Utilizing Value-Added Services from Vendors
The definition of a “value-added service” seems simple: Companies, such as tool suppliers or equipment manufacturers, form partnerships with auto repair shops and offer various additional perks aimed at making those businesses better.
But, as NAPA wholesale sales vice president Bret Robyck points out, the “value” in “value added” is a bit ambiguous. An additional service that is valuable to one shop isn’t always as valuable to another, making it more difficult for vendors to identify exactly what is of value to everyone as a whole.
“When it comes to a value-added program that brings additional value to customers, we have to be able to listen to our customers as a whole and offer something to take everyone’s business to the next level,” he says.
Which, for NAPA, is a huge task— 15,000 different shops with different goals and various needs. Addressing all of those shops’ problems is daunting, but it’s also a task Robyck attempts to tackle every day. Whether a vendor is working with several thousand businesses or a few local shops, in order to offer the best possible value-added services and retain your business, vendors must remember one crucial detail: Value is defined by the customer.
Ratchet+Wrench spoke with three different vendors, and all parties made it clear that they are not only aware of common problems plaguing auto repair shops, but are also constantly strategizing ways of winning your business over. Here, they list their key offerings in a shop-vendor relationship.
1. AN ACTIVE RELATIONSHIP
For Charlie Crouse, owner of six TBA & Oil Warehouse Inc. locations surrounding Indianapolis, “customer intimacy” is key for his auto parts distribution chain. Constant contact and follow-up phone calls with the company’s 200 shop relationships allow his individual locations to keep up with his various customers’ needs.
This level of intimacy is what has won over one of Crouse’s best customers, Craig Douglas, president of ASG Automot ive in Indianapol is, who prefers to work with local vendors that wi ll immediately respond to his requests. Crouse personally takes Douglas’ phone calls and discusses business operations weekly.
“In doing so, it benefits both them and TBA,” Crouse says. “We try to be a consultant, a resource, and offer them programs and solutions and ideas that are going to help their individual shops succeed.”
Douglas isn’t afraid to regularly reach out to Crouse and ask about new training opportunities, the latest technologies that could be improving his business or request same-day shipping for parts. Try reaching out to your vendors at least once a month to check in on new offerings or deals.
“We offer many programs that our customers do not always utilize well— ACDelco’s Professional Service Center Program, Federated Car Care, nationwide warranties, roadside assistance, road hazard for tires,” Crouse says. “Each of these programs have many benefits to installers, such as technical and business training, discounts to other professional services, credit card processing options, ASE reimbursements, diagnostic hotline help … and countless more.
“The key players at an installer should review these heavily once a year so they take advantage of what is out there for them.”
2. ON-SITE VISITS
Whether it’s for equipment training, a shop evaluation, or simply a facility tour, hosting vendors in your shop can help them identify exactly how their services can impact your shop.
In fact, Larry Kendall, a facility planner for Rotary Lift, is incapable of helping your shop without a visual. Rotary offers free facility planning assistance to its customers through its assistPRO program, and Kendal l requires a shop’s field measurements to help maximize efficiency, which he obtains by sending personal representatives to shops.
“We take field measurements, give internal dimensions, pinpoint garage door locations, any structural columns, and give owners several options,” he says.
Crouse is better able to gauge ASG’s potential by visiting the facility, conversing with Douglas and his technicians and examining the deficiencies that may exist in the repair process.
For Kendall, his assessments vary even depending on region, which means understanding a city’s demographics and customer base is essential.
“Shops have their own little footprints, depending on what’s in their community,” he says. “A car dealership in Texas looks different than one in Connecticut. It’s the product mix: 80 percent trucks in Texas, 20 percent in Connecticut.”
3. TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES
Hosting vendors also al lows for in-house training opportunities, which are cheaper than classes that may require travel expenses. Douglas requires at least eight hours of training for each of his technicians per quarter, and his arrangement with TBA ensures his technicians can improve their skills without missing work.
“My technicians can’t show up and just find some new equipment,” Douglas says. “We need an expert who’s trained with the product to come show us how it’ll make our jobs easier, how to implement it in our processes.”
Even for classes only available offsite, customers can sign up for training packages through NAPA, TBA and Rotary that are available in various locations. TBA will host technicians after work hours at a local technical university and even of fer a free dinner, while Rotary holds three-day installer training classes several times per year as part of a deal for purchasing its lifts.
“For every wholesale customer, seven days a week, we host courses through 19 full-time trainers at 60 different classrooms,” Robyck says about NAPA. “They can train on how to do a particular brake job, all the way to how to set up a workflow system.”
Also, training only works if your employees are prepared to take advantage of a vendor’s expertise. A passive audience doesn’t allow for the crucial back-and-forth conversations during training that address a shop’s specific needs.
“The most important thing to do in classrooms is being willing to ask the questions,” Crouse says. “So many are reserved and don’t want to ask questions that nobody else is asking. Service writers and techs need to become better at their jobs, no matter what level they’re on.”
4. TECHNICAL EXPERTISE
Nine times out of 10, shop owners that interact with Kendall are missing the technical know-how to deal with architects when planning a facility design— and that’s where your vendor can step in.
“When the contractor or the architect are asking about measurements about floor space for lifts, that’s when they reach out to us,” he says. “We try to ease that pain by acting as a technical liaison.”
Both NAPA and TBA employ trainers that go to their own training classes in an effort to keep up to date on the latest tools and technology. Robyck says that by utilizing your active relationship with a personal contact, you can always find someone willing and able to offer advice.
5. ONLINE INFORMATION
According to Robyck, once you’ve established an active relationship with a vendor, there’s no greater disservice a shop owner can do to his or her shop than ignoring the plethora of opportunities available online.
A major component of NAPA’s personalized attention for shops is its NAPA AutoCa re Sa les Growth Planner, which allows owners to go online and fill out a sheet that identifies all the areas in which a shop is looking to improve. From marketing to process improvements to cost-saving measures, NAPA identifies your shop’s sales growth plans and then offers assistance in various areas where you require improvement.
“If you’re trying to improve your on-hold messaging system, we’ ll call your shop, listen in, and then offer some tips,” Robyck says. “We even help create personal i zed NAPA messages for individual shops.”
NAPA even has its own app, allowing owners to keep themselves updated whi le on the go. Both websites also feature video libraries containing hours of footage aimed at improving shop processes.
Rotary offers a Lift Application Guide, which is designed to show customers the various lift styles available for each class of vehicle at a glance. The document helps shop owners identify the optimal number, placement and arrangement of lifts. Bottom line, make an effort to go online to see the information your vendors offer.
“Shops overlook the specific tools that are available to them through [TBA’s] online portals,” adds Crouse, “ including batter y reset guides, OEM catalogs, pigtail catalogs and chemical catalogs.”