Smith’s Service Center Brings Full Service To Customers
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Smith’s Service Center Brings Full Service To Customers

Smith’s Service Center recognizes the importance of relationships to its suppliers and its customers.

According to popular wisdom, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up,” and for more than 40 years, the Smith family has been backing up their reputation for top-quality automotive service in Madison, WI.

Smith’s Service Center is a second-generation Bumper To Bumper Certified Service Center operated by Ron, Diane and Scott Smith that offers more than just service – they pride themselves on excellence.

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“My father was a service manager at the local Ford dealership in Madison,” explains Ron Smith. “In 1969, he opened a Mobil station, and took some of the mechanics from the Ford dealer with him and built his repair business. After I graduated from high school, I worked for him full time. As we expanded our repair business, we grew out of our three-bay service station, so we opened up Smith’s Service Center in July of ‘79. I ran the new repair shop, and he handled the gas station until we decided one location was enough and got out of the gas business,” he says.

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“Dad retired in ‘89 but continued to work for many years after that – he was always there when I needed something,” Smith recalls. The extra hands were greatly appreciated because that same year the Smiths opened a second service location.

In 1989, the family bought another shop in a business park and ran it for the next 17 years. In 2000, they moved the original shop to its current location and operated both shops simultaneously. For a variety of reasons, location being the primary one, the business park location just couldn’t achieve the success he felt it was capable of, Smith says.

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“We had a 3,600 [square] foot shop that was landlocked. We had run out of parking and expansion room. Many of our fleet customers were transitioning out of the area…  

“We were just growing through the roof at our new location and I was running the second shop at that time too, mostly remotely. I had good people over there, but it was just a changing business,” Smith says. “It was just too remote, too far off the main track.” 

Smith says after a few years, he realized that it was time to concentrate on one location. “I had to become a better business owner, out of necessity.

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“It was just a wakeup call, so we called all of our commercial customers, and about 20 of them were open to moving over to us. And, in fact, two of them wanted to buy our old building. We combined the two operations and today offer full service, including auto repair, tires, wheels, everything you could want to get into there.”

The current shop is nearly three times the size of the previous location. “The shop alone is 9,000 square feet, with another almost 2,000 square feet of office,” Smith says. “There are 10 bays, but four of them are drive through and they’re 75 feet long. So, depending on what we’re doing at the time, I would say it ranges from 10 to 14 bays.”

Smith’s Service Center has seven techs. “Five of them are master techs, two of them are apprentice general service,” Smith says. “We have three full-time service advisors, and my son pretty much runs the shop. We also have a full-time office assistant, as well as my wife Diane and myself.”

Smith says working on the business instead of in the business has been a game changer for his operation. The shop currently has annual sales of $2 million.

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“And, now we’re transitioning to the third generation, as we’re starting to phase ourselves out,” Smith says. “Our son, Scott, is a 40% owner at this point – Diane and I are both really just doing administrative work, not necessarily working on vehicles on a day-to-day basis. Scott is really where he needs to be.”

Smith’s Service Center provides, literally, award-winning service. The shop has received accolades at both the state and national levels – but the Smiths say they’re most proud of their recognition locally.
  “There is an annual ‘Best of Madison’ contest, where residents vote on businesses in hundreds of categories,” says Smith. “We compete in the Non-Dealer Auto Repair Shop category, and we’ve won the last two years. That’s in all of our advertising, that we’re Madison gold.”

Smith says his history as a Bumper to Bumper member is even longer than that of his current shop location.

“We’ve been a member for about 25 years,” Smith explains. “We were the second shop out of this warehouse in Madison that joined in 1997. And Diane and I were on the first Service Center Advisory Council to develop the Certified Service Center program with other business professionals from across the country. There were fewer than 20 shops in the program then, together with people from different warehouses and parts store operators. We worked together to develop Bumper To Bumper Certified Service Center programs.”

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Smith says his relationship with his local Auto-Wares warehouse, called Bumper to Bumper Madison, has thrived largely due to ease of communication.

“I was never afraid, if I had a question or concern, to pick up the phone and call our local store manager. Likewise, he wasn’t afraid to pick up the phone and call if he had a question about how we would handle something.” 

Smith says service has never been a question. “The service is very, very good. We’re less than a mile from the warehouse and we never wait more than an hour for a part. We get pretty much hot-shot delivery.”

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He says, “We order most parts online through our MyPlace4Parts eCommerce platform (Bumper to Bumper’s industry leading B2B point of sale system) that integrates into our shop management system. I’ve got solid people up front who are usually able to find the right parts, but if we ever do have to call over there, they’ve got a couple of very knowledgeable people on the other end, as well. And if they don’t know the answer, they’ll find it for us.”

Communication extends much farther than just the parts counter, of course. 

“One of the things we are proud of is our very strong, local Certified Service Center group,” says Diane Smith. “We held monthly dinner meetings with 15 to 20 shop owners in the area. Sometimes, we would have a presentation from somebody, but usually we would just discuss business. Someone would have a question and we [would] all contribute our thoughts. Sometimes we’d tackle more than one subject, but we’ve just all really become very, very good close friends through that. We had to stop the meetings during the pandemic but we’re hoping to start them up again soon.”

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Both Smiths say the networking that comes out of their relationship with other Bumper to Bumper Certified Service Centers helps their business in many ways. The Smiths say the training programs available from Bumper to Bumper for both management and technician personnel has been of tremendous value, as well. 

“Whether for service writers, technicians or management people, Auto-Wares events have always had excellent speakers, excellent classes. We’re looking forward to getting back to the TechExpo in Grand Rapids, MI, in September,” says Smith.

Being involved in the industry is important, Smith adds, and he is an active participant outside his shop. “Through our Bumper to Bumper membership, we are also part of the Auto Care Association and I’ve been serving several years on the Car Care Professionals Network. I’ve traveled for the national meetings. We’ve been a member of the Automotive Service Association for many, many years, and I was involved as a state representative with ASA for a few years during that time,” he recalls.

“In addition, we have an association that’s been around for a very long time, and has evolved through a number of transitions. It’s currently called the Wisconsin Automotive Care Association. I served on the board of directors for more than 25 years and, for several of those years, I was the executive director of it,” he says.

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“I look at these efforts partly as learning, part of it as networking, and partly as giving back for everything I’ve gotten from the industry over the years,” Smith explains.

The Smiths have worked hard to be involved with their community on several levels and have found that, sometimes, smaller is better.

“Madison is a large city, and trying to do something together with multiple shops can be pretty hard in the city. We did try to do some inspection lanes but turned that back over to the local technical college. But, we’ve held Open Houses, and the people at our Auto-Wares warehouse and store have always been here right away, helping out. Whether it’s cooking hot dogs and loading buns or helping us check people in and giving away prizes, they’re here supporting our Open House events.”

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Of course, the best way to exhibit customer service is to handle diverse repair needs properly and professionally.

“As far as diagnostics for drivability or a Service Engine Soon light, any kind of ABS light, we have three different OEM scanners, as well as aftermarket scanners from Opus and Snap-On. In addition, all of our service equipment like alignment racks is all relatively new. I always believed in having the latest and greatest in equipment, and everything is updated annually. So, everything’s current,” Smith says.

Another benefit that Smith’s Service Center extends to its customers is the use of loaner vehicles during the repair process. “We have a fleet of 20 loaner cars that we offer to our customers at no charge,” Smith says.

Understanding your customers is key to shop success. “Part of our logo is ‘For the life of your vehicle,’” Smith explains. “So however long you want to keep that vehicle, we’ll help you keep it on the road until it gets to a point where it’s too much to reinvest into it.”

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Like many Americans, the customers of Smith’s Service Center are recognizing the value of that investment. 

“We have many, many vehicles [with] over 200,000 miles. And, once they hit that target, they become a member of our 200,000 Mile Club. Basically, we’ll profile them on our Facebook page as the newest member to the Club. It’s just promoting the fact that your cars, too, can do 200,000 miles with proper maintenance and repairs.”

As vehicles age, of course, new technology continues to be integrated. 

Training is keeping his team prepared for what’s to come into the bays and planning and preparation are pointing Smith’s Service Center for what’s to come in the industry.

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“Yeah, the three of us, Scott, Diane and myself, are making decisions together,” Smith says. ”

“We’re starting to get into some ADAS service,” Smith says. “We do a lot of alignments, including for body shops, and we can do some simple calibrations and clear codes, but we haven’t gotten fully into the targets for calibrations yet.”

As with ADAS, Smith recognizes that electric vehicles are coming down the road. “We have four or five different Teslas now coming in. That’s on our radar. We’re always looking at what the next thing is going to be, and we’re always going to probably continue to do it all rather than specialize.” 

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As his customers will attest, Smith’s pride in his shop’s abilities isn’t boasting – it’s confidence, backed with proof.

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