A Fresh Start for a Century-Old Shop
When Steve Wright purchased Bunge’s Tire and Auto in late 2006, the almost 100-year-old shop was a few days away from closing its doors. A former lawyer, Wright saw the potential in the shop. While the shop had a good standing in the community, it needed updating and a breath of fresh air. Through marketing and partnerships with other businesses, Wright has turned the once-struggling store into a shop producing more than $2 million in sales last year.
Our company has been around since 1919. It’s gone through multiple changes since then. Initially the shop just sold and installed US Royal tires, before expanding to mechanical repair in the late 1920s. The shop has always had a good reputation in the community and current customers were happy with the service, but when I bought the shop in 2006, they weren’t attracting any new customers. I knew that we needed to get out there again and keep our name in front of people.
I started working on cars when I was in high school, doing oil changes at a local shop before working up to learning the front counter. When I finished with high school, I went to college to become an airplane mechanic. After college, I did a 180 and decided to go to law school. I was a lawyer for five years after law school and I worked on car crashes and plane crashes.
The thing is, I hated being a lawyer. All throughout college, I was still working on cars during the summers.
I decided to go back to mechanical repair. After working as a service writer for a while, I decided to start looking for my own shop. I saw this shop listed by a broker. It had run into financial issues and was going to close due to those financial constraints. I think this is where my experience as a lawyer did help me out. I wasn’t scared away by the legal issues, whereas most people would have been.
The shop actually wasn’t in ruins. The year I bought it, they did $1.2 million in sales. That’s not bad. But I knew there were several changes that had to be made.
Like I said, the shop did have a good reputation with its current customers, but they weren’t doing any advertising, so they weren’t attracting new customers. Now we advertise monthly with Valpak, Money Mailer and Clipper magazine. We’ve done newspaper inserts and we do direct mail, too. I’ve had a lot of success with our TV commercials. I usually try to do a sports package—like Monday Night Football—because you get a higher watch rate. It’s hard to know where your audience is watching TV, so I try to look at saturation.
My bonus coupon has been the best at bringing in new customers. It’s a sliding scale, so if you spend $100, you get $10 off. When I figure out my pricing, I always keep these coupons in mind. So if I want to get $24.95 for an oil change, I make my regular price $29.95 and put coupons in for $5 off.
Another thing that has helped us immensely is fleet accounts, which is something I’ve worked really hard to add since I took over. Finding those fleets and servicing them well is key. I originally did a campaign where we went out and found all the local fleets, sent them flyers, and went out to visit them. That didn’t work. I found out that they’re too busy and don’t want to talk to you.
What I realized, though, is that word of mouth could get us really far. A lot of those companies are located in an industrial complex nearby, so if they go to a different shop and are unhappy, they’ll start talking to their neighbors and ask where they get their vehicles serviced. I decided instead that we should focus on taking really good care of the current fleets that we had and, when an opportunity for a new account arises, work on it. I still do meet up with the contacts every once in a while, but I try to stay out of their hair.
Now we have a fireplace company, a restoration company, a plumbing company, a mental health facility, and all the local police and state vehicles as fleet accounts. It can be a lot of work—administratively and when it comes to scheduling—but it has been really helpful getting cars in the shop.
Something else that has become just as important is the partnership we’ve formed with two local body shops. When I took over, I updated a lot of the equipment and tools in the shop. We switched to RO Writer for a management software, and I purchased several factory scan tools (we have ones for GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen). As a result of that, we have two local body shops that bring us their cars to have the service lights turned off after the body is fixed.
That came about because one of my techs knew someone that worked in that body shop. They were taking their cars somewhere else and weren’t happy with it, so I saw an opportunity and started visiting with him to get him to bring us their vehicles. After that got established, I went to visit another shop and got them to start coming to us too. Unlike the fleet business, this was really about pounding the pavement and going to talk to them.
It’s really helpful for not only getting cars in, but getting new customers. Last week, for example, they brought by an oil pan for us to do. The car had been in a wreck and punctured the pan. It’s repair they don’t normally do or don’t like to do, so they bring it to us.
Aside from those fleet accounts, it’s really important to me that we’re part of the community. From a green standpoint, that means we have an oil burner to burn waste oil, high-efficiency lighting, and we’re in the process of getting a propane tank to switch all the state vehicles over to propane from gas.
We also make sure to participate in community events and fundraisers. We sponsor sports teams, we’re a Toys for Tots drop-off center, we do work with the local police department, and we also donate frequently to the local food pantry. It’s important to me that we’re connecting with the community and supporting the people who support us.