by Debbie Briggs, contributing writer
Reputation is everything at Theo’s Automotive in Peachtree City, GA, and even the rare negative review can’t slow business down a bit for Owner Theo Kazadzis. In fact, Kazadzis says his response to a recent negative review amidst several positives at Repairpal.com actually brought in new business and won over a new customer, most likely for many years to come.
“He said to me, ‘I liked all the reviews, but I specifically came to you because you had a negative review, and you responded and took care of it,’” Kazadzis says. “He spent $1,500, and he said he has more cars to bring to me.
“You have to have a good reputation,” he adds. “It’s very important, especially in a small city.”
To that end, Kazadzis has a policy of putting the customer first, no matter the cost monetarily.
“In some cases, I knew 100 percent that I was right, and the customer was wrong,” he explains. “But, I said, ‘You’re right, what do you want me to do?’ I let them tell me what the solution is. A couple times, the solution was to their favor 100 percent. OK, if that’s what you want, that’s what’s going to happen. I might lose $200 to keep them happy, and I’m not going to see them again. However, they can’t go out and say anything negative about me. Whatever I did wrong in their mind, they were compensated for.”
It’s that kind of honesty and integrity that has helped Kazadzis stay successful throughout his career as a shop owner and technician. When he left his native Greece at age 16 to work for Bosch and Mercedes-Benz in Germany as an apprentice, he had no way of knowing that he would eventually call Georgia home. First he emigrated to British Columbia, Canada, in 1967, and then three years later, opened a shop. The gas station with four bays was first operated by Gulf Oil of Canada, but it wasn’t long before Kazadzis took over the day-to-day operations and, as a result, was seventh in sales in the province of British Columbia for many years.
“Vancouver was good for me,” Kazadzis says. “I got married and had three kids. However, I couldn’t stand the weather. It was raining all the time. Coming from Greece originally, my goal was to live someplace sunnier.”
San Jose, CA, fit the bill, and, in 1983, Kazadzis moved his family to the West Coast. And while he had his own business once again within a year of moving, he realized that while he enjoyed the sunshine, San Jose wasn’t where he wanted to stay.
“It was very expensive, and the people there weren’t that friendly,” he adds. “So I moved down South, and I found a place. People here are much nicer, and it’s a nice place to live.”
Third Time is a Charm
Kazadzis moved to Peachtree City, GA, in 1996 and worked for a garage, where he eventually became a partner and then sole proprietor. When his lease was about to expire, he opted to buy his own property rather than invest money into someone else’s building. He purchased property a half-mile away, cleared the land, had a shop built to his specifications and moved into the state-of-the-art facility on Nov. 15, 2010.
“I drew it exactly how I wanted it to be,” Kazadzis comments, “to be customer friendly, mechanic friendly and also to be unique. It looks like a department store. The floor is sparkling all the time, no matter if you’re working or if it’s closed.”
In addition to a pristine interior and exterior, the shop features 10 bays with eight lifts. Two bays are used as inspection bays, and there’s also an emissions machine that people can drive through.
“If a car comes in for a Check Engine light, you don’t have to do it outside in the parking lot,” he explains. “You drive the car through, the customer walks into the waiting room and they can see while we’re working, from the office. They have a view of the whole shop while sitting down.”
Not surprising, customer reaction has been overwhelmingly positive; Kazadzis says people can’t believe it’s a repair shop. The shop is eco-friendly, with the entire building heated by a waste oil heater that produces 350,000 BTUs. And even the asphalt is specially designed to absorb water, so the parking lot stays dry, even in a downpour.
“I have a joke going here: Before you come into the shop, please wipe your feet,” he says with a laugh. “You can practically eat off the floor. I have a young person starting, he’s an apprentice, and his main job is to make sure everything is spic and span — no finger marks anywhere, the floors are clean and the rails are clean.”
Also boosting customer confidence are the repairs completed by Kazadzis and three other certified techs. He has worked with all his employees going back 10 years, and, as a whole, the group has 110 years of combined experience.
Taking Care of the Team
“My philosophy is, I take care of my people, and they will take care of me,” affirms Kazadzis. “I know everybody personally. I know their families, so I have good working relationships. I do things for them that they don’t have to ask for, and, in return, I get full support from them. It’s not a just a job for them.
“And I don’t have them work overtime,” he continues. “Our work day is 8 o’clock to 5:30, and at 5:30, everybody goes home. If your job is done, it’s done. If it’s not, it’s not. If they want to stay, it’s their choice.”
Instilling Customer Trust
Kazadzis also singles out his service writer — who “knows how to talk to the customer and how to present a job”— as yet another asset to the Theo’s Automotive team. Customers never need to worry that they’re being advised to repair something that doesn’t need to be fixed.
“We don’t try to sell things people don’t need, number one,” he says. “We’re very conservative about what we’re trying to sell. It’s not like a tire place where we’re trying to sell you struts every time you walk through the door, or putting on calipers every time we do a brake job.”
And even though his customers trust him and his staff, Kazadzis says he never completes a job without the customer’s full understanding of its scope.
“If customers leave their cars, and even if they tell us to just fix it because they trust us,” he explains, “we never fix a car without calling to let them know how much it is. People are always informed about how much they’re going to spend before the work is done.”
Adding to its credibility is the fact that Theo’s Automotive is a Bosch Authorized Service Center. Kazadzis himself became a Master Tech for Bosch last year, taking classes in Chicago and Florida. Every couple of months, training from various suppliers is provided to the other techs on topics ranging from air conditioning to control modules. And in May, Kazadzis will host a two-day BMW seminar at his shop for technicians throughout the South, led by well-known European car trainer Angelo Campana.
“We just keep up all the time,” he says. “Sometimes I go out of state if it’s a two-day class from BMW or Volkswagen. I’ll take a refresher if something new comes on the market; then I’m aware of it, and I know how to handle it.”
With customer referrals a key part of his success, Kazadzis makes a point of meeting people in groups like the local Rotary Club and through a networking group of 20 businessmen that he meets for breakfast once a week.
“I didn’t go to Rotary Club to create more business, I went there to create more friends,” he says. “So, of course, the more friends you have, the more people you know. The more people you know, the more business you’re going to have.”
And even though business is good, Kazadzis is always looking for ways to improve his shop. “It doesn’t matter how good you are, there’s always room for improvement.”
With that philosophy top of mind, you can be sure that Theo’s Automotive will just keep getting better.