the shop hired a company to help with Facebook and Twitter postings, which resulted in a steady uptick in fans and followers. In addition to professional and interesting topical posts, the Pellmans have paid to boost a post on Facebook and in October donated $1 for each Facebook like to Care Connect. Google Plus and Foursquare are also part of their social media mix, and they recently created and posted some videos on YouTube.
In addition to marketing to the population, the shop has taken hold of several opportunities to give back to the community. Both Brad and Lisa Pellman have been active in the school system, and they take their focus on training to the youth of the area through popular Teen Car Basics Clinics.
Brad explains the class as starting in the shop’s office, focusing first on how to pick an automotive repair shop, then moving on to why the vehicle is important if not to you, to your parents. They talk about what various warning lights mean, and walk through situations such as what to do when a car overheats. They have demonstrations, pull out an instrument cluster to go over and then quiz the youths in a fun way.
“I think we’re providing something that is needed,” he states, adding that the class also covers owners’ manuals, jump starts and changing tires. “I don’t think any parent that has a kid in high school wants their kid to break down, but inevitably it may happen. So twice a year we offer the class.”
The shop also gives back through seminars at local businesses, training with Cub Scouts, repair and vehicle donations — even before this year’s devastating floods — and free oil changes to local charities whose volunteers use their own vehicles to provide services for senior citizens.
At the end of the day for the Pellmans, it’s one more day to make the shop better, the industry better and work on the business not in it. Brad Pellman says they always try to have a good time in the shop. “We’re serious about what we do and we work hard, but we want to enjoy what we’re doing.”
They work hard to inject humor into the daily grind and create a positive environment. “I want people to work hard and respect me, but I want to be friends, too,” Pellman concludes. “It’s a hard position to be in as an owner.”
But it’s easier to do once you master the shop and work on it, not in it.
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Early this year the California Bureau of automotive Repair (CA-BAR) announced a new “Wallet Flushing” program. The program focuses on the inappropriate promotion of products and services to consumers. The primary target is the misrepresentation of flushes and supplements. CA-BAR emphasizes that they don’t care what products & services a shop sells as long as the shop represents those products and services honestly.
In the past I’ve spoken out loudly against CA-BAR actions and policies. But, I can find no fault in forcing shops to be honest about the products and services they recommend and sell. BAR is charged with monitoring and enforcing honesty and communication in the automotive repair industry. Effective enforcement of that goal is GOOD for honest shops. So, why do you think shop owners, industry associations and chemical suppliers are fighting to stop this program?
Let me digress for a moment. “Wallet Flushing” is a term coined by some shop owners and technicians to describe flushing services and some similar services that have little or no benefit to the motorist but create significant profit for shop owners. CA-BAR enforcement of honesty and communication pertaining to Wallet Flushing is NOT going to stop. It can’t stop. CA-BAR has no choice. It is their duty under the 1971 Automotive Repair Act to enforce honesty and communication. There are no new laws or new programs to debate. This was all carved in stone in 1971. CA-BAR is doing nothing but warning us that they have identified a specific area in which honesty and communication increasingly fail to meet the standards of the 1971 automotive repair act. We can easily mount a huge show of force to make them shut up, but it won’t do a thing to stop enforcement actions. Attempting to negotiate an end to enforcement of honesty & communication only confirms that more aggressive enforcement is appropriate! I suspect that CA-BAR has already received that message.
This is not just a California issue. Virtually every state has an agency charged with enforcement of fair and honest business practices. Most have separate agencies or divisions for automotive businesses. They must respond to consumer complaints and consumers are increasingly aware of “Wallet Flushing”. The number of websites and blogs discussing “Wallet Flushing” has increased dramatically during the past six months. And, many of those websites, blogs and posts belong to the most respectable shop owners and technicians in the industry.
Twenty states now have new programs requiring special documentation for automotive lubricants. The performance level, SAE viscosity, brand and specific product line of motor oil must be identified on all receipts and invoices. Most shops and even many assumed “experts” fail to understand that “performance level” includes all of the following:
· API service rating
· ILSAC service rating
· ACEA service ratings
· OEM proprietary service ratings
All of the above are required to identify “performance level” in addition to the brand, product line and SAE viscosity. If a shop does not fully understand the difference between OEM approved, manufacturer recommended and OEM licensed, they will not have the ability to understand when or why they fail to comply. The rapid changes in engine designs require dozens of specialized oil service ratings that must be identified on each sale. GM has six oil service ratings that should be understood and identified. Ford has at least ten and VW has at least eleven. Other OEMs have their own similar specialized service ratings.
The pertinent performance ratings must all be identified in a clear and understandable manner on the receipt and/or invoice for every sale. If the service ratings are obsolete, that must also be identified by the statement: “Not suitable for use in gasoline-powered automotive engines built after 1979” (or 1988, 1993, 1996, 2001, etc as the case may be).
As an industry of skilled professionals we should not allow oil companies, quick lube associations and less scrupulous operators to lead us in the wrong direction. If we are indeed honest and well trained “skilled professionals” , we should not be fighting requirements for honesty and full disclosure!
“Experts” who are claiming that brand, product line, SAE viscosity and API/ILSAC service rating is sufficient to meet requirements, fail to understand modern performance ratings.
“Valvoline Synpower SAE 5W-30” could be any of seven different formulas. Identifying the API and ILSAC service ratings still fails to identify a specific Valvoline Synpower product. The Synpower 5W-30 that is approved for a Corvette can cause damage in a Honda, VW, BMW or Mercedes Benz 5W-30 applications. The performance ratings (OEM, ACEA, API & ILSAC) will identify the appropriateness of the specific oil for the specific application. The situation is no different for Castrol, Pennzoil, Mobil or any other brand or product line.
If a shop fails to identify the performance ratings of the motor oil, they will be out of compliance and subject to citation. If the shop documents the use of motor oil that fails to meet OEM requirements, they can be easily held responsible for engine wear and/or accelerated failure to the oxygen sensors, catalytic converters and other oil and exhaust sensitive components. If the shop claims a performance rating that the motor oil does not actually meet, that can be construed as fraud. So, this is essentially a 20-state “Wallet Flushing” program.
The above documentation requirements will do all of the following:
· Help identify the use of motor oil that fails to meet OEM requirements
· Help identify the use of motor oil that does meet OEM requirements
· Help identify misrepresentation by shops of the appropriate use and ratings of motor oil.
· Help confirm non-compliance with the documentation requirements for citation.
· Help confirm compliance or non-compliance with OEM requirements for future litigation.
When a non-approved oil, oil supplement or other fluid is recommended and used by a shop, they assume liability for the consequences. That means:
· The shop could be sued or even charged with criminal manslaughter for the results of installing a DOT 4 brake fluid in a car that requires an ISO 4925 class 6 brake fluid. (Don’t kid yourself, a similar example of inappropriate brake work did result in a manslaughter conviction).
· The shop could be sued for causing the failure of a transmission at 99,000 miles because they used a Universal transmission fluid at 36,000 miles.
· The shop could be sued for contributing to the failure of catalytic converters and oxygen sensors at 150,000 miles because of the non approved oil or oil supplement they used in that car years earlier.
All of the above would be legitimate law suits. The mileage and times were selected to represent situations where the repairs would have been covered under warranty, but the warranty could be voided by the use of non-approved fluid. At higher mileage a lawsuit might still be successful but would be less likely. If you regularly use non-approved fluids or supplements, it can be argued that the fluid or supplement contributed to a failure at any time during the entire remaining life of the vehicle.
Oil company labeling practices can be extremely misleading. The claim “ACEA A1 Protection” is used by one company for products that fail ACEA A1 standards. They also use the claims “ACEA A1 Performance” or “Service ACEA A1” depending on which part of the ACEA A1 requirements the product failed! Another company routinely states “Exceeds all ILSAC GF-5 engine protection requirements” on products that fail ILSAC GF-5. Dexos1 and dexos2 are registered trademarks with licensing agreements that include testing by GM and quality control audits. Listing dexos1 on your invoice for oil that merely “meets all dexos1 requirements” would be a violation and may be subject to both citation and litigation. A shop that assumes the oil company “claims” and “recommendations” constitute compliance with standardized performance ratings could be held liable for any errors.
None of the above constitutes new requirements or new laws. They only clarify existing requirements. Virtually EVERY state requires any business to accurately identify the products and services they sell. They also require that any supporting claims you make in selling a product be truthful and accurate. That is all these requirements do. Any shop that has already been keeping up with all of the changes in lubrication, cooling, fluids and filtration technology already understands every bit of this. Shops who have not attended formal update training on modern lubrication, cooling, fluids and filtration technology will need to get up to speed as quickly as possible.
The nine year old son of a shop owner looked up from his video game when his father walked into the room. The boy said, "Dad, I had to do a math project for school last week. We were supposed to compare different amounts of the same thing. We had to go out and compare a lot of something to a little bit of the same thing. So I got this incredible idea! I decided to count cars! When mom dropped me off at the shop after school I counted 642 cars driving by! And I counted 3 cars in the shop. I got really good at counting cars and at comparing numbers all at the same time!" Dad was a little shaken up by this fact. It was the truth. As young boys see EVERYTHING including parents' reactions the boy said, "Isn't that great Dad?" Luckily the Dad snapped right out of it and said "Yes son that's super! Nice job!" Dad didn't sleep well that night. But he woke up the next morning with a powerful purpose. He decided to tackle his car count problem. But how was he going to do it? It's not like he hadn't tried to solve this 100 times before....
The above story is an all too common story in our industry. Marketing is a big subject that is not well understood by a lot of people, and as a result, owners are suffering financially from a lack of traffic into their shops. So we are going to start at the base and work it up from there.
First off what is this thing called MARKETING? Marketing is the action of making a target audience or a specific type of public (in our case people who operate vehicles) aware of the goods and services an activity has to offer. It comes from the idea of bringing your goods to a central meeting place, the "market", where the goods can be displayed, and interest can be generated.
Now let's look at how this applies to a vehicle repair facility. Gone are the days when a shop did not need to do a whole lot of marketing, or advertising, or promoting to stay busy. Although word of mouth is still a primary force for getting new customers, word of mouth alone is not enough anymore.
Today the independent has competitors with very deep pockets, who as a group can spend millions of dollars on slick marketing campaigns and promotions. How does the independent business owner compete with this? Following are some tips to help you in your marketing efforts.
1. Identify your target audience or specific public. Who do you want to service? Who are you in business for? What kind of work do you do, and who would benefit from your goods and services? Who do you want as a customer? If you are a general repair facility it's fairly straightforward. Anyone who operates a vehicle that you are willing to service is your public. If you are a specialty shop the picture changes. What do you specialize in? Who owns, or operates these kinds of vehicles? What do the owners of these vehicles need and want from your kind of shop? Are you working with insurance companies, or doing fleet work? Insurance and fleet are very specialized publics with different needs and wants.
2. Survey (get input and organized feedback from) your public. Trying to guess at what consumers need and want is a waste of time and potentially very expensive. Most people in our industry are not consumers of vehicle repair, and therefore do not necessarily think like the consumer. So in order to know what consumers are looking for you've got to ask them. A simple survey can tell you a lot about your customers and potential customers.
A common example is a shop that promotes and advertises LOW PRICES, thinking this is what the customers need and want. This might get people in the door, you could even get very busy, but I have seen too many shops almost go broke with this strategy! Most good customers want service–service–service! They want the vehicle serviced and repaired on time, and done right the first time. Consumers most always complain about the high price of auto repair, but they tend to complain no matter what you charge! So base your advertising on service first, price second.
3. Do not forget to market to your regular customers. This is the area that I see as the weakest point for most shops when it comes to marketing. A shop's current customer base is a gold mine. Yet I see too many shops ignore their regular customers assuming that they will come back. THIS IS REALLY BAD THINKING! Remember earlier in this article I mentioned the Big Dogs with the multi-gazillion dollar advertising budgets? Well they are out there and they have no problem servicing your customers.
It is easy to lose customers and not even know it. It starts with simple services. You lose your customers' minor service work. Then it gets into the lucrative maintenance work, and you lose that too. Then the only time you see your customers is when they have a big problem, a drivability problem, an intermittent short, or some other mind-numbing situation with their vehicle. This happens when a business fails to keep a line of communication alive with customers. IF YOU DO NOT KEEP YOUR NAME IN FRONT OF YOUR CUSTOMER, SOMEONE ELSE WILL!
A shop owner who yells, "They're stealing all my customers!" is actually saying, "I don't know how to market my business!" Following are some basic and simple marketing/advertising actions that need to be done by all shops to ensure regular customers keep coming back.
Putting your first newsletter or an effective mailer together can be tricky. There is a lot to know about what should be in the ad or the newsletter and how to design an ad that captures the consumer's interest and attention. This is where you might seek some professional help.
4. Continually seek new customers. A shop has to have a program in place for attracting new customers. Most shops get new customers via word of mouth. If this is true for your shop capitalize on it. If you do nothing more then give each good customer a couple of business cards and actually ask for business, you will get new business.
Welcome Wagons and Marriage Mailers–These are other actions a shop can take to get new customers. Find out who is new to your community by joining the Welcome Wagon program that most town councils or chambers of commerce have. Contact one of the marriage mailer companies and get your coupon in with other businesses in your area. This cuts way down on the cost and they work. This is another area that takes an in-depth knowledge of design. An owner needs to know the components of a good ad otherwise a lot of money can be wasted on bad ads and coupons that do not work. But you need to know how to track what works in your market. Some actions work well in one part of the country and fall flat in other areas.
Marketing is a vast subject and there are a lot of things you can do. The problem most shops have is the time to get these things in place. This is where professional help can make a big difference. The cost of professional help is a drop in the bucket when compared to the amount of money that is wasted on advertising that does not work, or worse -- an empty parking lot.
If you are currently not doing any marketing GET SOMETHING, ANYTHING GOING! It is that important. Watch for the next article where I will tie sales into the picture. I hope the above helps. Good Luck!
While testing a new generation of our BA327 Digital Battery and System Tester last week, we ran our new prototypes though their paces on a wide variety of vehicles at our corporate offices. The prototype performed well, which was great. The fifth vehicle we tested was a 2013 Chevy Malibu. The battery and system testing went fine, but we had a bit of surprise when we first accessed the vehicle’s battery compartment.
Here’s a picture of what we saw:
Seeing this, one member of our team remarked, “There goes one of the last maintenance or repair applications that your average car owner could still do themselves.” When the day comes to replace a depleted battery in this vehicle, most vehicle owners will likely decide it isn’t worth the hassle and turn to their shop or dealer for this service.
This trend toward complexity can be found throughout today’s vehicle systems. Even within the starting and charging system, alternators and charging processes have become much more sophisticated, now making constant adjustments for battery voltage, electrical demand and temperature. Other vehicle applications that were once tackled by the average DIYer are also becoming difficult to handle. Two that come immediately to mind are fluid changes and tire rotation/replacement.
I remember growing up with half my neighborhood changing their own oil and other vehicle fluids, such as coolant and transmission fluid. Like the battery illustration above, fluid changes are getting increasingly difficult, especially when it comes to sealed systems. Many late model vehicles feature sealed transmission systems, for instance. We first started to encounter these systems in the early 2000s with our T-TECH products. Shops looked to us to help them solve the challenges related to servicing these systems, particularly when it came to ensure a proper fill prior to turning the vehicle back over to its owner after service.
These sealed systems are found on more vehicles every year and the trend shows no sign of slowing. This has resulted in a proliferation of tips and service procedures to help DIYers continue to perform this service themselves, such as the example at the link below:
It has also resulted in negative feedback from many sources. The following link is very old, from 2004, but it is representative, as it covers the major criticisms found in forum posts all over the internet:
The complications of checking fluid fill in these systems make a long, potentially dirty task even trickier than normal, adding fears that an inaccurate fill could harm the transmission systems. Would it stop you from performing this service?
Like changing a battery, tire rotation was always pretty straightforward. Until the advent of TPMS. Now, in order for the system to work correctly, steps need to be taken to ensure future warnings indicate the correct tire position when a warning is flashed. Here’s a quick overview article in Popular Mechanics covering the different types of TMPS systems and some simple steps for resetting tire position:
Of course, things are never as simple as they seem, and this is certainly true of TPMS. A quick survey of forum posts shows that this is another vexing issue for DIYers, causing a wide variety of issues. Some of these issues were resolved by the vehicle owner, while some appear to have required a trip to the dealership. Click the image below to view a quick video from Two Guys Garage addressing common tools needed to reset TPMS sensors or swap out seasonal tires:
There’s no denying that the automotive repair business is changing. Maybe you’ve noticed a decline in business, even though the level of competition surrounding your store has stayed the same. The truth is, other factors are at work. Thanks to technology, cars are being built better and are requiring fewer repairs. Consumers have also become more savvy about maintenance and are no longer getting oil changes and other once routine work done as frequently as they did in years’ past.
You have to respond to these shifts in business if you expect your shop to not only survive, but also thrive.
Here a few tips to consider when trying to determine how to take control of the situation and formulate a plan for success.
1). If you’re not marketing your shop, start. Maybe you never advertised before because you simply didn’t have to. You might have generated sufficient business through word of mouth and may have viewed marketing and advertising as an unnecessary expense. But with market conditions changing, relying on current customers and referrals to drive sales isn’t enough. You can try to increase your ticket average, but with repairs happening less often, that could be a challenge. Instead, you need to expand your market share, which means that you’ll need a multi-tiered marketing plan that is tied to all your systems. I won’t go into a discussion here about which marketing vehicles I prefer, but I will say that you’ll need to employ a range of efforts to reach potential new customers.
2). If you are marketing and not seeing results, it might be time to re-evaluate. Look at your advertisements – are your offers compelling? Are you focused too heavily on driving customers to your shop through only one channel - say the Internet? Are the marketing companies you work with providing you with returns that allow you to sustain and grow your business? Remember, with marketing, it’s not only about recouping your investment, but also achieving your goals. Create a set of expectations - whether it’s improving car count or increasing your profit – and select marketing tools that will help you meet or even surpass those expectations.
3). Examine your staffing and systems. When sales drop, it’s easy to blame the declines on ineffective advertising. However, there may be other issues working against you. Does your front counter staff know how to handle calls from potential new customers? Do you have enough technicians to service new clients or do backlogs lead to long wait times for repairs? To grow market share you have to make sure your main purpose in life is to be convenient for customer not you. If your systems and staffing levels don’t support that idea, it’s time to change course.
Tim Ross is president of Mudlick Mail, a leading provider of direct mail campaigns to the automotive repair industry. Mudlick Mail has worked with close to 1,000 automotive repair shops and transmission shops across the United States and Canada, helping them improve their car count and increase sales. The company teaches its clients how to understand consumer-buying habits and shows them how to create effective systems to maximize the value of their marketing campaigns. At the end of the day, Mudlick Mail wants to support shop owners in their quest to build long-term profitable businesses.
No engine will run without the proper amount of homemade lightning, and it takes a lot of voltage to punch through plain old atmosphere, let alone the tightly packed molecules in a combustion chamber as the piston in question nears Top Dead Center with both valves closed. The ‘pop’ of an ignition spark in the open air is actually thunder on a tiny scale, since the stream of electrons in an ignition spark displaces air molecules the way lightning does when it stabs through the air in a thunderstorm.
So how do we make artificial lightning and harness it for our purposes? The step-up transformer we all know as an ignition coil has been the heart of gasoline ignition systems for decades, and the principle is fairly simple:
Magnetism induces voltage in copper. When very thinly insulated copper wire is wound in significant volume around a metal core and is saturated with a magnetic field, the collapse of that field produces a voltage spike that can be very powerful and very useful if properly controlled and timed.
Ignition coils contain two windings:
Winding # 1 is known as a ‘primary’ winding, and one end of the primary winding is connected, either directly or indirectly to the ignition switch. For decades, the ground side of the ignition coil primary winding was switched on and off by contact breaker points wired parallel with a capacitor and located in the base of the distributor. The distributor on these archaic old systems rotates at camshaft speed (half crankshaft speed).
The breaker points on older ignition systems open once each cycle per cylinder, i.e., four times for a four cylinder, six times for a six cylinder, and so on. The primary and secondary windings in the old oil-filled coils were connected at the positive end (fed from the ignition switch through a voltage-dropping ballast resistor), but newer coils are ‘potted’ with both windings wrapped around a metal core to amplify the magnetic saturation.
Winding #2 turns out to be the ‘secondary’ winding and it consists of a much greater number of windings than the primary. When the breaker points or ignition module circuitry interrupt the current flow through the primary circuit, the magnetic field that has saturated both the primary and secondary windings collapses, causing a several hundred volt spike in the primary winding and spike in the secondary winding that is downright intimidating. The old oil-filled coils generally popped about 50,000 or so volts, but newer coils are routinely capable of murderous voltages that can actually be fatal if they cross a person’s chest cavity in search for a ground path, so be careful!
While ignition coils are the muscle that makes the spark, the hardware that fires the coils has everything to do with how well the coils perform, and no article on ignition coils would be complete without a bit of a history lesson on what manufacturers have done to trigger them.
Breaker points were initially replaced by magnetic distributor pole pieces that sent an AC current to electronic ignition modules that used transistors to control the coil’s primary current. In this new setup, reluctor in the distributor whirled past a wire-wound magnet to make the signal; a four cylinder had four reluctor teeth, a six cylinder had six, and so on and while Chrysler and Ford held on to the oil filled coil for years even on their electronic ignition systems, GM introduced the hotter-sparking 80,000 volt HEI coil in 1975, complete with a tiny distributor-mounted ignition module that would fit in the palm of your hand, and by 1981, the Engine Controller would be in charge of ignition timing on many, if not most cars on the American road. With the new laminated core ignition coils came the need to limit the current that flowed through the primary windings so as not to damage the delicate primary windings. The old oil-filled coils were a bit more robust in that regard, and didn’t need current limiting, although they did operate on lower voltages.
Distributor cap carbon tracks were once a serious problem, but the folks who made distributor caps got sharp and started using different materials that resisted tracking. On that same order, one problem with DIS and the powerful spark it produces is that a faulty spark plug with high internal resistance can cause the spark to run down the outside of the ceramic to hit the metal shell, making an external track on the ceramic that looks suspiciously like a crack, but with a matching carbon track on the inside of the spark plug boot. Replacing the plug only temporarily repairs this problem because the spark loves to follow the carbon track inside the boot and it will do so at every opportunity. This boot-tracking anomaly never happened on non DIS ignition coil equipped systems.
The Hall-Effect switch took hold in the early eighties on Ford vehicles, providing a nice square wave signal that triggers a distributor-mounted Thick Film Ignition (TFI) module that takes its timing orders from the Engine Controller and fires a potted coil similar to GM”s HEI, but in 1985, GM had forged ahead and introduced the distributorless ignition system whereby companion cylinders shared the same coil, meaning a four cylinder would have two coils, a six cylinder would have three, and so on. In a DIS system, one spark event happens near the end of the compression stroke in the firing cylinder and the another happens on exhaust in that cylinder’s companion TDC stoke, but the very nature of secondary ignition dictates that the stronger spark will always happen in the cylinder that needs it, so very little spark is ‘wasted’ in the exhausting chamber.
In the absence of a distributor, GM’s system began using a couple of different types of crankshaft sensors.
GM’s Quad Four engine platform took the DIS concept to a new level by eliminating spark plug wires and letting the coils sit right on top of the spark plugs, but there were still only two coils under there, and as the spark plugs wear out, the powerful ignition coils tend to punch through the coil housing in search of an easier path. Toyota and some other manufacturers put a coil directly over three of their spark plugs and fed the companion cylinder with a single spark plug wire fed from that coil.
Ford replaced their 1989 vintage TFI-driven DIS system with a smarter Electronic Distributorless Ignition System (EDIS) in 1991, equipping Explorers and Escorts, and eventually most of their vehicles with coil packs or Coil-On Plug systems, and with these systems came the Variable Reluctance Sensor (VRS) that generated its signal at the crank pulley using a missing tooth for reference. The new EDIS system included repetitive spark at idle, but unlike the Multiple Spark Discharge (MSD) systems so popular with hot rodders, the factory-designed repetitive spark evaporates as soon as the engine breaks above an idle.
In the midst of all these changes, ignition modules began to disappear, drawing on a Chrysler trick from the mid-1970’s Lean Burn days; the Engine Controller (PCM) took over the job of firing the coils, eliminating some hardware and wiring and making the whole process of sparking and controlling ignition timing vastly more efficient.
Today, Coil-On-Plug (or Coil-Near Plug) systems have given the PCM total control of each and every spark event, and repetitive spark remains the order of the day on many, if not most COP-equipped cars. OEM COP coils, even though potted, are particularly susceptible to moisture and can be somewhat prone to cause Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) issues with other vehicular electronic systems, even in cases where the coil isn’t misfiring. CNP coils generally contain their own little transistor for primary circuit control. R.W.M.
Jason Killman is the kind of tech we’d all like in our shop. According to Brian Evans, Marion Ford’s service manager, “Jason was hired in as an entry-level tech in our Quick Lane where core services are oil changes and light maintenance. He had a burning desire to go on his own to Rend Lake college for his associate’s degree (in automotive technology). But that wasn’t enough. He wanted more, he wanted to expand. He worked hard in the Quick Lane, which is kind of like a AAA farm camp for us. Then he moved over to service, saw the potential, and decided to make a career here.”
Starting with Marion Ford fresh out of high school in August, 2002, Jason attended Rend Lake and graduated with his degree in 2005. While still in the Quick Lane, Evans had a talk with the young Killman over lunch about his future at the dealership. In 2007, Killman moved over to service and begin his quest to earn Ford’s highest technician certification.
To reach Senior Master Technician status, Ford technicians have to complete a series of web-based programs that are often prerequisite to attending a hands-on class. For example, the first certification is electrical and requires the successful completion of eight online modules before the student can attend the first live class. And there are three live classes, each with their own online module requirements for this one certification alone. And Jason had nine more certifications to earn after that one!
Such accomplishments don’t go unnoticed either, with Ford officially recognizing Jason for his exceptional achievement. And according to Evans, Killman has set an example that has inspired other young techs in the dealership to pursue their own career development.
Is Jason done? Not quite. “You learn something new every day”, Killman says. “It’s not like you take these classes, you come out of the class certified and you know everything. I’ll always have to keep learning.”
Do you have a story about an exceptional tech in your shop? Write me at email@example.com and let's tell the world!
Whether it’s what to do on a slow day or how the ownership will turn the business over, Garry’s Automotive has the plans set forth for any situation.
By Tschanen Brandyberry
Garry Plimmer put a plan in motion about 14 years ago when he went into business for himself. While it took time to move from a home-based garage, to a rented two-bay facility with no lifts to his current seven-bay facility, carefully laid plans have been in place along the way.
In fact, the shop went from a two-bay to seven-bay facility literally overnight, and had no problem filling the bays with work. Because of this, Plimmer knows the importance of putting plans in place, and has done so in many other aspects of his business, Garry’s Automotive in Boise, Idaho.
While he and his wife, Jerilyn, are not quite ready to turn over the business to a younger generation, the owners do have a strong succession plan in place. They are more than halfway through an eight-year plan in which one of the shop’s service advisors will take over the business.
Plimmer is excited about the plan, because they have an employee in place now who thinks like an owner, allowing the Plimmers more time to do the things they want to do.
“We get to sell the business to someone we want to, that will carry on our business, our name into the next generation,” Plimmer says, adding they can sell the shop in their own time frame and for the price they want. “We had a chance to work up a pretty good plan. I think every shop out there, regardless of your financial status, needs to have a plan. You need to have a plan of where you’re going all the way to the end of the road.”
In addition to the succession plan, Plimmer has plans in place to fill slow time periods in the shop. When the shop hits a certain point in scheduling, for them that is booking under a half a day for the upcoming day, they break out this plan.
There are simple procedures they go through, Plimmer explains, like looking at preordered parts on the parts rack and trying to get those customers in early. They also can offer a discount to someone to move an appointment up, or reach out to commercial accounts to see if they have vehicles in need of service in a nearly immediate appointment.
He says there also are prepared email blasts they can send out encouraging customers to book service. “You put a timeline on it, so they’re rushing to get to the phone to make the appointment,” he adds.
Many of the shop’s days are full of work, though, partially because of a thorough marketing plan developed as part of his involvement in an R.L. O’Connor Bottom Line Impact Group.
“One of the requirements is a marketing plan, and what’s so cool of being a part of a group like that, some people really have to do a lot of marketing, some people don’t,” says Plimmer, who formally was part of the latter. “So the guys that don’t, really don’t have the experience of doing a marketing plan. And really they’re being left out when they’re not forced to do that.”
The ownership learned how to market, focusing on attraction, retention, first-time customer retention and image and branding in the plan, which includes direct mail, thank-you programs, social media, a website and events. Plimmer notes that in addition to the NAPA-related marketing items (the shop is a NAPA Car Care Center), he has 25 more ideas of his own.
“It just makes it so good for a guy like me, what do we have going on for next week? It has just a been a super thing for us, and of course it’s continued to grow our business.”
Growing and Changing
The shop has been able not only to grow its business, but reach a broader clientele.
“Even when there’s a shift in the marketplace, like we used to see a lot of women in the marketplace bringing in their cars. Well, it’s shifting back again for us anyway, where we’re seeing more guys bringing in the cars,” Plimmer says. “I don’t know I guess they just want to be more involved in it, and the tickets. have become higher and they want to make sure they’re getting what they need. But we have to adjust constantly for the changes in the market.”
They have reached this different clientele, too, because of a focus Plimmer placed on having the facility look more like a dealership than an independent facility. While they couldn’t build a dealership, they could make adjustments to their shop.
“When I was in my older shop, it was a rented shop with a dirt parking lot. Everybody brought their pickup trucks and their hunting vehicles and their extra cars and their kids’ cars. But I really wasn’t seeing the nice cars,” he recalls. “Since we’ve built this building and it looks sharp, it’s clean as a pin inside and out, everybody looks a certain way, everybody talks a certain way, we have really sought that other clientele and we’ve gotten it. It just doesn’t look, and customers have said this to me, like the normal, every day repair shop that I’m used to.”
They also have been able to better facilitate scheduling, partially through instituting a 35-minute window for the technicians. This initial time is for them to verify the complaint, set a testing pat and perform a 32-point safety inspection.
“A lot of people will just let the technician run with it and they don’t limit him until he decides to give up,” Plimmer explains. “With us, we’re going to give you enough time to do a maintenance inspection and go verify the complaint — and that’s the key word verify the complaint — before we give you any more time. We don’t’ want you to spend two hours on the car and go, you know that noise, I just can’t find it.”
Technicians can continue to search for problems beyond the time frame, but are not paid. “We limit what they pay them so they become more efficient, we’re not writing off time, they’re not writing off time, and it’s not as much time for the customer, because they’re missing their car while we’re off on a wild goose chase.”
Shifting to Community Service
Aside from a strong emphasis on planning and procedures, Garry’s Automotive also has a large focus on community service. The shop annual conduct free oil change events on Veteran’s Day, complete with military vehicles in the parking lot for all customers to check out.
Plimmer, a U.S. Navy Vietnam-era veteran, notes that the shop was invited to join a Veteran’s Day event seven years ago. After partnering with another shop back then, they were hooked.
“Once you are at an event like that, and some of these people who have served and
you hear why it’s important to them that you do and event like that, to hear them say, ‘No one has ever done this for me,’ it’s awesome,” he says, adding they get mail and thank-you drawings from children for weeks after the event. “I mean who wouldn’t do it again and again after people respond like that. That’s what continues to drive us.”
The shop also is active with the March of Dimes following their work with the Plimmers’ oldest son and his family, whose son was born premature. Even now, with his grandson active at age 3, the organization still is there for the family.
“I think when you have people that are part of an organization like that that treat people like us that have this particular problem, you’re going to go alongside them in anything they do. I think that’d be fairly natural for anybody,” says Plimmer.
The shop does other community service activities, and gets all of the employees involved in the Boise Paint the Town event, painting homes for the elder, and restoring a 1969 Mercury CyclineCJ428 for Wish Grantors, a Make-A-Wish organization for adults.
“I think some of the other things we do in the community, I think with our technicians, everybody kind of has something kind of like to do, but I think we have to lead the charge. If we don’t lead the charge, people don’t come to me asking for me, scan you find something we can be involved in. I think certainly as the owners, we found this cool thing and this is why it’s cool, and would you guys like to be a part of it, and they will most of the time respond to that,” Plimmer says.
And it all is part of his plan for business, his shop and beyond.
With Thanksgiving behind us, there’s no denying we’re heading into what is traditionally the slowest season in the automotive repair business. However, a decrease in customers shouldn’t automatically lead to a decrease in productivity. Instead of simply waiting for business to pick back up, you should utilize your time and staff wisely to drive customers through the door. Here are some strategies to embrace during the “down” time.
Implement a call-back program: During busy periods, you have little time for customer follow-up. But the slow months provide a good opportunity to reach out and connect with customers again. A call-back campaign will help formalize that process and will give your managers and front counter personnel something to do when they’re not serving customers. You can use the calls to remind customers about overdue oil changes and repairs or upcoming emissions tests, if you’re a certified emissions test center. We offer three-year, 36,000-mile warranties on all our repairs, so we call owners before the warranty is set to expire to check on any problems that might require a visit to the shop. Feel free to call customers who haven’t been in for a year or more simply to check in. Some may have moved, (which will give you a chance to update your customer database), but others might be staying away because of a past bad experience. Either way, you’re obtaining valuable information that will help you build your business for the future. And don’t forget to set goals about the number of appointments you expect your staff to book through these follow-up calls.
Make marketing a priority: Too many shop owners cut back on marketing when business slows, thinking of it as a good way to save money. That approach reduces your exposure to potential customers a time when you need it most. Instead, consider expanding your advertising budget and getting creative with your promotions. For example, during our slower periods, we offer free oil changes to customers who have never been in our shop before. We’ll examine our market area, develop a target list and send 250 of those offers every week during the slow season. We know that if we do a good job, that new customer we attract will return the next time he or she needs another oil change or a repair. We’ve also mailed postcards touting special discounts and incentives to attract customers who haven’t been to the shop in the last two years, in hopes of luring them back.
Promote your unique benefits: This is the time of year when it pays to remind customers about what separates you from the competition, so the next time their car breaks down, your shop and special services are top of mind. Our shops are focused on convenience. We provide a free customer shuttle and we can even pick up a customer’s car at work if that is a better option. We’re also proud of the warranty we offer for all our repairs, which is fully-transferable and covers all parts and work included in a repair – what we believe is in industry first. If you have benefits you’re proud of, make sure they’re posted prominently on your website and other marketing materials. It also doesn’t hurt to create an email campaign to raise awareness about your benefits among existing customers. If you don’t have any unique offerings, now might be the time to consider what you can to distinguish yourself from other shops in your area.
Remember, none of these strategies can work in isolation. Maintaining and growing business in the tougher months requires a strong commitment and a variety of efforts.
It’s no secret that transmission repair shop owners have faced a challenging market in recent years. Thanks to better-made cars, transmissions are lasting longer. In addition, easy financing options presented by auto manufacturers has led some drivers to buy a new car rather than spend money fixing a failing transmission in an older vehicle. The once steady flow of requests from dealerships and general auto repair centers to rebuild their customers’ transmissions also has slowed to a trickle, as more consumers are simply opting to buy new transmissions or use a re-manufactured transmission.
In response, some transmission shop owners have decided to expand their services to include general auto repair. Converting from a specialty shop to a full-service repair center can be tricky. I’ve seen some shop owners make the transition smoothly, while others have struggled to gain any traction for their new services.
Here are some tips for those of you considering broadening your reach to better compete in a rapidly changing market.
Decide who you want to be: You must establish an identity in order to more effectively market your shop. Are you going to dip your toe in the water and simply add oil changes to your repertoire or are you going to be a full-service shop? And you have to think beyond what type of services you plan to provide. Consider the benefits you’ll offer. Will you offer warranties on your repairs? Will you provide a shuttle for convenience? What’s your labor rate? Figuring out the answers to these questions will help guide your newly expanded business.
Build your resources: Your technicians might be great at repairing or even rebuilding transmissions, but are they also skilled at replacing brake pads or addressing a problem with a car’s electrical system? If you are going to offer a broader array of services, you must have the staff on hand to handle everything your shop sells. Having customer service-focused front counter personnel and managers is also key, particularly if your shop had previously obtained most business from other shops rather than general consumers. If your staff is accustomed to dealing only with industry insiders, they may not be able to explain repairs in laymen’s terms to new customers. Hiring employees with retail experience or providing additional training might be in order. You’ll also need to increase your parts and supply inventory to support a wider range of repairs.
Spread the word: The first step is to re-brand your shop, so your regular customers know that you’ve expanded your offerings. While the name of your business certainly carries some recognition in your market, your expanded brand should include something that speaks to general auto repair. Make sure your signage, brochures and other marketing materials incorporate that expanded title. Even if you can’t afford to replace your outdoor signage, make sure you at least have a banner inside that references more than just transmission repair.
I also recommend using direct mail to raise awareness. The offers you send need to attract customers while also educating them about the services you provide. To accomplish those goals, I suggest using three calls to action: One advertising a discounted oil change or similar maintenance service that consumers need on a regular basis; Another providing a certain percentage off of services (Offering $10 off any service rather than providing $25 off services of $100 or more might be a more effective approach); And one promoting a specific repair, such as brake replacement.
Once you’ve settled on your offers, advertise them consistently. You have to market every month, because your customers will likely visit just once or twice a year and you never know which month they might need you. Remember, it usually takes six impressions to fully realize the benefits of a direct mail campaign.
A recent Consumer Reports survey revealed some interesting facts concerning consumer opinions of our business. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents said they were satisfied with their automotive service provider. But before you pat yourself on the back, consider that is a pitiful percentage. For every four customers that have an automotive repair service done, one is going to have a problem.
What do you think the main complaints of those 25% were? I was only somewhat surprised that being ripped off, or being sold unnecessary services wasn’t one of the top complaints. No, the main complaints are ones that should be very easy to eliminate.
One of the top complaints, and the easiest to prevent, is not having the car ready on time. Having spent 35 years under the hood, I know that things happen every day that delay the completion of a repair. Maybe the part you need is back-ordered, or complications during the repair are taking longer than you originally anticipated. Call your customer ahead of time and explain the problem. Most people are reasonable individuals and understand when even the best-laid plans go awry. They just want to know what to expect so they can make their own plans and adjustments. Add a cushion of time to your original estimate to account for those unforeseen problems. It is always better to call a customer and tell him his car is ready early, rather than explain why its not going to be ready as promised.
The second and third most often voiced complaints are very similar to each other; repairs not being done properly or not taking care of the problem (resulting in a return to the shop). This should also be relatively easy to eliminate, but in reality I don’t think it will happen anytime soon. There are just too many individuals in our business today that don’t have the skill sets to repair a modern automobile. These “techs” are the parts changers that look for the “silver bullet” repair, relying on Google search results to do their troubleshooting rather than get the training they need to do the job properly. Now don’t get me wrong…many of these individuals are perfectly capable of installing parts and performing routine repair tasks quickly, efficiently and professionally (though there are those that can’t even do that right). But give them a car that isn’t working as designed, especially with an electrical or drivability issue, and all bets are off.
Oh, by the way. You know that “impending technician shortage” that you may have been reading about on the web? It’s the same one that we’ve heard about for the last 30 years, I believe. There is no shortage of techs to perform oil changes, tire repairs or brake jobs. There IS a growing shortage of techs that have the capability to correctly diagnose vehicle faults and keep up with the technological challenges of our business. But that’s the topic for a future blog.
I know, we all make mistakes and no one can get every car right. And I also know that getting good training is not always easy for many. Cost, time, even availability are all challenges that many techs face. That’s the main reason that I’ve tried to provide a variety of resources in our print magazine and our online outlets, including our monthly training video shorts and our quarterly webinars. These are available free of charge and anyone with Internet access can take advantage of them. Problem now is getting the word out to the thousands that still don’t know these resources exist.
And while these resources will help the techs that want to develop their skills, there are way too many hacks out there today who don’t care one way or the other. Personally, I’m tired of the black eye they are giving the men and women of our industry who are committed to doing the job right the first time; the men and women who exercise nothing but total professionalism on a daily basis.
My gut tells me that the 75% of consumers who are happy with their auto repair provider have found those true professionals, often after a lot of trial and error. These shops have educated them in the intricacies and complexities of their automobile, and are upfront and honest with them in what it will take to properly repair and service those vehicles. If a mistake is made, it is apologized for and handled without complaint. These are the men and women who restore the consumers’ faith in what we do.
To those men and women I say, "Thank you!"