WARRENTON, Mo. — Transparency is key to building trust with customers and increasing sales in tire and auto repair shops, according to Hunter Engineering Co., which is encouraging dealerships to adopt its “Shop of the Future” design concept.
Plaza Tire Service is one of the tire dealerships in the U.S. that has adopted the concept in building and remodeling some of its 62 stores.
Its newly-built Warrenton store, which opened in January, sports a large window inside the store which provides a view into the service bays so customers can watch the technicians work on their cars.
The closest bay is equipped for alignment and tread inspections and every car that comes in is first driven over the Hunter Quick Check Inspection Lane tracks. In a matter of a couple of minutes, the technician uses the system to scan for wheel alignment readings and tire tread depth.
As part of the transparency, the computer readings are displayed in real-time on a large monitor above the customer viewing window. The tech then presents a printout of the Quick Check results to the customer and identifies any additional services needed before moving the vehicle into a service bay for the requested work.
The Shop of the Future is meant to eliminate customer skepticism by allowing customers to watch the inspection process and receive a printed scan readout with graphics, said Tom Settle, Hunter's director of training.
There are four pillars to the design concept:
- Facility planning where a shop provides a convenient pull-up spot for incoming customers who are immediately greeted by an employee. He called this the “Apple Store” effect which has created higher expectations for customers;
- Process in which a service advisor engages with the customer from the time he or she pulls in to completion of a multi-point inspection — much like the workings of a doctor's office, he said. But in this case, a vehicle's “vitals” are taken by the diagnostics equipment and the results are presented to the customer;
- Technology is a vital piece of the process that helps customers focus on high-yield items, such as alignments; and
- Integration of inspection findings by electronically presenting the results to the customer via text and email.
Hunter said it can provide a 3-D image of a store design for dealers who want to remodel into a “shop of the future.” Mr. Settle said the average investment costs are about $100 per square foot, but noted that dealers can recoup that with an increase in revenues the inspections can generate.
A Shop of the Future would have at least two full-service bays for customers with appointments and larger service jobs and a third bay dedicated to oil changes. The inspection lane can have an in-ground lift so the shop can conduct service work when not doing inspections.
In Shop-of-the-Future layouts for car dealerships, a tire shop is adjacent to the customer waiting room. After the customers are billed for the services and while waiting for the job to be finished, they are encouraged to test drive a new car or look at the tire displays.
Doing something tends to shorten the perceived time the customer is waiting for his or her car, Mr. Settle said.
“Half of wheel service equipment investment over the last five years is by car dealerships. They want to win in the tire business,” said John Zentz, Hunter's vice president of sales.
“The last two years we've seen a bump by tire dealerships. I'm not sure if they're playing catch-up or trying to get ahead.”