Jim O’Neill and his Chino, CA-based repair facility, Chino Autotech, have earned enough accreditation to make a cardiologist blush. The shop is an Auto Club of SoCal Approved Auto Repair Facility and an Auto Value Certified Service Center. O’Neill sits on the NASTF Service Information/Communications Committees; he is an ASE CMAT-L1, Calif. Smog Check Technician and an AMI AAM Accredited Automotive Manager. Jim also completed Northwood University’s Leadership 2.0 course in 2009.
2012 will mark O’Neill’s 50th year working in the industry and 25th year as the proprietor of Chino Autotech. O’Neill started building this impressive resume on the dealership side of the business with roots reaching back to the parts department at a Phoenix Volkswagen dealer in 1962.
Jim worked in that dealership until the early ’70s when he embarked on a wholesale parts company, which he says, “didn’t do too well.” He returned to his service roots and worked for a pair of repair centers over the next decade. “During those 10 years, I saw how what we were doing at the shops compared to what I thought would be a better way to do things,” says O’Neill.
O’Neill took those lessons learned, and partnered with his wife, Jan, a successful parts manager of a local new car dealership, to open Chino Autotech.
“We took our time and didn’t waste our money,” says O’Neill. “We bought used equipment and looked for the best deal location-wise and price-wise for a rental industrial building.
“When we opened, we worked only on imports, but as I hired some skilled people, they asked the question, ‘Why do we work only on imports?’ I said it’s because I’m not familiar with domestics, and they said, ‘We are.’ And with that encouragement, we started working on pretty much everything,” says O’Neill. “Our business doubled almost overnight because our customers who were import car customers also had domestic cars and trucks, and they were happy to be able to have all their service at the same place.”
The shop’s 6,000 square feet hold 10 bays, including one bay that has a dynamometer for emissions testing and one that’s an alignment rack, with six hoists altogether. “It’s kind of set up like a dealer service department rather than having individual bay doors,” explains O’Neill. “We keep a separation between the office and the shop. The technicians are only in the office if they’re passing through to get a car from the parking lot. They have very strict instructions that there’s a smile and nod, but they’re not to engage in any conversation with the customers. It keeps them from getting diverted from their work and it also assures that there’s only one line of communication for the customers, and that’s either me or my service manager.”
Tech Have Service-Only Focus
O’Neill explains that this policy also helps boost productivity based on his experience as a technician. In addition to removing the burden of customer interaction, O’Neill has also hired an intern who assists the techs with logistics, front office communication and parts supply, while learning the trade at the same time. “I worked in shops for a long time as a technician, and a lot of my time was involved in getting my parts or contacting customers myself.
“We try to educate the techs that we’re helping them by relieving them of any of those responsibilities. We make sure that we supply the parts, and we contact the customers. Their responsibility is to give us clear and accurate reports and to perform the work, and we’re not going to let things interfere,” he explains.
Not only has this policy boosted productivity, it’s created a positive customer service outcome. “The perception from my customers is that the techs are well-trained, polite and professional, and they understand that they need to get on with the productive end. When two people explain the same technical issue, it never comes out the same way, so we eliminate any confusion that might be created by having the person who has all the information and has done all the look-ups explain the problem and the repair solution to the customer.”
Customers Are Priority One
Clear customer communication is a top priority for the O’Neills, and they’ve recently signed on with Demandforce, an automated marketing and communications solution, to aid their e-mail communications. O’Neill says the system gives his customers a lot more control over their information and the data on their vehicles. “There are some little niceties: by the time they get home from the shop and check their e-mail, there will be a little thank you note from Chino Autotech.”
These little touches matter to the O’Neills. “My wife likes to say that our customers are our extended family, and we’re on a first-name basis with practically everybody who walks in the door.”
It’s this family feeling that keeps attracting new word-of-mouth customers, and the shop continues to expand beyond direct mail to add to its family of customers. The O’Neills monitor Yelp! and Google Places to manage their online reputation through customer reviews.
Staying on top of new trends keeps O’Neill relevant after 50 years in the industry. As part of that life-long growth, he attended Northwood University’s University of the Aftermarket Leadership 2.0 program. “It was just a marvelous experience,” says O’Neill. “The professors in that program are all former top executives from the automotive warehouse and parts manufacturing industry. They have a lot of insight from the top down on how all the various pieces get to our shop. All those insights have made a difference that’s visible to everyone — from the customers to the suppliers — in our business.”
After 50 years, O’Neill still is open to new ideas, and it’s that open attitude that sets Jim O’Neill and Chino Autotech far above the average.