Simple beginnings often lead to amazing results and, in the case of Pellman’s Automotive, true industry success has resulted from a simple goal.
Brad Pellman, owner of Boulder, Colorado’s Pellman Automotive, a TechNet facility, says a commitment to building a high-quality repair business that simply addresses the needs of his clients has developed into a much more dramatic story.
“My story is somewhat typical for an older technician like me,” explains Pellman. “I grew up in the industry. I was working at a gas station, busting tires and pumping gas when I was 14 years old. I was a parts driver, I’ve been a lot boy, I’ve worked in the parts department, I worked as a service advisor and a service manager. I’ve worked for dealerships and independent shops.”
In 1995, after a few years in college, Pellman realized that his true passion was helping people with their cars. Together with his wife, Lisa, a lifelong resident of Boulder, he launched Pellman’s Automotive.
Pellman says he started with one bay in a large historic building in Boulder that was shared with a variety of other businesses. “It was just me working here, and I relied on people who knew me to bring their cars in. We worked on our advertising and started hiring employees. I had friends who were very early into website development who helped us get seen online. By putting it all together, we’ve been able to grow, year after year.
“Basically, every two or three years, I expanded into available space in the building,” Pellman adds. “It eventually got to the point where I needed more room, so I started looking at another shop across the street. That landlord wouldn’t sell me the building, but my current landlord got wind of that plan and two weeks later came to me and offered me the chance to buy this shop.”
His facility, originally a farmhouse with separate outbuildings, has some parts that are more than 100 years old, but like many buildings repurposed regularly for a century, had no real design to its layout. “Way before I ever purchased it, whoever had it just started pushing buildings together, moving them and then adding on. It takes a little bit of a roadmap to get through it on the inside, but we love the way it looks,” Pellman says. “It’s 100 percent solar-powered, and we’ve adapted to the building, and it works very well for us and for our customers. It fits in very well in the community.”
Pellman says first impressions are important. “I believe in a clean, professional-looking shop. When I opened my business, I left a shop that was cluttered and dirty and had the wrong kind of promotional material hanging up everywhere. It was a successful shop, but by bringing in ideas from my experience across the industry, I saw areas for improvement. I knew this was my chance to build a shop the way I wanted to, a shop that was a close alternative to the dealership but was well above what current independents were offering at the time. I don’t clutter up the facility with banners for car parts and I certainly don’t do girly posters or anything like that. It’s artwork, it’s clean and well lit.”
Boulder is known as an environmentally friendly city and Pellman’s Automotive is an active supporter of clean shop policies. Pellman says his customers notice.
“When they walk in our door, they talk about the solar panels – in a way, it’s advertising. Beyond the solar panels, we have become a zero-waste facility monitored by Pace in Boulder. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have waste, it just means we’ve made a commitment to reduce our waste by a certain percentage. We currently divert 92% of our waste from the landfill, which is considered zero waste, in the city’s eyes,” Pellman says.
“We compost everything that we can compost and recycle everything that we can recycle, including metal and fluids. Your customers see that, and they notice it,” Pellman says. “We make it easy by providing lots of signage and training and by conveniently positioning the recycling bins. Everybody can do it with just a little more effort.”
Pellman credits his wife for recognizing the public relations benefits as well as the tangible value that investing in and adopting these technologies have provided. “Lisa gets a lot of the credit, because adopting these policies in the business isn’t necessarily easy. You need to train all your people to follow them. Our solar panel program was the beginning, and they are fantastic. We don’t pay for any electricity now – in fact, we get a paycheck from the energy company.”
He admits that because his business isn’t on a main street, customers rarely just happen upon his shop. This means word of mouth is a key marketing technique, along with social promotion such as Google AdWords and Facebook, as well as other methods. We utilize our digital inspections to build trust and transparency through our entire process and through our CRM program we can send our customers reminder emails and texts about their car’s condition and maintenance needs.”
He and Lisa also sponsor local youth programs that aren’t necessarily the typical little league-type groups. This allows them to reach an audience that doesn’t always see ads at baseball or football fields but is just as dedicated to their kids’ passions.
“Providing the highest level of customer service is something that our business has been built on and we work hard to make sure our customers are satisfied. Like all shops though, we’re not always perfect and recognize that when something falls apart we need to respond quickly and remedy the situation. All my staff are trained to make decisions. Whether it’s the decision I would have made at that moment or not, if it’s the decision that made the customer happy, then I’m okay with it. ”
Pellman says sometimes those decisions have cost him money but if they prevented an upset customer, it’s worth it. Especially in today’s world of online reviews. “It’s best to solve the problem and then we learn from it so we won’t make the mistake again.”
One way of eliminating those mistakes is by preventing situations from which they may result. Pellman’s Automotive focuses on Asian and domestic nameplates, as well as electric vehicles. “We’re trying to narrow our scope just because we can’t be really good at everything we do and try to be all things to everybody,” Pellman says.
“Continual training also helps us provide high-quality repairs,” he adds. “One of my philosophies is that we train all the time, and another is that the shop owner should be paying for training because it benefits the shop in addition to the employee. If your guys are better at their job, they’re more efficient and they’re going to make more money. That’s better for you, of course, because you’re making more money, too. But, them being better at their job will also improve your shop and your reputation. Everybody wins!”
Weekly training sessions are a part of the shop’s regular schedule, as are off-site sessions such as those at AAPEX, Vision, STX and local ASA and vendor training. “I’ve also opened up individualized training opportunities to my employees. If they’ve done the research about a specific training that they are passionate about, I’ll find a way to get them there,” Pellman says.
Pellman’s Automotive has been an ASE Blue Seal Shop for the past 18 years. The Blue Seal program stipulates that at least 75% of the techs performing diagnosis and repairs must be ASE certified. “We’ve never fallen below that criteria,” Pellman says proudly. “What that means is that, if my technicians don’t have ASE certifications when they’re hired, I want them to get it. It also means that I am looking for ASE-certified technicians when I’m looking at resumes. That stands out to me.”
As the 2022 Chairman of the Board for ASE, Pellman says he understands that the certification tests can be intimidating. He felt that way himself when he was a new technician. “I recognize that there’s a lot of fear to take a test or fear of possibly failing a test, even though you’re a good technician. But, I see the benefit in my technicians being ASE certified and want my techs to have it. So, I encourage it, I pay for it, and I make sure they get them. Seeing their sense of pride and confidence grow after passing their ASEs is rewarding in itself.”
Pellman says that one of his key goals during his tenure as Chairman is to improve the consumer’s recognition of ASE certification. “If you’re proud of your credentials and you display them on the wall, it can create conversation with your customer. I think that’s the biggest value for ASE’s presence in the shop space when the consumer walks in. Let’s have a conversation about what this is, and why it’s important. Let’s highlight the fact that you chose the right place because we are ASE-certified.”
Choosing the right place is an appropriate way to talk about his employees, as well. “The majority of my employees have been with me for over 10 years. My general manager has been with me for 25 years; one of my lead techs has been with me for 24 years; four of my other techs have been with me over 10 years. I have a couple of new, younger B and C level technicians who have been with us less than a year.”
Pellman says Dan Levin, his general manager and righthand man for decades, has become a key ally to Pellman’s customers as he and Lisa have changed from just serving their customers to serving their employees and serving the industry.
Pellman says he doesn’t often have to replace techs, which he attributes to the fact that he makes sure working for him is satisfying personally and professionally. He focuses on fostering a team philosophy. “These are people you are around for more than half of your waking hours. Everyone should like working together and feel valued and part of the team.
“We also make sure to pay at the top of the pay range and provide a strong mix of benefits. I recently realized my techs were due for another pay adjustment so I gave everyone a raise,” Pellman acknowledges.
Although Pellman will never claim to be the biggest or have the fanciest shop in the country, he recognizes how much he has received by being a part of this industry. He’s more than happy to share his success with others.
“I’ve been successful, and this business has treated me very well. That’s why I’ve tried to give back so much, from being on the ASA Board to now being on ASE. I’ve always wanted to improve the image of the industry – that’s what I’ve been working on for 27 years,” he says. “Not only just in my own building, but now trying to help outside of it.”
Pellman said the key factor to operating a successful shop today is, hands-down, staying current with technology. A professional shop’s team must be trained and skilled to work on today’s vehicles, particularly with ADAS. “If they don’t understand that by doing something to the car’s alignment they may affect the camera’s ability to calculate correctly, then they shouldn’t be touching the vehicle. You’re seeing ASE broaden its scope of what’s provided because the technology on the cars is growing.
“Invest in yourself and in your business, so that your technicians have the tools they need to fix cars correctly. A good, well-run facility with the right people in it who, across the board, believe in your vision and are helping support you and your customers will ensure your success,” says Pellman.