“The first shop I was in had a poor layout as far as the floorplan,” he explains. “The main office was in the back of the building, so I constantly had to deal with customers walking into the shop.
“So, I know firsthand the importance of appearance, and above everything else, cleanliness,” he continues. “First impressions are everything when new customers, and even existing customers, come into your shop. The appearance of being neat and clean makes for a huge statement when that person walks in your door.”
While Colket Automotive Technical Services is an independent automotive repair facility, the shop is also a Bumper to Bumper Certified Service Center. Ross is a sitting member of the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance’s Service Center Advisory Council. The facility is now housed in a 5,000-sq.-ft. building with four bays, three above-ground lifts and an alignment rack. And, yes, customers now enter into an inviting waiting area and are warmly welcomed by front counter staff. Ross says how you treat customers is just as important as how the shop looks.
“I always get feedback on how customers feel like I listen,” he says. “I have tried, and continue to support several different customer service programs, but the most successful thing that I have found is simply treating my customers the way that I want to be treated. I take the time to make sure they understand the diagnosis and repair of their vehicles. If they have questions or concerns, I make sure that they are addressed and that they understand the importance of why we are making the repairs that we recommended.”
Ross has developed a reputation for skilled diagnostics and electrical repairs that has even led to referrals from local shops. He and his two ASE-certified technicians also handle everything from light maintenance to full engine replacement, in addition to some light transmission repairs on cars and medium-duty trucks.
To stay current, Ross says his staff consistently attends training events, many of which are in-person rather than online.
“While our technicians are always welcome to complete online training, we focus mostly on in-person training,” Ross says. “I find most technicians are tactile learners and respond better with either a trainer or hands-on-style training.”
In addition to training provided by ASA PA, Ross and his staff also take advantage of training provided by Eastern Auto Parts Warehouse, the local Bumper to Bumper parts supplier.
“From time to time, other training opportunities present themselves,” Ross says, “and if it is a topic that I feel is important, I will recommend that my technicians attend. I’m also constantly watching the trade magazines for different articles and will ask my techs to read them so we can discuss the information later.”
In the past, Ross has taken out ads in the local papers to find new technicians, but he’s found that word-of-mouth brings better candidates and is more time efficient as well.
“I have found you spend more time weeding through the applicants,” he says. “I prefer a recommendation from someone else within the industry. Hiring is one of the most frustrating things today in our industry.”
The only way to avoid it, then, is to retain the techs you have. And Ross says he’s found that a fair pay plan is critical to employee retention, along with growing your employees as individuals with a training career path.
“I know that there is a lot of competition as far as employers out there, and that I need to be competitive when paying my guys,” he says. “Training is always offered and expected, so they can better themselves as technicians. The more productive they are, the more I can afford to pay them.”
That focus on training also impacts the shop’s bottom line. If a technician hears about a new tool at a training class, for example, Ross says he’s always open to finding out how it will help the tech perform his job more efficiently. “In addition, I make sure we have the most common service items in stock. Service and repair information is readily available in the shop as well,” he continues.
Shop profitability also relies on a steady customer base, and Ross advertises in a way that keeps his shop top of mind in the local community.
“I advertise in a few of the local restaurants,” Ross says. “Not so much for new customers, but to keep my name in the public eye. I also support a local cancer support center with many of its events that take place throughout the year. Of course, I’m on Facebook and also have a website. I also utilize Mitchell 1’s SureCritic and Yelp for reviews.”
While the shop’s current website is one that Ross designed and published himself using the Web hosting company GoDaddy, he knows that to stay competitive, an owner should always be looking to the future.
“As the business has grown, I have had less and less time to devote to the website,” Ross admits. “I’m presently looking at Autoshop Solutions for my next step. To be competitive on the Web today, you have to have constant updates and integration across the Internet, which is more than a shop owner can do to keep it fresh.”
Keeping a shop profitable also means monitoring individual jobs as well as overall technician performance.
“I make sure repair jobs go to the technician with the appropriate training,” Ross says, “and when the schedule permits, I have a technician work on a job that is slightly above his level with proper supervision to help grow him as an individual.”
Ross’ affiliation with ASA has helped not only with staff training, but also with learning from his industry peers.
“There are always training opportunities available for myself and my technicians,” he says. “They provide meetings that cover the PA state inspection and emissions program yearly update, to technical and shop management training.
“I also like the networking aspect of ASA,” Ross continues, “and the fact that you can learn from other shop owners about what they’re seeing and experiencing in the industry. There is so much going on in the industry at any one time, it is impossible for one person to stay on top of it all.”
To run a successful shop today, Ross concludes that “customer support by far is the most important factor.” Taking the time to truly listen to customer concerns is the first step in providing a quality repair that will win a customer for life.
“One of the most important things I have learned over the years is that customers may not have the technical knowledge to explain their specific vehicle problem,” he says, “but if you take the time to really listen to what they’re describing, you will get to the bottom of the problem. They know their cars and know when something is different from what they’re accustomed to.”
Next on his list is having access to the service information, tools and equipment necessary to provide that expert repair.
“I subscribe to Mitchell 1 for my shop management software and service information, as well as iATN and Identifix,” Ross says. “Tooling and equipment for working on today’s cars can be so important. Knowing when you don’t have the right tools for the job can be the difference between a profit or a loss. I firmly believe in integration for as many of my computer applications as possible.
“Specifically, I look for options that include integration into my management software,” he adds. “I feel it helps to reduce the workload and also makes for a more consistent product delivered to my customer.”
At the end of the day, processes matter. Delivering consistent service will always have a positive impact on customers.
“I feel very strongly that the more consistent a product you can deliver to a customer time and time again, the better the experience they will have,” he concludes. “They know what to expect when they come in, and they know when they recommend your shop to others, those people can expect the same treatment.”