Not many businesses can boast that they’ve been around for more than a century. Rawcliffe’s Service Center in Hampden, Maine, is one of the few shops across the country with that prestigious distinction.
The shop’s owner, Jeffrey Rawcliffe, attributes the shop’s success over the years to honesty.
“We push maintenance very hard, but we do not, and will not, ever sell anybody anything they don’t need. There’s enough to be repaired or maintained on a car without digging things up,” Jeff explains. “We’re a very honest company and I believe that is what has got us through.”
Founded in 1915, Rawcliffe’s started as a small farm supply and country store. While automotive repair wasn’t originally offered, the store did sell lubricants and other goods to keep vehicles on the road. In the 1920s, when the original Rawcliffe’s location burned down, the business moved and expanded to include a Mobil gas station and, eventually, automotive repair.
Over the years, Rawcliffe’s passed through the hands of various family members who put their own stamp on the business. In 1976, Jeff and his brother John took possession of the business. Eventually, John left the business and Jeff became the shop’s sole owner, shaping Rawcliffe’s into what it is today.
Jeff started working in automotive repair as a teenager, building hot rods. His interests expanded to include European vehicles, which Rawcliffe’s quickly added to their service offerings.
“We started working on European cars back in the late 70s, early 80s. We work on everything, but working on European cars became a pleasure because they’re made so well and they’re made to be repaired,” Jeff says.
Today, the shop specializes in all makes and models of cars and light- to medium-duty trucks.
Treating Customers as Family
“I believe people see the effort we put into taking care of people and they truly feel that we have their best interests at heart,” Jeff shares.
“We have the very best customers in the area and take great pride in keeping them safe on the road. Our customers feel like family and they help us keep expanding to the level we are today,” he continues.
Jeff notes that mistakes do happen, no matter how good any shop is, but it is how you handle these mistakes that influences how the community views your shop. The philosophy at Rawcliffe’s is, it’s the shop’s responsibility to fix the problem for the customer.
“We have to cure it no matter what it costs… We have to see it through and make it right. How can you sleep at night, if you don’t make things right?” Jeff says.
All customers at Rawcliffe’s are treated as one of the family. This means establishing a lasting relationship and being on a first name basis with customers.
“You get to the point where you’re on a first name basis. And, you get to know just one thing about him/her, whether it’s their dog’s name or what they do for a pasttime. We just try to find something with which you can really relate to them and, from there, it seems to be pretty easy to just hold a conversation with them and establish that relationship,” shares Rob Rawcliffe, service manager at the shop and Jeff’s son.
The shop strives to be transparent with its customers and often has technicians come talk directly with the customer to help educate them on their vehicle’s maintenance or problems.
“I think that makes customers feel pretty comfortable to see the guy who’s actually working on their car,” Rob says.
Another way the shop tries to facilitate transparency is by taking photos of repairs and sharing images with customers via Dropbox, Rob continues.
Creating an atmosphere where customers feel like family often requires a staff that works together as family and friends. Rawcliffe’s employs a staff of 24 who work closely together as a team. Many employees have been with the company for more than 20 years.
It is the people, who make the shop what it is, Jeff says.
“You’ve got to have good people. We’re very fortunate and I will say very few people leave this company once they get here. It’s a long-term relationship,” he says.
Rob attributes the longevity of the shop’s employees to the benefits the shop provides, as well as its pay structure. The shop isn’t a flat-rate shop and offers employees salary, a 401(k) and health benefits. Employees are given keys to the shop and can work on their own vehicles after hours, Rob says. In addition, Rawcliffe’s invests heavily in tools and training for its employees.
Rawcliffe’s Service Center is an ASE Blue Seal-certified shop and employs 11 ASE-certified technicians, three of whom are Master Techs. The shop encourages its staff to continue training, paying for training sessions and ASE testing.
“Each one of my technicians has at least one ASE certification. In fact, I think the youngest guy in my shop, who probably doesn’t have as many, has four or five ASE certifications,” Rob shares. “We make it a goal of ours to set these test dates up for these guys. We pay for the test appointments; we let them stay punched in. It’s very important to us, as well as them.”
“We’re proud of the staff’s certifications…. If you’re going to stay in this business, you have to have the credentials to show it. And, I feel ASE testing just keeps them on their game,” Jeff says.
In addition to investing in employees, Rawcliffe’s invests in the latest equipment and tools for the shop.
“We like to spend money on having the equipment to be able to properly take care of the vehicles,” Rob says.
“If you don’t have the right equipment, you’re going to be locked right out and you won’t be able to get an accurate estimate. So, you have to spend the money for the proper equipment to get you an answer and an estimate on the repair. Plus, for a technician, it makes it a lot easier to have the right equipment,” he explains.
Rob says the shop prides itself on diagnostics and getting the right answer for the customer. Because of their investment in tools, Rawcliffe’s has local body shops that will bring vehicles in to complete a repair properly— such as resetting airbag lights, Rob shares.
Another Hundred Years
The future of Rawcliffe’s is in the hands of its staff, Jeff says. He believes there is a core group of guys, which includes his son Rob, who have invested in the company and will carry on Rawcliffe’s 100-year legacy.
“We have a four-person staff who have been with us a long time… We have so many long-term employees and, but there is a core group of four that I feel their future is right here,” Jeff shares. “ [Rawcliffe’s] will be in Rob’s hands at some point, but it’s a four man crew that is the main head of staff and of this company.”
Keeping Ambulances on the Road
In addition to working on consumer vehicles, Rawcliffe’s Service Center has a successful fleet business that includes the maintenance of several municipalities’ ambulances.
Maintaining the fleets is a big commitment, but has been positive for the shop and customers alike, Jeff shares.
“I feel that our relationship has been a win-win situation for them and us. They’ve literally doubled the mileage they put on their vehicles before retirement after we started working on them. Now that’s not because of miracles, it’s because we maintain them and we kept records that keep everybody up to speed on that fleet,” he says.
Rawcliffe’s got its start fixing ambulances when a local business was looking for one shop to handle all of its maintenance needs. The fleet business has since expanded to include ambulances for 12 towns surrounding Bangor. One ambulance fleet even travels 90 miles for service.
“It started with an ambulance company that never focused on one location; they went somewhere for oil changes, somewhere else for air conditioning work and somewhere else for tires. Nobody really knew anything about their fleet because their vehicles ended up in so many different locations, so nobody knew where anybody left off,” Jeff shares.
Rawcliffe’s dedicates two technicians to ambulance maintenance, and during its recent renovation added five bays with 18,000-lb. post lifts to help service the fleets.
“It’s a lot of responsibility to take care of these ambulances. They can’t break down,” shares Rob Rawcliffe, service manager. You do not want an ambulance on the back of a tow truck for obvious reasons. So, we dedicate two technicians to ambulance service — and while sometimes they have a week where they’re slow, other times they’re busy.”
While there is a lot of responsibility that comes with fixing ambulances, there is also a lot of predictability, says Jeff.
“An ambulance is a very predictable. It goes through the same rough service everyday, so you can truly predict what you’re going to do ahead of time,” he says.
In addition to maintaining ambulances, Rawcliffe’s also has a contract to maintain a fleet of wheelchair buses.
Rob attributes the shop’s success in landing fleet business to its reputation.
“I think word of mouth got the message out there that, ‘This is a big shop. They’ve got a lot of guys and they can make it happen. Whether it’s picking up vehicles, delivering them when they’re done, or making sure each one of them gets a carwash,’” he says. “We take care of the fleet, like we take care of our own vehicles. And, I think that messaging just got out there.”