Who is Dan Walker and why does he exemplify the future of the automotive repair business? The owner-operator of Dan's Auto Service in Oakhurst, Calif., Mr. Walker is an effective industry ambassador who leads by example. Simply put, he impresses everyone by doing the right things for the right reasons.
A prime example of Mr. Walker's ambassadorship is an automotive information program for women that he and his wife have hosted for two years. The two-hour evening seminars, held one night per month at the Walkers' shop, cover a wide range of topics such as automotive theory, overall car care and maintenance and how to communicate more effectively with service personnel. Attendance has averaged a dozen women per class, with the core of the group attending month in, month out.
Topics are carefully tailored to the season. For example, summertime seminars emphasize cooling system and air conditioner maintenance while winter classes demonstrate how to properly install snow chains and wiper blades.
I have visited this shop several times (unannounced, I might add) and found it to be one of the cleanest facilities I've ever seen. On seminar nights, the place is immaculate and vehicles are already set up for show-and-tell purposes. If the topic is brakes, the car is on the lift with the wheels and drums removed before attendees arrive.
Before opening his business, Mr. Walker taught auto repair at Oakhurst High School, so he knows the value of visual aids and handout materials. Broken or worn-out components—particularly those resulting from abuse or neglected maintenance—are favorites.
Mr. Walker cautioned readers not to assume motorists know too much. In spite of all the advertising that's been hurled at consumers, many attendees have not seen real components off the vehicle. And women are downright curious about what makes their cars tick, he noted.
The Walkers assemble packets of generic, consumer-oriented handouts for every class. Feedback confirms that attendees tout the material to husbands and friends, saying, ``Look what I learned last night!''
Many owners and managers I've met gripe that good support materials are hard to find, but Mr. Walker disagrees. He explained that ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) has a good selection of consumer-oriented materials.
Readers probably know Standard Motor Products, a major supplier of emission, ignition and fuel system parts. Mr. Walker belongs to the company's ``Standard Plus'' club and utilizes its consumer information literature. One favorite is a Standard pamphlet titled, ``The Eight Most Common Ways to Know Your Car Needs Service.''
Never underestimate the importance of refreshments. Mr. Walker stressed that his wife's gourmet coffees and stellar baked goods have been vital ingredients in the success of the classes. Women admire and respect a good cook, which enhances the credibility of the entire endeavor, he said.
Oakhurst, a town of 15,000, sits north of Fresno in the shadow of Yosemite National Forest. According to Mr. Walker, his main market lies within a 25-mile radius and comprises about 50,000 people.
The local newspaper and radio station have both eagerly promoted the classes via their community activity calendars and local-interest public service announcements. Consequently, he said the project has generated excellent free advertising for his shop.
Mr. Walker has been trying to improve the image of the industry through active participation in organizations such as the Automotive Service Councils of California and the California Automotive Teachers Association. Yes, the seminars have been a successful way to soft-sell the virtues of Dan's Auto Service. But ultimately, they're just an extension of this man's missionary zeal for raising the trade's image.
``Over the years, we've seen many women in here absolutely panicked at the prospect of getting a car fixed. People fear what they don't understand,'' he said. For Mr. Walker, using a God-given talent for teaching and communicating to dispel fears and improve consumer awareness is simply the right thing to do. A well-informed consumer is a better customer for any service shop.
I can't agree more. I hope his example rubs off on other bosses!