Edmonds Import Auto in Palmer, AK, runs like a well-oiled machine, thanks to the tag-team effort of Tobi Klunder-Edmonds and her husband Kevin, who together decided to open a shop of their own and put their skills to the test. They met at a Volkswagen dealership where they both were employed — she in the parts department and he as a Volkswagen/Isuzu/Audi tech.
“We figured that my husband knew how to work on cars and my background was in parts and writing service, thus starting a repair shop would be a cinch!” explains Tobi.
A European vehicle specialist with six bays, Edmonds Import Auto services more than 50 vehicles a week with four ASE- and Bosch-certified technicians.
For someone who never imagined a career working in the automotive industry and instead had intentions to attend law school and specialize in business law, Tobi says the shop has become her passion — one she says she can’t imagine her life without.
Now fully immersed in the industry as the manager of Edmonds, Tobi makes every effort to differentiate the shop from the competition — and it begins with a laser-like focus on her customers and delivering top-notch service.
“The majority of customer upsets come from miscommunication or no communication,” she explains. “We want to educate our customers on why we are recommending the work that we are recommending. I always tell my people that cars don’t have problems — people have problems. Solve the person’s problem, not the car’s problem. That has given us a huge advantage with our customers.”
Edmonds Import Auto gets involved in the community, supporting local schools and various groups, and is especially big on helping community members who have fallen on hard times — evidenced in the shop’s participation in a “Wheels to Prosper program” this year.
The program is set up to award a deserving person in need of transportation with a car that has been refurbished by the participating shop. “We chose a Kia Rondo that was in fantastic shape,” explains Tobi. “We refurbished the car and had a local detail shop clean the vehicle for us.” Amidst a ton of applications, they chose a wonderful young single mother who was having a tough time getting a good job to support her two daughters because she didn’t have reliable transportation.
“Her story really hit a nerve with the guys at my shop and it was a delight to present her with the vehicle,” she continues. “We will absolutely be doing it again this year and every year after.”
Car Care Clinics
Knowing firsthand how women can be treated in shops, Tobi says she places a special emphasis on women’s car care clinics.
“I still get treated like a car-owning novice sometimes when visiting a different shop and they don’t know me, she explains. “I’ve learned how to brush it off, but I can’t imagine being a customer who doesn’t know anything about cars and trying to find a good, friendly shop to work on my vehicle. To be fair, though, I think that a lot of shops are starting to catch on to the fact that women are normally the primary financial decision maker in a household and realize the value of being more female friendly.”
Tobi recently changed the format of her women’s car clinics to focus on one topic per clinic and to have everyone participate in the activity — for example, changing tires, which is the most-requested topic.
“The women absolutely love learning about their cars and how everything operates,” says Tobi. “I love sharing my passion for cars with them and it benefits both the women who attend and the industry as a whole. The more we can educate people about cars and the value of a good technician, the better off we will all be. I never realized that so many women wanted to know more about cars and it’s been a very enlightening and empowering experience for them and for me. “
Continued training for technicians and impeccable customer service ethics are absolute musts for operating a successful shop today, affirms Tobi. In her mind, independent auto repair shops have an edge on dealerships in that they offer something far more valuable: flexibility.
The catalyst for change in how the general public perceives automotive shops and technicians is going to come from increasing customer service benchmarks and education from the independent sector, she advises.
“I know from working for dealerships how limited their scope can be when it comes to interacting with customers and their vehicles. Dealerships are limited by manufacturer requirements and restrictions,” Tobi continues. “I would absolutely argue that the real power to change and influence public perception about valuable automotive care lies with the independent auto repair shops because we aren’t limited in the same ways as a dealership. As independent repair shops we have almost unlimited potential in what we can achieve for the advancement of the automotive industry.”
Realizing the direct correlation between quality service and training, Tobi advises, “If we can make independent repair shops synonymous with valuable automotive care, we will never want for quality technicians or training because the market will demand it. I already know how incredibly talented and valuable my crew is. It is my job to make sure that everyone understands it too.”
In the end, says Tobi, if independent repair shops can continue to raise the bar in how people are treated during the vehicle service process, “we can use our flexibility and adaptability to outmaneuver the bigger fish in the pond.“
That is some sage advice from a successful shop owner whose entry into the business was nothing short of serendipity.
Edmonds Import Auto Wins WIX Filters’ Driving Performance Award
Award Recognizes Game-Changers in Automotive Service
The WIX Driving Performance Award, entering its fourth year, recognizes shops that are a cut above the rest, raise the bar in customer service and are committed to service excellence. This year’s winning shop, Edmonds Import Auto in Palmer, AK, embodies that description and much more. Even more impressive is that Edmonds Import Auto has been able to do all this within a relatively short timeframe, as the shop has been open just eight years.
Co-owner Tobi Klunder-Edmonds received an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas to attend the AAPEX Show, as well as participated in the WIX Filters and Babcox Media Night of Excellence recognition dinner on Monday evening.
“We were extremely proud to receive the Driving Performance Award,” said Tobi. “My career goal is to use the success and presence as a local business to give back to our community and further the value of the automotive repair industry on a local and national scale. We couldn’t be more excited to take home this honor.”