When your goal is building a successful business, it helps to come up with a clear definition of what success looks like. And that’s exactly what Bill Baxter did when he opened ProTech Autocare in Cincinnati.
When Baxter was in the process of purchasing a location for the shop, he created vision and mission statements for the business. Twenty-two years after ProTech Autocare opened its doors, those statements still hang on the lobby wall, and Baxter considers them the shop’s “core values.”
Baxter consistently makes a point to keep them top-of-mind for the shop’s employees.
“I try to start every meeting talking about one piece of that vision or mission, just to keep those core values in focus for our business,” he says.
ProTech Autocare, a Parts Plus Car Care Center, opened in 1998. Seven or eight years ago, Baxter and co-owner Ty Miller updated the language in the vision statement to reflect that ProTech had become “a highly successful business with constant growth based on complete customer satisfaction.”
“At first it was like, we want to become a successful business, using these values,” Baxter explains. “As time went on, I thought we were a successful business, so we tweaked some of the wordage.”
Baxter has been in the automotive field for more than 40 years, starting as a technician and working his way up through the ranks to become a facility manager. Prior to opening ProTech Autocare in 1998, he spent 17 years managing various BP ProCare service centers. When Baxter left the company to open his own repair shop, four of his BP ProCare colleagues came with him. Miller was one of them.
While at BP ProCare, Baxter and Miller realized “that we worked really well together,” Miller explains.
“After about a year and a half of working for [Baxter], he put in his resignation and said, ‘I’m going out on my own. I’m going to start ProTech,’” Miller recalls. “He wasn’t trying to get anybody to leave. But several of us said, ‘Hey, wait a minute. We’re coming with you.’ And we became successful pretty quickly.”
Those four guys from BP – Miller, two techs and a service advisor – still work at the shop. Having that continuity has helped the shop sustain the kind of culture Baxter originally envisioned.
“What I’ve seen happen is I kind of instilled those values in that core group of guys, and over time, they’ve helped me instill them in people we’ve brought on board at a later time,” Baxter says.
Culture might seem like an abstract concept. However, the culture at ProTech Autocare is clearly defined in a guide that outlines the shop’s expectations for employees. Among those expectations, the guide encourages team members to:
- Leave bad habits from previous employers at the door.
- Treat each other with respect.
- Come to work early.
- Leave personal issues at the door.
- Strive to be honest in all interactions with customers and co-workers.
- Follow through on promises.
- Have a willing attitude.
- Be solution-minded.
- Acknowledge each other’s contributions.
“We don’t have a ton of turnover,” Baxter says. “I know in our business that’s a big problem. But when I look back at it, the guys who haven’t fit into the culture aren’t here anymore. The guys who buy into it are still here. And then we make darn sure we take care of those people to try to keep them.”
A Winning Formula
The shop’s pay structure is a mix of flat-rate and hourly compensation. The more experienced technicians are on a flat-rate system, and their base rate is determined by weighing four factors: their experience, productivity, training level and quality of work. All techs qualify for a pay increase when they add a certification. Six staff members – including Baxter and Miller – have attained ASE Master Technician status.
The shop’s “up-and-coming” techs are on a “hybrid” pay plan, according to Baxter. They start out as hourly employees, and as they gain more experience, the shop will bump up their hourly rate.
“It’s kind of set up like a bonus plan, but it’s also a bridge to the actual flat-rate system once they’re ready for it,” Baxter explains. “And that plan has worked pretty well.
“I tell all our guys, ‘Just learn it right at first and do it right at first.’ So if the job calls for three hours and it takes them five, they’re still covered. The whole purpose, obviously, is to do the job right, and over time the speed comes.”
The shop has seven techs. In addition to the two techs who started working at ProTech when the shop opened in 1998, two are experienced techs who recently joined the shop after working for BP.
The other three techs fall into the “up-and-coming” category. One of them started at the shop while he was a senior in a vo-tech high school, and now is an ASE Master Technician and “one of our strongest techs,” according to Baxter. The other two are on a similar trajectory, but still learning the ropes.
“We’ve had a lot of success bringing in young technicians right out of school and training them and teaching them to be the best at what they do,” Miller says. “I’m proud to say we have seven incredible technicians. We hear stories that other shops are struggling to find good help. We’re blessed to have the staff that we have, and the key is taking care of your people.”
The Customer Experience
ProTech Autocare has an average 4.7-star rating (out of five stars) on Google and a 4.5-star rating on Yelp, a testament to the shop’s commitment to “complete customer satisfaction.” Out of more than 600 reviews on AutoVitals, the shop has a 99.9% customer-satisfaction score and a five-star review average.
ProTech positions itself as an affordable alternative to dealership service departments. “With ASE-certified mechanics who receive ongoing training in automotive technology and auto repair services, we’re proud to be able to offer you dealership-quality knowledge and experience without dealership pricing,” the shop’s website declares.
The shop’s mission statement touts its commitment to staying on top of the latest technology “to maintain our competitive edge over our competition and dealerships.”
“We own almost every factory scan tool out there,” Miller says. “We’re registered locksmiths, so we can do all the anti-theft programming. And we can do all the computer reflashing on 98% of the vehicles that are out there.”
Another way the shop is leveraging technology to enhance the customer experience is digital inspections. Whether it’s for a complimentary safety inspection or a customer-request repair, the shop uses AutoVitals software to document the inspection results and communicate with the customer. The service advisor can pull up images from the inspection and show them to the customer on a tablet or a printout, or can send the images to the customer via email or text messaging.
“I’m a firm believer that a picture is worth a thousand words,” Baxter says. “ … I think it just helps with your integrity and gives the customer a little bit better understanding of what you’re trying to explain to them.”
The shop uses the software to manage technicians’ labor hours and track the progress of each job. A flat-screen TV in the main office displays each job, and the service advisors update each job’s progress report when there’s a status change. Through AutoVitals, customers receive a text message whenever there’s an update. The software also sends appointment reminders and post-work surveys.
“When you car breaks down, it’s the worst thing in the world. There’s never a convenient time,” Miller says. “So we do everything we can to make it a great experience from beginning to end.”
With that goal in mind, the shop offers:
- Free local shuttle service
- Loaner cars
- Financing options (including six-month interest-free financing)
- An after-hours dropbox
- Free high-speed Wi-Fi
- A three-year, 36,000-mile warranty
The shop’s three service advisors play a key role in delighting customers. One of them is an ASE Master Technician. Two of the service advisors are women, which goes a long way toward putting female customers at ease.
“From the moment someone walks in the door, they’re going to be greeted with smiling faces behind the counter,” Miller says. “We have complimentary drinks. We have a beautiful waiting area with two locations – one where they can work in quiet, and one with a TV. Again, we want it to be an experience for the customer, not just an automotive repair.”
A Great Team
ProTech became a Parts Plus Car Care Center several years after the shop opened, and the relationship has been “a great experience,” Baxter says. Through the Parts Plus Platinum program, the shop is able to offer the three-year, 36,000-mile North American warranty, and it takes advantage of other benefits such as roadside assistance and the Mile 1 Labor Warranty. Over the years, the program’s various promotions and consumer rebates have helped ProTech grow its customer base.
Baxter raves about the local Parts Plus warehouse distributor, Smyth Auto Parts.
“They supply a quality part. Their customer service, in my opinion, is the best in our city,” he says. “When we make a call, we know we’re getting great delivery service. They go out of their way to make us a priority.”
ProTech Autocare and Parts Plus make a great team. So do Miller and Baxter. Their relationship has stood the test of time, largely due to their mutual respect and their shared commitment to do what’s right for the customer.
“We trust each other. If we have an issue, we talk it out,” Baxter adds. “I think that’s had a lot to do with our success.”
Over the years, they’ve come to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and they’ve tailored their managerial roles accordingly. But Baxter and Miller share the same goals.
“We don’t show up for work every day to make a dollar,” Miller says. “We show up because we enjoy what we do, and we really like taking care of people and keeping people safe on the road.”