DENVER (April 21, 2000)—As the Internet expands, Web sites catering to car buyers and automotive repair customers are proliferating.
One such venture launched last August, GreatMechanics.com, is designed to provide consumers with a trustworthy referral service for their auto service needs. Though it makes money by charging referral fees to the shops promoted on the site, it also lets consumers rate and recommend shops online.
"If all you had to do to be listed (on the site) was to have a checkbook, this would be no more valuable than the Yellow Pages," said Jim Christopherson, CEO of Great Mechanics Inc., the Denver company that created and administers the site.
The company´s Web site boasts that "all repair facilities listed on this site have achieved the prestigious title of `Certified Great Mechanic.´ ´´
It goes on to note that "the most important thing to know about every repair facility listed within this site is that it is owned and managed by a consummate professional.
"First and foremost, these are good people who take great pride in their work."
Before a repair shop is listed on the site, Great Mechanics requires that:
*Sixty percent of the shop´s technicians must have at least one Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification;
*The shop cannot have outstanding consumer complaints with the local chapter of the Better Business Bureau;
*The owner and manager must go through a criminal background check to make sure there are no current warrants or felonies related to the business;
*The shop must have a business license and liability insurance.
*All employees must agree to and sign an "Oath of Integrity."
*The shop must display the Great Mechanics name and logo and utilize affiliation only while in good standing with Great Mechanics Inc.
The company said a repair facility can apply to be listed on its Web site only if it is sponsored by another member shop, or has achieved certification in one of a number of professional automotive organizations.
"Because the reputation of Great Mechanics and each of our members is affected by the reputation of every other repair shop," the company points out on its Web site, "we ask our members to be thoughtful when they sponsor another shop.
"In some respects, this site is your way to peek into the insider´s network of some of the best repair facilities in your area."
Moreover, a repair shop that wants to be listed on the site has to provide the company with 25 work orders no more than two weeks old.
In turn, Great Mechanics sends a nine-question survey to each customer, who then rates the shop using grades A, B, C, D or F.
At least five customers must respond to the survey, and the shop must earn at least a B average to be eligible for a listing.
The start-up cost for repair shops, including a page within the GreatMechanics.com site, is $299, after which a member shop pays a monthly fee of $2 for each visitor to its page on the Web site.
Due to overwhelming response to the Automotive Service Association´s "Find the nearest ASA shop" option on its Web site, the group recently began partnering with GreatMechanics.com.
As an ASA member benefit, the association and Great Mechanics are offering Web site development, maintenance and customer management at a 25-percent discount.
Sites designed by GreatMechanics allow shop owners to publish the shop name, address, phone and fax numbers, credit cards accepted, business hours, specialties, certifications, awards, coupons, owner and technician biographies, and an interactive map to the store.
For now, GreatMechanics.com is concentrating on signing up independent shops, but it could be opened to car dealerships later, Mr. Christopherson said.
The site´s traffic and shop participation are limited because the service is so new and has not been promoted heavily.
While GreatMechanics.com initially signed on 50 shops online, mostly near Denver, the company said it was close to deals with garages in 14 states. Its eventual goal is to be in all states.