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Massachusetts Repair Shop Grows During Pandemic

When we were kids, we all had dreams of what we wanted to be when we grew up. Whether the dream was to be an astronaut, a firefighter, rock star or professional football player, for most of us life got in the way and we found a job. Sure, it’s a good job that has provided for our family but is it the job you imagined as a child?

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For Rich Greene, auto repair isn’t just his job, it’s his life – and he couldn’t be more content.

“I’ve been working on cars since I was probably 14, and I knew early on I wanted to have my own repair shop.”

“I’ve been working on cars since I was probably 14, and I knew early on I wanted to have my own repair shop,” says Greene, owner of RG Automotive in Halifax, MA. “So even as I worked for other people, I went to college to take small business management classes because I knew I wanted to have my own business. When I got my first house, I immediately built a two-bay garage in the side yard and started working on cars after work. And then in 1997 I just worked out of that garage solely to build up a client list while I tried to save money to buy my current location.”

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Greene admits that his single-minded focus has been a double-edged sword. “It was a definite goal for when I was a little kid, which is good and bad. But, that’s how I got here, and it’s been good.”

“We want to take care of all the maintenance. We try to see the cars at least twice a year, just to make sure that the service is on track and the car is operating at its best for the customer.”

Greene says it took about five years of working at his home garage to raise the money to build his shop. Though it worked well financially, he felt the stress of never really being able to leave the shop. Thankfully, he says he was able to buy land and build his dream facility in 2005.

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His six bay 4,000 sq. foot facility incorporates several operational attributes that he has admired in other shops he has worked at or visited over the years. The building design includes front and rear roll up doors so that cars can be driven, pushed or towed through. “I didn’t necessarily invent the wheel, but maybe I improved on someone else’s wheel. At least for my building.”

In fact, wanting to improve the experience for his customers is Greene’s driving philosophy. 

“We want to take care of all the maintenance on the car, under the car and under the hood. We try to see the cars at least twice a year, even if they don’t drive a lot, just to make sure that the service is on track and the car is operating at its best for the customer,” he says.

“I think my target customer is the typical mom, who’s usually in charge of taking care of everything in all her kids’ and husband’s lives. We can provide her with quick, easy-to-understand estimates and a repair plan, maintenance guide for each car that she has to deal with. She can make fast decisions and just move on to the other things she needs to do.”

To ensure the necessary services are performed, Greene has long been an advocate for the digital resources from his suppliers. 

“We’ve been a partner with BOLT ON TECHNOLOGY for about eight years now. Our customers have known that we do digital vehicle inspections on their cars since then, but even to this day, when we send some of the reports on their car they’ll comment immediately.” 

To Greene, the photos and videos in a digital inspection supplement the recommendations of a professional service advisor.

“We’re trying to help them keep that car on the road, but I think when you ask someone if they want their air filter replaced, they think you’re just trying to sell them something. When you send a picture of the problem, you don’t have to ask if they want to replace it or even tell them how much it is. They’re going to text back and ask you to change it. You don’t have to have a conversation about why or how important it is or predict how much more life it has left. They just have to look.”

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Greene says DVIs often work best with a product many drivers are unaware even exists. “The best one is the cabin air filter – if you take one of those off and there’s a  mouse nest in there? They’re thanking you for changing it.”

Greene says the DVI helps takes concerns about needed service out of the equation. “We’re always fair with pricing, but we generate the full report on every oil change, then send a second text with estimates that couple with anything that was flagged on the picture report. Usually, we’ll just get a text back from the customer telling us to do certain services while the car is in the facility. There’s no phone conversation and no downtime for us or the customer. It definitely can increase the bottom line but, more importantly, customers are more confident that they’re not being sold something that they may or may not need.

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“And I’d rather someone be happy to get service done that they need than to feel insecure that we are taking advantage of them. I don’t have time for that. There’s too much work to get done.”

In addition to the digital vehicle inspections, Greene still does local mailings and traditional community outreach.

“We do a local mailer that’s like a magazine. There are multiple coupons for all the local businesses, and people will keep that on their coffee table for a week or two. And we’ll sponsor local baseball or soccer teams in town, which is another key because all these parents are down at the fields with their kids and they’ll all need their vehicle inspections.”

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Massachusetts has a strict annual inspection requirement. Greene says the $35 inspection brings in nearly 40 potential customers a month. “They need the sticker, and we’re convenient and fast, and that’s their opportunity to look around and decide if they want to be part of our clientele list or not.” 

“If the car fails, we’ll give them an estimate, and if they choose to come back for us to do the repair, great. If not, someone else can do the work. The re-inspection is free, and we’ll treat them just as happily as if we fixed it. And maybe we’re on the list for future repair.”

When repairs are needed, Greene says his team of technicians is more than capable of doing the job.

Matt Erwin, lead technician, is a past Five Star Chrysler Tech, and a graduate of Mass Bay College with Associates Degree in Automotive Technologies; Aaron Lucier, service technician, has four ASE Certifications and was a Tech of the Year in 2020; Dan Laflower, general service technician, was Tech of the Year in 2018; and Brandon Towne, is a general service technician in Training and a student at Silver Lake Regional High School Co-op in the Automotive program. They are supported by Tori Guerchon, service writer and assistant manager and Richie Greene, service writer.

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Greene has his share of accolades as well, including, 11 ASE Certifications. He still enjoys being able to work on the cars as well as working on his business.

“To me, that’s part of being a small business owner. It’s nice to know that I can do anything that we’re selling. I know systems are in place to keep people on track. But there’s always room for improvement!”

Greene says his accessibility to his team is part of the appeal. “I try to offer as much as I can financially – 401k, health insurance, paid time off, company-sponsored training and paid holidays. There’s always going to be bigger shops that can offer more, but then you’re in that disconnected type of thing where you can’t even reach the owner if you have an issue. So, I think that that’s the winning model to a small shop rather than a big shop.”

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That’s not to say that Greene doesn’t have plans for growth.

“We’d like to open a second location in the future – to do that we need to grow this location a little bit more and add even more highly-skilled employees. I think we’re in a good spot to move forward but finding the location and committing to figuring out how to split yourself between two locations, that’s the two hurdles. But it’s on the list.”

Greene says knowing that he has such strong support from his supplier partners helps ease his concerns about growth.

“Our local Parts Plus supplier is Bagnell Auto Supply in Rockland. The parts they carry are great, the delivery times are outstanding, and if we call for something that’s in one of their other stores, the delivery driver just brings it to us instead of making us wait. I’ve been using them when I worked for other companies probably since the late eighties, so I’ve had a lot of history with them.”

Greene acknowledges the challenges 2020 presented to his and others’ businesses but is very optimistic moving forward. 

“Everyone’s got to have a job, and it’s better to do something you love than something you hate.” 

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“As we go into this year, we’re already ahead of last year’s numbers, and we haven’t even made it to pandemic time yet to compare to. So, things are going pretty good.”

He does have concerns about the effect the telematics-driven data access will have in the future. As a Massachusetts shop, he gets a lot of questions from customers about Right to Repair. 

“It’s hard for us to answer them all because it’s still mixed, but for the most part, I’d like to see the customer be able to disable the automatic communication back to the dealer because, right now, I’m not sure where we’re really headed with that yet. But if that continues at this level of access, the independent shops will suffer because most of these younger drivers just push the button on the dash, schedule the appointment with the local dealer, and never make it to an independent,” he says.

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“I understand the fight, but to explain that to a customer is tough. And to guard against it is even harder. The only true guard I think would be limit the data to just the repair shop of choice and let that service center maintain the vehicle – or not let that information leave the car’s computer at all.”

Greene’s message is simple:

“Everyone’s got to have a job, and it’s better to do something you love than something you hate,” he says. “I’ll be honest, I like fixing cars. I like helping people. That’s all I know.”

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