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, based in Cape Girardeau, Mo., is one of the first 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-sized picture window inside the store to provide 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 minimize 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:
c Facility planningwhere a shop provides a convenient pull-up spot for incoming customers who are greeted by an employee. He called this the Apple Store effect, which has created higher expectations for customers;
c Processin which a service adviser engages with the customer from the time he or she pulls in to completion of a multi-point inspectionmuch 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;
c Technologyis a vital piece of the process that helps customers focus on high-yield items, such as alignments; and
c Integrationof inspection findings by presenting the results electronically 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, said John Zentz, Hunter's vice president of sales. They want to win in the tire business.
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.
Mr. Settle said the premiere piece of equipment, which is popular with customers, is the big-screen TV hung in the waiting room that shows the real-time inspection measurements being taken by the Hunter Quick Check and Quick Tread systems in the inspection bay and the final report with graphics.
He noted that when customers see the inspection and the results, they are more apt to get additional work done.
Hunter also encourages dealers to subscribe to the AutoServe1 Inc. website as an additional way to communicate inspection results to their customers.
Hunter Engineering and AutoServe1 have partnered to bring a digital vehicle inspection system that is integrated with Hunter's Quick Check, Quick Tread and Hawkeye Elite systems. The inspection results go directly into AutoServe1's larger digital inspection form for the entire vehicle that technicians can complete on tablets instead of using paper.
Techs also can use tablets to record video of the underside of a vehicle during the inspection and then upload the photos and video to the site.
Dealers can create a full inspection report for the customer that includes photos and videos and send to the customer by email or text, Mr. Settle said.
Customers then can view their reports via the website. Dealers pay a subscription to access the Auto-Serve1 website.
It's showing professionalism to the customer and transparency, he said.
Plaza Tire worked with Hunter to design its Warrenton store, along with a few tweaks of its own.
About six years ago Plaza Tire decided to ramp up its alignment business when Hunter introduced the Quick Check.
It was a perfect fit for our alignment business. It works for our format, said Plaza Tire President Mark Rhodes. We're not afraid to try things.
He told Tire Business some of his stores do about $15,000 a month in alignments, so we get our investment back in the high-volume stores.... A lot of guys do not think about how they can get their investment back.
Mr. Rhodes noted that alignments are a very high-grossing item because there are no parts to buyit's just labor. It's a very profitable item.
And alignments go hand-in-hand with the tire business, he added, since dealers usually check the vehicle's alignment when they mount new tires.
He added that most vehicle owner's manuals recommend a wheel alignmentor at least an alignment check, every 12 months. That's what we recommend.
All cars undergo the Quick Check Inspection scan when they come into the Plaza Tire store, with the scan taking about three minutes. The readings appear on the large monitor overhanging the observation window in the waiting area. The video is a wow factor for the shop, Mr. Rhodes said.
The tech brings in the color-printed read-out to present to the customer and suggests services that may be needed based on the results.
Store Manager Jerry Iverson said the shop's customers like to look through the observation window into the service bays and he has customers watching all day long, all day long.
He said they like having the opportunity to watch the service process rather than have someone come out and tell you.... Trust is a factor in this business.
He noted that the dealership doesn't charge for quick checks because they have the potential of bringing in additional business. He said the shop does get people who come in just for an inspection and then leave. But the dealership also attracts new customers who heard from others about the free alignment checks and come to the shop.
Plaza Tire plans to include the design in its new-store builds in Fallon and Moberly, Mo., which are scheduled to open by November.
The next trend that will be incorporated into the Shop of the Future concept is servicing the advanced safety systems included in newer vehicle models.
That's definitely the future of wheel alignment, Mr. Zentz said.
Many advanced driver assistance systems, which include collision warning sensors, park assist and adaptive cruise control, require calibration after a wheel alignment
Resets may require a scan tool, physical or electronic adjustment tools and a short drive of the vehicle to re-train the system.
Hunter plans by year-end to unveil its safety system assist tools that will help service techs reset all types of safety systems in a variety of vehicles, just like the OEM dealers can do now, according to Mr. Settle.
Hunter is developing new technology to make customers productive, profitable and efficient, Mr. Zentz said.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6127; Twitter: @kmccarr