Like it or not, the overall image of your tire dealership determines what you can charge. To earn top labor rates, you absolutely must look the part of the consummate professional. A recent conversation with a shop owner in the South confirmed for the umpteenth time the impact image really has on an automotive service business. The experience of this owner, ``Mr. G,'' is a worthwhile lesson for all tire dealers who offer automotive services.
Like some Tire Business readers, Mr. G opened up in a relatively small building (1,500 square feet) several blocks west of one of the town's busiest streets. Some folks thought the simple block building looked bigger than it really was because it only had one large door giving access to all three bays.
I use the term ``bays'' loosely because on a good day Mr. G got three cars abreast in his shop—two abreast on a bad day.
Parking was in short supply, so turning the work quickly and efficiently was essential to survival on that back-street location. Fortunately, the space shortage had a positive side effect of conditioning his techs to work as smart as possible. Working smart minimized bottlenecks in the workflow.
This repair business grew the old-fashioned way, via word-of-mouth referrals fueled by the shop philosophy of doing the work correctly the first time. When he began advertising, his ads stressed quality work and a desire for long-term relationships with motorists who valued quality.
Early in his career as an owner, Mr. G did some grassroots marketing by looking up the number of vehicles in his county. Experience had already taught him that his shop could only service a small fraction of them. So the most vital question was: Do I cater to the motorists at the top of that fraction or to those at the bottom?
His instincts and work ethic—do the job correctly the first time—told him the only sensible approach was to concentrate on people who sought quality work.
``We weren't belligerent about it, but we did try to discourage the `bottom-feeders' from doing business with us. We never offered discounts, never offered coupons or specials. These things draw attention, but they draw the attention of the bottom-feeders you're trying to avoid!'' he explained.
Mr. G is adamant about avoiding price wars on auto repairs.
``Fighting other shops on price is like wrestling with a pig,'' he said. ``You both get filthy and the pig loves it!''
That noted, Mr. G realized he was still attracting a percentage of bottom-feeders anyway. If they ended up doing work for any of these penny-pinchers, they found that the relationship didn't gel into a long-term affair because these people were so obsessed with low price.
Some colleagues hinted that the shop's location, off the beaten path, implied back-alley operation, back-alley fees, lower overhead which, in turn, suggested lower prices.
Mr. G told me that moving into a state-of-the-art facility (6,000 square feet with 10 bays) on a major artery in town finally resolved the debate. Once his operation looked the part of the consummate professional, he found that bottom-feeders seeking low-buck repairs stopped preying on him. In other words, price-shoppers popping in became a rarity.
``I'm convinced that when your entire package—all aspects of your business—look professional, that will filter out the bottom-feeders, who make the worst customers,'' he said.
That philosophy has apparently held up very well for the long haul.
After the business outgrew the 6,000-sq.-ft. building on the main street, he relocated to an 8,500-sq.-ft. site in an industrial park. If all goes as planned, the operation will be moved into a brand-new, 10,000-sq.-ft. facility in another area of the industrial park by early next year.
The bottom line: People keep coming, but it's motorists who expect the vehicle to be fixed properly the first time. That's fine and dandy, because the entire business was geared for that philosophy. But if you've built a reputation on being the low-cost provider in your market, don't complain about the caliber of people you attract.
And don't complain to me at trade events that your margins don't allow you to keep good help or afford modern equipment. Instead, pat yourself on the back because you got exactly what you asked for!