Some people seem to have an uncanny ability to find professional success without venturing too far from home. One such individual is Dennis Fourreau, owner of Automotive Specialist, a six-bay automotive repair facility in Lisle, IL.
Located barely three miles from where he grew up, Fourreau has built a thriving business in a town where he knows most of his customers and has been repairing their cars for years — even generations — one might say.
“When I see a car pull into my shop,” said Fourreau, “I know immediately whose it is before the driver even steps out of the vehicle, and because I have known most of my customers for many years, everyone trusts us and treats us like friends.”
While establishing his business in an area he was completely familiar with provided him a ready-made customer base, Fourreau realized another benefit that came with the purchase of the shop in 1999. The shop was an authorized Bosch Car Service center.
Bosch Car Service centers in North America are part of an international network of shops that have met the company’s strict standards for service and repair. Most importantly, these shops are qualified for access to exclusive training, marketing tools, service information and equipment from Bosch. Currently, there are nearly 1,900 Bosch Car Service centers in the U.S. and Canada.
Close To Home
Fourreau made a business decision to stay with the program. His youthful ambition, combined with “a ton of hard work” (he said) and his partnership with Bosch, helped him establish a flourishing business — close to home.
“The training and technical support that we can get by being a Bosch Car Service center has helped us keep up with the growing complexity of technology in today’s cars,” Fourreau said. “Besides, it has proven to be a good selling tool for the business because my customers understand that Bosch is a respected brand in many industries,” he said.
At Automotive Specialist, Fourreau and his team repair all makes and models of cars, SUVs, light duty trucks and diesel vehicles — from minivans to Ferraris. Apart from their business and customer service duties, Fourreau and his general manager/service adviser, Dave Walk, both ASE-certified Master Technicians, frequently get their hands dirty repairing cars alongside the two other ASE-certified full time technicians on the staff.
State Of The Business
When asked about the current state of the business, Fourreau observed, “People bring their cars into the shop less and less frequently. It is probably because vehicles are better built nowadays. On the other hand, since there are a lot more electronics in these vehicles, many of the repairs we now handle are electronics-related.”
Another change he sees is a result of the extended oil-change intervals specified by manufacturers. According to Fourreau, motorists are not getting their oil changed as diligently as they did in the past, and they also do not check the condition of the oil in their vehicles between changes as they routinely did a decade ago. This concerns him. “If you do not use synthetic oil in your vehicle and do not check and change the oil as regularly as you should, you are setting your vehicle up for engine problems down the road,” he said.
Regarding inventory management, Walk, who has been with the shop since 1989, said, “Inventory management is very different today. With modern vehicles, the parts are so specific to the vehicle and the job that there is no need for us to maintain a large parts inventory. I simply order the part when I need it. Being in a major metropolitan area allows for quick deliveries, multiple times per day.”
Fourreau started his automotive career at an early age. By the time he was 12, he had already developed a keen personal interest in cars. This was not inherited from his father, he emphasized. His father, who was a messenger, drove many miles and frequently wore out the clutches and brakes on his car. Fourreau often helped him in repairing them, also performing simpler jobs such as oil changes and tune-ups.
When he grew up, he got his first job as a mechanic at a local Shell gas station which he later ran as an owner. When Shell wanted to add a car wash and a mini mart, Fourreau opted to sell out, purchasing Automotive Specialist instead in 1999.
Automotive Specialist Gets A Facelift
Fourreau and Walk’s goal to serve their customers well recently took an interesting turn. Bosch approached Automotive Specialist to be the model for its new global branding concept, giving the shop’s interior and exterior a “facelift.”
“I was aware that my shop needed some work in terms of design and look,” Fourreau acknowledged, “so when the opportunity presented itself, I immediately agreed to redesign both the interior and the exterior.” According to a member of the Bosch design team, you rarely come across such an enthusiastic participant as Dennis Fourreau.
The project took approximately three months to implement and was not without some disruption of daily operations. While continuing to service his customers’ vehicles, Fourreau remained calm. “We knew this would ultimately help us so we worked around it, trying our best to make it easy for our technicians to do their jobs, and not to inconvenience our customers,” he said.
Automotive Specialist’s general manager, Walk, is closely involved with all aspects of running the business. This includes communicating with customers, figuring out their repair needs, delegating and assisting with work, ordering parts, confirming completion and invoicing.
He recalls one occasion involving a customer with a disabled child. Rather than asking her to arrange to bring the car to the shop for service, Walk said, they picked up the car at her home, repaired it and returned it by end of day. The customer never had to leave her home. “That is the kind of shop we like to be; one that is sensitive to our customers’ needs and gets the job done right the first time,” Walk said.
So what advice would Fourreau give to a young, aspiring shop owner/technician who is looking to break into the business?
“It takes plenty of hard work and then some, plus the ability to hang in there,” said Fourreau. “Both Dave and I believe in getting the job done right the first time,” Fourreau said. “Our primary goal is to satisfy our customers — many of whom live down the street — and maintain the trust that they’ve placed in us. That is why the majority of our customers have been with us for at least five years and some even for generations, continuing to refer us to their friends and family members.”