When you’ve been in the industry as long as Chris Atwood, you pick up a thing or two about running a successful independent automotive repair shop — especially when you got your start pushing a broom rather than turning wrenches.
“I took a summer job with the shop when I was 18, sweeping floors,” Chris says, adding with a laugh, “and I never left.”
Chris has learned a thing or two since he started at Seasonall Automotive Center in Rochester, NY — enough that he bought the business in 1998. Since becoming the owner, Chris says he has continued to build upon a solid foundation offering full-service repairs on all makes and models of vehicles.
The shop’s four technicians are all certified and are encouraged to take additional training throughout the year. Chris says they usually attend after-hours clinics put on by ACDelco, Snap-on and other vendors.
“I feel it’s important, especially in our field, that technicians learn about new technologies as the industry goes through changes like what we have seen,” he explains.
While word of mouth usually works best when Seasonall Automotive Center is in the market for a new technician, automotive program students from the local community college are usually looking for co-op opportunities. However, having worked his way up, Chris says he strives to pay technicians fairly and keeps the workweek to five days.
“We haven’t had a high turnover rate through the years,” he says, “so we must be doing something right in that regard.”
PC workstations allow service information to be only a click away for the shop’s technicians, who also rely on up-to-date software for scan tools.
“I’ve found that giving the technicians their own workstation PC helps them become more efficient,” Chris says. “That way, if they have to refer to service information, it’s right there within easy access.”
Partnering with reliable suppliers is critical to repairing vehicles quickly and correctly the first time. Competitive pricing is also a consideration, but quality is never sacrificed.
“I think having a great relationship with suppliers is also key,” Chris says. “I’m looking for quality and competitiveness. Once you find someone who can deliver that, along with great service, that really helps with everything else.”
The shop’s affiliation with the ACDelco Professional Service Center Program has also proven to be beneficial. The Consumer Assurance program helps build customer confidence, while the training provided keeps technicians up to speed on current service technology.
“Since I have been a member, I’ve seen it evolve into what it is today,” Chris says. “They support us out here in the field and really listen to our feedback on ways to improve the program.”
Every year, ACDelco sponsors “A Day of Service,” where affiliated shops can partner with a local charity to give back to the community. Seasonall Automotive Center, as well as other shops across the country, closed for regular business for the special day to participate. The fact that this year is also ACDelco’s 100-year anniversary celebration also made the day (May 11) special for everyone involved.
“We decided to help local families who were facing tough economic times and had vehicles that were in need of repair,” Chris explains. “It was a great feeling to be able give back to the community and help make a difference.”
Chris says it was “all hands on deck” for not only shop employees, but also for some ACDelco field reps who were onsite to lend a hand with repairs.
“It was extremely hectic trying to get estimates, order parts and get repairs completed,” he says. “Some of the vehicles were in need of repairs totaling more than $1,000. Unfortunately, some of the vehicles were in such bad shape that it just wasn’t feasible to repair them, so we had to evaluate each vehicle on a case-by-case basis.
“The real reward came when some of the folks picked up their vehicles,” Chris adds. “To see their reactions and how appreciative they were made it all worthwhile. The response from customers on our social media channels the next day was overwhelmingly positive.”
While word of mouth certainly brings in a fair share of new customers, Chris says the importance of a website optimized for search and social media can’t be underestimated.
“I have a company that keeps my Web presence up to date and makes sure that traffic is being driven there,” he explains. “We’ve recently been focusing a lot on mobile since that’s where a lot of the customers are going first when they need repairs on their vehicle. If they can’t find you on their mobile device, then for all intents and purposes, you are invisible to them as far as your digital presence is concerned.”
Chris adds that if having a website is a way to make a good first impression on a customer, then social media is a way to stay engaged with that customer after the repair.
“We want to make sure we’re engaging with the customer even after they’ve left the facility,” he says. “Instead of the usual marketing ads, we post car care awareness information. That way, they’re still staying connected to us even after we hand them their keys.”
Chris says every attempt is made to make the process of having customers’ cars repaired as painless as possible.
“I like to keep a very professional and orderly appearance in my waiting room and office areas,” he says. “I want to make my customers feel relaxed and at home. Sometimes having repairs done can be a stressful experience, so I try to create as stress-free an environment as possible.”
It’s that kind of customer service that has to be the hallmark of a successful automotive repair shop, Chris concludes. And while customers need to be the No. 1 focus, employees are crucial as well.
“We have a great team here — people who aren’t just employees, but stakeholders in the business,” says Chris, who offers these automotive service words of wisdom: “Always be engaged in the industry and actively learn about new trends in equipment, training, technology and marketing. Change is a constant in this business, and you either embrace it or you’ll fall by the wayside.”