There’s no place like home, and for John Volz, home in this reference is the Volz Bros. Auto Service shop that he started 28 years ago. After 20 years of working 50-60 hours a week building his business, Volz sold the Grass Valley, CA, repair shop in 2001 to shop foreman Bill Greenman to retire to the Oregon coast where he spent seven years. Then, moved back to Northern California in 2008 to work in the auto parts business.
Taking that familiar adage to heart, Volz’s “coming home” was spurred by missing the day-to-day interaction with his long-time, loyal customer base.
And so, Volz repurchased his shop in January 2010, picked up where he left off and hasn’t looked back since. Together, John Volz, his business partner Bill, and son John Jr., who is the service manager, are working to reinvent the business and are very successfully building the “Volz Bros.” brand.
Volz has always valued his customers and relies heavily on referrals from within the small, rural area in which the six-bay shop operates. And, with a customer satisfaction rate of 99% and sales that were up 15% in 2010, he seems to be the talk of the town.
“I have always believed in personalized service; I focus on building relationships with our customers for the long term,” explains Volz, who prides himself on knowing how to take care of customers. “I always say, I’m building business relationships and, by the way, I fix cars.”
While washing the windows and vacuuming every vehicle that’s in for repair are nice perks, customers are treated with the utmost courtesy and respect, and, in return, the shop earns their lasting loyalty and repeat business.
Building Your Brand
“One of the reasons people come to us, is that they trust us. Providing excellent service at a fair price is a given. It’s the way we do business,” affirms Volz. And, as such, the shop’s ads are about building a brand in the customer’s mind; they never focus on price, he adds.
Volz hired Brook Design Group, a professional design company, to update the shop’s logo, ads and website.
“The definition of a brand is ‘the promise of an experience,’ which is what we paid attention to from the get-go with freshening up Volz Bros.’ image,” states Brook Design Group Owner LeeAnn Brook. “From the color of the new logo, to the tagline, to the clean look and feel of the ads and website, we wanted the customer to get a feeling for what Volz Bros. represented before they came in the door.
“Color photos of the beautiful Sierra Nevada community of Grass Valley and Nevada City were used predominantly in the campaign, along with customer photos, to give a personal, environmentally conscious image,” says Brook. “The Volz Bros. brand was true to form, as this was the experience that customers got when they walked in the shop.”
Building your brand, Volz continues, is about telling customers who you are and what you do — and, for Volz Bros., that’s personalized service and highest-quality repairs at a reasonable price. Plus, it’s an environmentally friendly shop — that has been the shop’s mantra since the day it opened. And, in the northern part of California where the shop operates, people really value those business practices, explains Volz.
The shop also has several affiliations worth noting: an AAA-approved auto repair shop since 1985, NAPA Auto Care center since 1993, an ASE Blue Shield Repair Shop and a State of California Green Station recognized shop.
One brand-building tool utilized by the shop is the Volz Bros.’ 2010 Subaru Outback. An effective shop marketing tool that’s only eight months in the works, Volz says it’s creating quite a “buzz.” Decorated with cool graphics, shop name and a supplier logo to create interest, there is not a lot of clutter on the car — only a web address and phone number.
The Outback also serves as Volz’s daily driver and a means to provide short-distance transit for customers.
Volz Bros. Auto also gets a lot of publicity via “Volz Bros.” license plate frames that are installed on customers’ vehicles for free. And, for each license plate frame that’s installed, Volz donates $10 to a local charity. Beyond serving as an effective advertising tool, they also make stranded customers visible to Volz Bros. techs, who are ready and willing to help fix a customer’s flat or give them a ride while their vehicle is being towed. Such goodwill efforts pay dividends with customers, and Volz says he compensates his techs accordingly.
Volz also believes in giving back to the community and donates $500 every month to local causes as part of how the shop does business. “Now is the time to step things up because customers need us now more than ever,” remarks Volz.
Volz also communicates regularly with customers through more formal mediums including direct mail, service reminders and thank you notes.
And, with female customers representing about 50% of his customer base, Volz takes steps to gain their trust, repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals. By educating customers, particularly female customers, it moves them to a purchase decision quicker and they become very loyal to that shop, explains Volz. “They feel a personal connection,” he adds.
Volz has no problem going the extra mile to explain repairs or point out worn parts. It’s not uncommon for Volz to do a “show and tell,” and go out into the shop with a flashlight in hand to show a customer that the rear main seal is leaking or a head gasket is leaking out onto the exhaust.
One Top Team
Beyond catering to customers, Volz attributes the shop’s success to its “team approach” to business. “My business partner Bill and I are involved in each repair,” explains Volz. “Our teamwork approach is the foundation of our success.”
And that team is comprised of five techs, three of whom are ASE Master certified, and two apprentices. With the length of employment at Volz Bros. averaging 13 years, the shop is able to offer consistent, quality service on the nameplates in which it specializes — Subaru (the shop’s primary specialty), Toyota, Honda, Lexus and Acura.
Volz has an excellent rapport with his techs, and offers several benefits, including paid vacation and holidays, a retirement program and paid medical benefits. And, the shop offers top pay in the area. “Our techs average approximately 15-20% more annual income than the other shops in the area,” says Volz.
Training is also important to Volz, who encourages and supports his techs in that regard. After all, expert techs not only complete jobs faster and with more precision, they are integral in delivering customer satisfaction with jobs that are done right the first time.
Having the right parts at the right time also factors into a shop’s productivity and profitability. Volz says he has a great relationship with his main supplier, Riebes Auto Parts, and the local parts store creates special buying programs that meet his shop’s needs and help increase profits.
The Early Bird Gets The Worm
Shop appearance is also a key factor in attracting customers and setting Volz Bros. apart from the competition. “Our shop is one of the cleanest, most organized, best equipped shops in the area,” remarks Volz.
To make that claim, Volz and business partner Bill arrive at the shop at 5:30 every morning to get things rolling. They get busy road testing and pulling codes on the 10-12 cars that are slated for the day, getting parts organized and putting the cars on racks so that when the techs come in, they can hit the ground running and be very productive at the onset.
The crew arrives early, as well, but not until 6:45 a.m., at which time they sweep and mop the entire shop. When asked why the shop isn’t cleaned at the end of the day, Volz says it’s because the techs are worn out. “When it’s game time here, we are full throttle,” he comments, explaining the need to wait until morning to tidy up the shop. But, it gives techs time to get any “chit chat” out of the way and ramp up for a full day. One reward for the frenzied pace they keep all week — the techs work from only 7:00-noon on Fridays.
“You won’t see a lot of cars on our lot, like some other shops that appear to be busy but are just waiting on parts for most of the cars,” explains Volz. “It’s not because our shop isn’t busy; it’s because we know how to get them in and get them out.”
Volz says he utilizes the shop’s website to showcase its services and “give customers the chance to take a ‘peek’ at who we are and what we do.” He tracks visits and which pages are being viewed, and the shop also uses Facebook to engage with customers.
“My son, who has a B.A. in business & marketing as well as an A.S. degree in computers, has done a great job getting us up to speed and reviewing all the data. We also use Brook Design Group to make our ads professional and to help with our website,” continues Volz.
When asked what are the key factors necessary to operate a successful shop today, Volz replies: “I believe that the same rules apply today as they did when I opened my shop in 1982. Provide a professional service at a fair price. Treat your customers like you would want to be treated, and never become complacent. We always look for ways to improve. And, with my son now involved in the business, he will be the future of the company in the coming years.”
Photos courtesy of LeeAnn Brook, Brook Design Group, Nevada City, CA. www.brookdesign.com.
Environmentally Conscious Auto Service Since 1982
At Volz Bros. Auto Service, the phrase “Reduce–Reuse–Recycle” has been the shop’s tagline since day one.
After moving to Nevada County, the beauty of the area re-enforced Volz’s idea to do things differently and find ways to run a cleaner business.
• Became the first auto shop in the area to re-use and recycle as a way of doing business.
• In January 2011, Volz Bros. Auto was designated as a “Green Station” by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), Sacramento, CA, and Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), in recognition of the shop’s smart pollution prevention methods and leadership in protecting the environment.
• Began to recycle antifreeze, having it hauled away by a Bay Area hauler. Soon after, started to lobby colleagues to voluntarily recycle antifreeze.
• Got its first oil filter crusher in 1984, and was the first crusher in Nevada County and one of the first in northern California.
• Started buying products in bulk as much as possible, reducing the amount of empty containers put in the trash by 30-40 empty gallon plastic containers per month.
• Eliminated the use of most aerosol sprays.
• Became the first shop in its county to purchase an A/C recycling machine.
• Began a weekly recycling program for all paper and cardboard.