For a shop that really does handle it all, from fueling to towing to repairs, owner Josh Clayton is always looking for ways to improve efficiency at H&H Mobil, an Auto Value Certified Service Center and Auto-Wares customer in East Lansing, MI.
“I always feel like we can be more productive,” Josh says. “It seems like even on our busiest days there is the opportunity to have done more. That said, we have really tried as a team to embrace technology, whether it’s with the latest in shop management programs, tools that lead to making techs more efficient or the advent of texting from the shop management program that has really helped to speed up communication with the customer. We often receive a text message back from a customer long before we would have received a call.”
Opened in 1969 by Josh’s father-in-law, Jim Little, H&H Mobil began as a three-bay, Mobil-branded gas station that simply sold fuel and repairs. The shop has since grown to include six bays, a complete convenience store, towing business and gas station.
“I came into the business in 2000 while attending Michigan State University,” Josh says. “I operated a tow truck for my future father-in-law and learned the business from the inside out. We have built upon the model of the local neighborhood service station.”
Marketing to Customers
What better way to promote a business than to have satisfied customers spread the word for you? Josh says that in addition to expert repairs, customers remember the little things.
“Providing great personalized service for our customers creates a wonderful return in the form of word-of-mouth advertising,” he says. “As a group, we spend a lot of time focusing on providing full-service fueling, including fluid and air pressure checks. The free air we provide is accompanied by help from an employee and a free air gauge with our logo to take with you.”
Offering a towing service also sets H&H Mobil apart and is a natural complement to the repair service the shop offers.
“Towing is a strength of ours and is a great way to attract customers,” Josh says. “Our towing staff is trained to advocate for our repair shop when customers are deciding where to take their vehicle.”
Josh says they also make the effort to maintain and update the shop’s image and efficiency processes, from the installation of an electric vehicle charging station to cost-saving items like LED lighting.
“Maintaining a 48-year-old building is hard work, but I really feel that we do a tremendous job of continuing to make sure our business looks great,” he says. “This comes at a great expense, but it really does pay off with customers appreciating the appearance and knowing we will take care of their vehicle the same way we take care of our business.”
The shop’s website has become increasingly more important to maintain as well, as more and more people rely on the Internet to find qualified shops for the service and repair of their vehicles.
“Our website is constantly evolving,” Josh explains. “As customers become more engaged with their cell phones, the website being mobile-friendly has become increasingly important. Also, we have implemented an Ask-a-Tech page on our site that emails customer questions to us. Customers seem to appreciate this low-pressure way to ask a car question or receive a quote at any time of the day or night.”
Employees & Training
Customer satisfaction, Josh says, actually starts with employees who truly care about providing the best service experience possible. This, in turn, leads to increased shop profitability as the needs of customers are met.
“Our staff takes pride in saving customers money when the opportunity arises,” Josh says. “The honesty with which our staff sells allows us to make the bigger sales when necessary and gives our customers trust in us. I always feel that valuing the relationship is the most important consideration when looking at long-term profitability. The relationship is what leads customers through our door and allows them to feel comfortable working with us.”
The H&H Mobil team currently consists of two technicians who are state- and ASE-certified, as well as a service writer who does light repair work and preventive maintenance on the shop’s towing fleet.
“We offer benefits including paid time off and health insurance, along with a retirement savings program,” Josh says. “I am heavily engaged in the business, which really helps with retaining quality people.”
But finding those employees has become increasingly challenging, Josh says, which is all the more reason to do what you can to keep them.
“A key person in a small business such as ours can be the difference between success and failure,” he says, “and I feel it raises the value and importance of any person who works here. That said, the best employees typically are found through word-of-mouth and industry relationships. Both of our current technicians, who have been with us a number of years, were hired because of those relationships. Our technician Bob came on board thanks to our local Auto Value store. If we are looking, I always make it a point to tell everyone I know about it.”
Once hired, employees are encouraged to approach training as an ongoing, continuing process.
“I advocate for continued training of all of our employees — not just the technicians,” Josh explains. “We have done both online and onsite technical training, along with different types of professional development courses, such as Dale Carnegie. We’ve also done a lot of remote training over the years, both at our Tech Expo event hosted by our local Auto Value warehouse and training hosted by other groups, including manufacturers.”
Josh says an affiliation with industry groups such as the statewide towing association, ASA and the Association of Food and Petroleum Dealers (AFPD) has proven to be invaluable to the shop’s success.
“Associations are a great way to stay abreast of industry-wide issues and opportunities,” Josh explains. “These associations also give us an opportunity to communicate with legislators in a manner that is more effective than it would be individually.
“Also, our relationship with Auto Value is much like an association,” he adds. “Being connected nationwide with a like-minded group is very beneficial, and I have many great local relationships with other repair facilities that have been fostered through Auto Value.” Josh is a former member of the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance Service Center Advisory Council.
For Josh, being involved has been the key to running a successful independent automotive repair facility, and he feels that nothing can replace being actively involved in the day-to-day business of the shop.
“I have never found this to be a hands-off business, as I feel good management in this industry requires effort,” Josh says. “Whether it’s with our customers or staff, being involved allows me to make decisions quickly and properly. I operate in all facets of our business and this allows me to have a deep understanding of both our customers and staff, which leads to greater profitability and increased customer appreciation.
“Having a great staff that thinks of the customer first is also a necessity,” Josh is quick to point out. “Customers tend to go where they feel welcome, and our staff does an excellent job of treating others very well.”