By Debbie Briggs
When Bob Archer opened the doors to Bob’s Wheel Alignment in Charlottesville, VA, almost 30 years ago, he had one technician and one front-office secretary. Today, the shop employs 21 people and has grown to more than 17,000 square feet. What’s made Bob’s so successful all these years? "Service, service, service," he says.
“I try to treat people fair and honest,” Bob explains. “I stand behind my work and offer a year’s warranty on parts and labor. A lot of places don’t do that anymore. I don’t think it’s fair if you can’t stand behind your work.”
In addition to the year-long warranty, Bob’s offers free six-month checks on alignments and free rotations on tires purchased there. Bob says he can stand behind his work because of his affiliation with parts providers such as Federated Auto Parts. Bob says he’s been associated with Federated for 25 years, and his shop is currently a Federated Car Care Center.
“Federated stands behind you,” he says. “They back you up all the way. They’ve always treated me fair. If I have any kind of issue, they never argue a bit about it. They want the customer to be satisfied just like I do.”
An Enterprising Spirit
Bob explains he had been working for his father-in-law for 12 years, when he realized that he’d like to open his own shop. He wanted the chance to work with newer technology and the opportunity to repair customers’ vehicles more efficiently. So, on March 1, 1981, Bob did just that with a little help from a local bank.
“One of the reasons I went out on my own was that my father-in-law was getting older, and he wouldn’t upgrade equipment,” Bob explains. “We were losing jobs. I’ve always upgraded my equipment. Right now, we probably have the best alignment equipment in Central Virginia.
“I went to the bank and begged for $8,000,” he continues with a laugh. “The bank trusted me on it. I bought used equipment, rented a shop for $1,000 a month and went to work. I had one technician and one secretary.”
How times have changed. Bob’s now employs 21 employees, including one technician who’s been with the shop for 28 years. Bob says to attract new employees, he turns to the Charlottesville/Albemarle Tech School, but to retain them, he goes back to the old adage, “treat people how you want to be treated.”
“I’ve been spoiled all these years,” Bob says of the low turnover rate the shop’s enjoyed. “Most of my employees have been here 15 years or longer.”
Bob adds that he offers a full benefits package to his employees, including 100 percent hospitalization, two weeks of vacation, three days of sick pay and additional time off when needed.
“I try to treat them fair and right,” he says. “I’ve just been blessed because they stay with me. Customers come back and they see the same techs, and they like it.”
First and foremost, Bob remarks, customers appreciate the timely, accurate repairs the shop completes on a daily basis. Instrumental to those repairs is technician training, including on-location training offered periodically by Federated and the Virginia Automotive Association.
Investing In Your Business
In addition to continuing education, Bob has steadily added new equipment throughout the years, the latest being four brand-new, state-of-the-art wheel alignment racks, one of which can also handle big trucks.
“Other companies don’t have the equipment I do,” he explains. “I spent half a million dollars in new equipment alone last year.”
In addition to that new equipment, 8,400 square feet of space was added to the front of the building. Those renovations not only helped make the shop brighter and more spacious, but made the entire shop visible to the shop manager.
“We have front-end machines, two on each side facing each other,” Bob adds. “We recessed them in the floor so we can get low-profile cars in here on the racks, too.”
Customers Come First
With all his bases covered with state-of-the-art equipment, Bob says providing great customer service is the last piece of the puzzle.
“My employees know they have to be polite; no swearing, no smoking in the shop,” he says. “My customers commend me on how well mannered and how nice my employees are.”
In addition to considerate employees and a clean, attractive, Wi-Fi-enabled waiting area, customers also appreciate such extras as the shop’s courtesy van.
“It’s really been a plus to the business,” Bob explains. “Customers don’t have to wait around the shop. We take them to work, and then we pick them up afterward.”
Bob says word-of-mouth advertising has been invaluable as well in keeping the shop’s 14 bays full day after day.
“I’ve been blessed with a good customer base,” he says. “Word-of-mouth has made my business better than anything else. People don’t want anyone to work on their cars but Bob.”
And Bob realizes that mistakes do happen, and sometimes repairs don’t go as planned. It’s your response as an owner, he says, that separates a successful shop from an unprofitable one.
“You’re not going to satisfy everybody, but you do the best you can,” Bob explains. “But if I have a customer who’s not happy, if they come to me, I’ll make them happy. If you correct your mistakes and take care of them, that’s the main thing.”
Currently, Bob’s wife, Sherry, runs the office, while his son, Todd, serves as shop manager. Bob is still at the shop everyday though, keeping an eye on everything.
“The buck stops here,” he says with a laugh.