Craig Douglas says he realizes it may sound cliché, that an investment in customer service is a great way to bring about a big return. But the owner of ASG Automotive in Indianapolis says the payback is substantial when the passion is real.
The shop’s mission statement says it all:
“At ASG, we are dedicated to providing you the BEST service, while providing you the BEST value. We will take the time on your vehicle to give a comprehensive report back to you on the repairs needed, if any. We will use the tools that we have to analyze your car to provide a high-quality repair. We will also stand behind our work with the best warranty in Indianapolis with a 48-month warranty and correct any repair within that timeframe that did not achieve our expectations.”
Douglas says his expectations for excellence are as high as his customers’ and he has built a facility, a team and a reputation that exceeds those demands.
The shop, a Federated Car Care Center celebrating nearly a quarter-century of service to the Northeast Indianapolis neighborhoods of Geist, Noblesville, Fishers, Fortville, McCordsville and others, proudly brands itself as one of a few in the state where both European and Asian vehicles can be repaired by a team of knowledgeable and thoroughly trained technicians who can handle a breakdown no matter the car’s make.
Obviously, Douglas is a skilled marketer, but he says his team is committed to fulfilling each of his website’s promises on a daily basis.
Douglas says ASG Indy performs about $1.8 million annually, with an average repair order of nearly $1,250. To accomplish this, his team of three A techs, two service advisors, a general service technician and an apprentice in training operate out of a 10,000 square foot facility with 14 bays and 11 lifts. The overall building is 23,000 square foot total and allows him to provide space for other automotive professionals, as well.
“We specialize in Europeans and luxury imports, but we don’t discriminate,” Douglas says. “We’ll absolutely work on an F-150 or a minivan because if a customer has a 7 Series BMW, it’s likely she’ll have a garage full of other vehicles, too. We do it all, for any type of car. We have all the equipment and tools to do programming; everything a dealership can do, we can do here.”
ASG is not only a first option for the driving public; Douglas says he’s often tapped by other local repair facilities to help out.
“We’ll work with collision shops that had to take everything apart to fix body damage. Sometimes things will get put back in the wrong place or we’ll find pinched wires or blown fuses. The car won’t work for them, so whenever we get one, we have to really interview the collision tech to get a good solid start of how to diagnose the problem.”
Douglas says he’s fortunate to have a tech who can ask the right questions. “Alex can cut through the confusion and within an hour he has it solved. Now, because they’ve lost so much time in the past, whenever they have a car that doesn’t work, they just immediately bring it here, with no messing around. We get the stuff that nobody else can figure out.”
Douglas is happy to be a resource to professionals, but first puts most of his effort into meeting the needs of the community.
“I think customer service has become a lost art in the service industry and it’s tough to satisfy everybody’s itch for having their car right now,” he says. “We have high communication; we try to keep everybody up to speed and we try to make sense of scheduling service. And so, we offer solutions including discounted rental cars, free shuttle service, etc.”
To meet those high expectations, Douglas has built a staff with a mix of experience and enthusiasm.
“I have been ASE certified since 1999 and have two years of business management at IUPUI,” he says. “We have two service advisors: Reggie holds eight tech certifications and started with me in high school in the shop but has such a great personality that customers love him. He was a natural to learn the front counter. The same goes for Logan, our other advisor – he started in the back and we’re grooming him to be up front.
“Alex, our shop foreman, has been with us since January 2009, is ASE and Bosch certified and has a BS in economics from Purdue University. He’s incredibly smart when it comes to diagnosing problems – I mean, REALLY smart – he missed one question on his SATs.
“Jay is my workhorse. He’s been with me since ‘98, so he was actually here before me by six months. He’s ASE certified, GM ASEP certified, a BMW/Honda/Acura specialist – he can do anything.
“And the experience just keeps coming – Josh is ASE certified and has been with us since 2017. Bryce joined ASG in 2018 and has ASE certifications, as well.”
In addition, Joe, his shop apprentice and Jenn, his administrative assistant (and wife) ensure that the business runs as efficiently as possible.
While he recognizes the challenges facing many shop owners to find and retain great techs, he’s been able to keep his team together for a very long time. When he does need to look for a new employee, Douglas says he puts a greater emphasis on what they DON’T bring rather than what they do.
“I look for a good attitude and smarts,” he reveals. “I can teach them anything, right? What we like to do is get someone who, A, will show up on time; B, likes to work; and, C, wants to learn. That’s why we like to groom them internally and keep them around.”
To ensure employee satisfaction, Douglas offers many perks, including a clean, comfortable, well-equipped shop, unique uniforms, competitive pay, team bonus and paid holidays. In addition, he offers a 401K plan in which he matches up to 150% of employee contributions up to 6%.
“Nobody offers that,” he says confidently, “especially in the automotive industry.“
“I wanted to make sure that I secured all their futures. I want them to stay and I want them to retire from here.” Douglas says he recognizes the value in being valued. In fact, he was pursued by the original owner of ASG in 1999, when he was managing a local branch of a national parts store chain, doing the work of a district manager overseeing seven stores.
“They would move me around, as the fixer. I was in my twenties and very strong headed and confident,” Douglas recalls. “I think they thought maybe I was too young to be that good and they passed me up for DM a couple of times over seven years. I got really upset about that, so I told them I was leaving to run this shop, and they just laughed at me. ‘Well, good luck with that and let us know when you want to come back,’ kind of thing. I was determined not to come back.
“As it turns out, both the regional manager and the VP actually called me a handful of years later to fix their cars because nobody else could,” Douglas laughs.
He says after running the shop so efficiently for about a year, the previous owner simply stopped coming in.
“I offered to buy the place from him after two years, then three years, then five years in. I finally had to just remind him that everybody already thought I owned the place, so I bought it from him in 2009,” he says.
Douglas says his crooked path to ownership started much earlier in his life, and included a variety of valuable learning experiences – things that prepared him for a career and things that gave him perspective.
“When I was 12 and 13, I started detasseling corn, which is one of the worst jobs in history. About the same time, I started working construction jobs,” he says. “I kept looking for work and got a job as a bag boy at a grocery store before I turned 16.”
His persistence for employment led him through various positions at the grocery store, then into multiple local automotive jobber stores. These positions fueled his natural love for cars – he says he’s self-taught in vehicle repair, though he has had a skill at fixing them since he was a kid.
“My dad loved cars, and had a variety of makes and models, but he didn’t even change his own oil. I just fell in love with them and started working on them,” Douglas says. “The first engine I built was for my brother’s ’70 Buick Skylark when I was 13. We had a paper Chilton’s manual that I used, but I just knew I could do it. It was a 12-second car, which was pretty fast at the time.”
Obviously, Douglas says, training and instruction methods have changed since those days, and he continues to invest in available resources. Whether it’s online or in-person training for his technicians, or networking with other shops to share management best practices, he says he’s always striving for excellence. A key part of his shop’s success is his partnership with Tekmetric for his shop management system. “We helped the Tekmetric team from the beginning,” he says. “We showed them what would help our business the most, including digital inspections, two-way texting and our interest in being able to customize the management system. They built it all in based on our (and others’) recommendations, and it’s amazing. Anything you can dream up, it can do.”
Douglas also credits his business coach, John Wafler, and the other shop owners in his Bottom Line Impact Group with guidance to help him improve his business practices.
“Even if you think you know it all, you find out very quickly that you really don’t. I attribute a lot of my success to that group – they really opened me up into another level, if you will.”
Douglas says he has begun planning with some of his shop management team for an eventual transition of ownership, as he starts to think about what’s next for himself and the shop. “I’m 51 years old, and these guys are so good I don’t really even need to come in every day,” he says, “but I like the interaction with the team, our customers and our suppliers. Over the next 5 or 10 years, we’ll see some changes in ownership, but I’ll still be working on those relationships.”
After all, he emphasizes, relationships are a vital part of his shop’s past and future.
“TBA & Oil Warehouse, our Federated supplier here in Indianapolis, has been with ASG since Day 1,” Douglas says. “We’ve built a friendship based on respect and service – they know they’re my No. 1 call and I know if I have any issue with a part or a warranty claim, they’ll take care of it. We both keep up-to-date on the pulse of the automotive business and share our experience and knowledge with each other. Those partnerships and relationships in business make a huge difference. You treat somebody well and they will reciprocate.”
And that level of service extends beyond, Douglas says, including relationships with customers, competition and his tenants.
“I mentioned that our shop takes up less than half of our building footprint,” he says. “I also rent a spot to another person who owns an automotive repair facility. It might seem strange that I would do that in my own building, but he’s not in competition with me. In fact, he’ll sometimes send me customers. In addition, there’s a performance shop with a dyno that does engine tuning and a place that does window tinting and car detailing. Across the street is an automotive repair shop and right behind our building is an other automotive repair shop. In between us is a transmission shop,” Douglas says.
“The fact is, we don’t have to kick and fight and scream over customers because we all have kind of our own thing, and it’s fine. We all happily coexist because there’s plenty of cars and plenty of customers to take care of. You bring a car, we’re going to fix it. I don’t care who you are or where you come from. It makes no difference to me,” he points out.
What does matter, Douglas says, is doing a good job.
“What are the key factors necessary to operate a successful shop today? It starts with great people, great customer service, and refined systems and processes,” he explains. “When you focus on shop goals, staying current on training and the latest tools, you’ll find success.”