“If we weren’t working on Hondas, we probably wouldn’t be in the auto repair business,” affirms Jeff Baker, co-owner of Formula H Motorworks in Middletown, NY. In referencing both his and co-owner brother Brian’s love of all things Honda, Jeff also reinforces the duo’s specialization in and commitment to the Honda/Acura brands.
The Honda enthusiasts started their business with these two brands on June 1, 1988, and more than 22 years later that commitment still runs deep.
Similar specialist shops “sold out” to maintain profitability in reacting to technological advancements that reduced service intervals, and began also working on Toyota/Lexus, or all Japanese makes, or on both foreign and domestic cars, while still “claiming” to specialize in Honda. Yet, Brian and Jeff did not deviate and, in staying true to their original business model, their eight-bay shop has reaped the many benefits that come with specialization — the ability to offer brand-specific service excellence and top-notch customer service, while earning customer trust and loyalty and a reputation for being “the” place to take your Honda/Acura for service. (The shop is also distinguished from others in that it sells and services Honda Power Equipment.)
“Our mantra is personalized, precision service that costs less than the dealer,” says Jeff (pictured on adjacent page). Besides a labor rate that is lower than the dealer, Formula H offers quality, reliable, first-rate repairs that pay big dividends in customer loyalty.
Honda/Acura service work is never “foreign” to them, as Formula H benefits from trained, experienced techs whose expertise gets reinforced when they work on the same two vehicle brands day in and day out. “We rely on our techs and choose them very carefully,” explains Jeff. “They are knowledgeable about what to look for, what to expect and what to anticipate,” which facilitates repairs and eliminates comebacks.
Also facilitating high-quality repairs is the fact that Formula H techs are paid hourly, rather than on flat rate. When the clock isn’t ticking, they have the time to fix cars right the first time, remarks Jeff. At other shops, he continues, techs on flat rate might whip through certain repairs to make time. “They’re looking at their paycheck. That customer is getting shorted, and, the bottom line is, that is just not fair. We’ve taken this variable — the temptation to ‘short-change’ jobs to make up time lost on the previous job — out of our service equation,” Jeff contends.
Honda Genuine Parts Are Our Mainstay
Quality parts — the default of which is genuine Honda except on older, higher-mileage vehicles — are also a huge part of Formula H’s ability to deliver expert repairs and maintain a satisfied customer base. “When I first began fixing cars, I started going to a local parts store and had a hard time finding stuff,” says Brian, who owns a Honda S600 roadster and is a mechanical restoration expert in their service and repair department (see below sidebar). “Even if I did, it didn’t fit or it didn’t work right. So very early on, I learned the benefit of genuine parts.”
Brian continues that most customers expect them to use only the best parts when fixing their car, and for those who might have concerns about price, they take the time to educate them about the advantages of using Honda Genuine parts. “By far and away, most customers know it, expect it and don’t even question it. And, for the few who are on the fence, we educate them. Our goal is to always bring every car back to 100 percent.”
Customer Satisfaction is Paramount
“We can do a bang up job on the car, but you can’t take the customer for granted,” warns Jeff. With that said, Formula H prides itself on not only having expert techs, but also highly skilled counter personnel who engage and interact with customers. It’s imperative, adds Jeff, that when the phone rings or someone comes through the front door that they feel at ease.
Service advisers attentively greet customers and, when they return to pick up their car, they review the work order and ask them if they have any questions. If the service adviser “picks up” on any customer hesitation, therein lies the opportunity to reassure the customer that they know what they are paying for. “We take the time to explain the work and the cost, so they will have peace of mind,” explains Jeff.
Building that customer trust translates into return customers and positive word-of-mouth referrals.
“By far, word-of-mouth advertising is our best, strongest and most effective way of promoting our business,” echoes Brian, who adds that brother Jeff engages in guerilla marketing that is very targeted and highly effective. Jeff explains that this type of marketing, where he approaches owners of Hondas and Acuras that he comes across at the mall, gas station or grocery store, allows him to speak face-to-face with prospects to develop a level of trust that is not achievable over the phone. Using business cards made specifically for this purpose, Jeff also provides highlights of Formula H and encourages owners to give the shop a try, next time their vehicle is in need of service. “It’s important to take advantage of the opportunity to make a good first impression,” he advises.
The shop also utilizes a customer referral system — counter cards that are prominently displayed on the front counter. They are given to customers when they leave, so they can put their name on it to get credit for a new customer referral, says Jeff. New customers get $10 off a service right off the bat, and referring customers have a $20 credit waiting for them in their file for their next vehicle service.
At Formula H Motorworks, it is without question that highest-quality parts, expert, specialized techs and optimal customer service all factor together to create a successfully run business, but a solid business ethic is the foundation, contend brothers Brian and Jeff. This is the guiding principle from which everything about their business is based. “Treat customers the way you want to be treated. Ultimately, you never get away with anything — it will always come back to you,” they say. The only thing the Bakers want to come back are satisfied, repeat customers who will be advocates for the business they’ve built on loyalty and trust.
Mary DellaValle is editor of Shop Owner and ImportCar magazines.