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Why Independent Repair Shops Win

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About a year ago, a customer called me questioning the price on a timing belt replacement for his Honda. Dave had already authorized the job, but just happened to get a flyer in the mail that same day for a timing belt promotion from the local Honda dealer.

He wanted to know how the dealer could offer the same job for considerably less money. He went on to say that he knew the mailer was a promotion, but called the dealer and found that the regular price for the timing belt was still cheaper than my price.

I could feel my heart rate increase as he spoke.

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Experience was telling me to stay calm. This is a valued customer and the last thing I wanted to do was to alienate Dave by attempting to defend my price. That would only put the focus on money, making the conversation spiral out of control.

I asked Dave if he had ever gone to this particular dealer for any type of service or repairs. He said, “Yes, while under the warranty, I had to bring it back for a few recalls and a few warranty issues.”

I asked him how that experience was. Dave replied, “Well, to tell you the truth, it was very formal, but without a whole lot of emotion. Oh, they did offer me a loaner car.”

I went on to tell him that I really don’t have a good answer for why the dealer timing belt replacement was less. What I did focus on was the relationship we had created through the years, the fact that whatever car he purchased, we were always there for him and reminded him of all the little things we do. I also thanked him for being a long-time loyal customer.

Dave understood where I was going with the conversation and said, “You know Joe, I remember when you stayed late on a rainy Friday night to fix a check engine light on my daughter’s car just before heading back to college. I guess there are things that go beyond price, right?” After that comment I could feel my heart rate return to normal.

THINKSTOCKThere’s been a lot of talk lately about the efforts being made by new car dealers to capture a greater share of the repair and service market. It’s no secret that with new car price margins slipping and fierce competition, the service department must now contribute a greater share of the profits for the dealership to survive. This means that new car dealers will put a lot of their advertising dollars targeting customers that traditionally went to independent repair shops. And they will largely compete on price. And while the financial meltdown a few years back caused a ton of dealers to go under, make no mistake. The dealers that are left are a lot stronger. And many of them “get it” in terms of customer service and of course, price.

In addition to the new car dealer, independents see competition from all sectors of the industry. Years back, there were muffler shops, transmission shops, brake shops, tire stores and tune-up shops. Today, every sector of the auto service and repair industry is a total car care facility. Everyone now wants to copy the business model of the independent repair shop.

The majority of independent repair shops do not have a nationally branded logo on their buildings. They cannot compete head to head and offer all the amenities that may be found at a new car dealer or national chain store. Independents don’t have the financial means to advertise to masses of people and their market reach is usually within a radius of no more than 5–10 miles. Yet, year after year, every survey indicates that the independent repair shop is the preferred choice of the motoring public.

Independent repair shops will continue to have the edge because they have something unique that sets them apart: the shop owner’s culture and mindset. Shop owners simply have what money cannot buy. They have passion for what they do, they establish strong roots in the community and they take care of their customers as if they were taking care of family. Shop owners are also in the trenches every day, ensuring that their culture and legacy is never compromised.

Business is business, and the motoring public is fair game. There will no doubt be winners and losers as the entire repair and service industry continues to compete for their share of the market. But, while the big guys compete on price and fringe benefits, the independent repair shops will do what they have always done: dedicate their lives to ensure that each and every customer is taken care of as if they were family.

Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of Reach him at

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