Alex Whitney looked at his new business with pride, driven to take the knowledge he gained from working as a technician at a Porsche dealership and apply it to this … chicken coop?
It’s surely not the first setting that pops in your head upon hearing “Alex Luxury and Classic Cars”—but if you knew Whitney, you wouldn’t even think twice about it. With 40 years of experience in auto care (specializing in Mercedes-Benz), this technician-turned-owner has worked from the ground-up to turn his larger-than-average chicken coop into a 6,500-square-foot, $1.1 million shop.
It’s a common notion, but the only way Whitney was ever able to truly elevate his business was learning to work on his business, not in it. And a large part of that has been joining a 20 Group that allowed him to view operations from an executive level.
So now, after 37 years of ownership, Whitney’s daily schedule is leagues different than it was from that day he started in that chicken coop, largely consisting of tweaks to his business that make it more inviting for both employees and customers.
When I get in in the morning, I always make it a point to go around and greet everyone and say good morning. I don’t just come in and plop down at my desk—I go out of my way to see how they’re doing. I try to acknowledge them and let them know I’m concerned about them.
Then I look at the daily schedule and gauge our workload. I’ll go through the shop management system, see what’s in the shop, what’s on order, what purchases are coming in, familiarize myself with what's going on that day. Then I read my emails from vendors, check my voicemails, return any calls.
Then I’ll follow up on anything I have left on my desk from the day before that needs to be done. I have a running list I’ll continually add to and keep addressing each day, marking things off one by one. This is really where my day begins.
This part of the morning is my time to take care of any shop issues. Like, if the alignment machine needs to be recalibrated, or one of the cameras is out—I try to take care of that type of stuff. I’ll go out on the floor, ask about anything that needs to be fixed or updated. My shop foreman also lets me know about a lot of that stuff, so I’ll communicate with him.
I also follow up on past items from my list and make sure everything is running like a well-oiled machine. I think that’s very important, that when the employees ask you for something, that you not ignore them, and that you show you value their feedback. You thank them for telling you anything, and then they know they can depend on you to get things taken care of.
That takes up most of my morning. The rest of the day is improving the shop for everyone else. Originally I was the guy that talked to the customer, that fixed the car, that cleaned the bathroom—I did everything. It’s been a long process to get where I’ve gotten, to the point where I now oversee everything that goes on and manage, as opposed to having my head so far underwater that I can’t see what’s going on.
I used to man the front counter, and I am still definitely available if a customer ever wants to talk to me. But, for the most part, I try to keep myself out of the middle of that, because if I start taking over my two service writers’ duties, I’ll get busy with something else and I’ll screw it up. I let the professionals do their jobs, and I can help the business in other ways.
Like, for example, I can improve customer satisfaction by going through my website stats and making sure that email addresses are being captured or that customer follow-ups are being performed.
We use two different services to solicit customer reviews, so I’ll read reviews that are coming in through the websites. If there’s an issue with a customer, I want to get right on it and figure out what happened, then reach out to the customer and find out what I need to do to make it right.
I work with a 20 Group, and I’m always trying to implement ideas from other shops. Part of what we do when we have our meetings is we go into other people's shops and see how they do it versus how we do it. We’re always moving forward, we’re always improving something, trying not to be stale. Those are my afternoon projects.
One of my projects was remodeling the customer waiting room. I don’t want people walking into some dumpy place with parts stacked in the corner. We put in some really nice high-end furniture, some cool rugs, a clear glass fridge with beverages and snacks, and and a commercial Keurig machine. Basically, I want to provide all the amenities people would expect to get in a high-end dealership, but not in an independent shop. Even my restrooms would rival a five-star restaurant. We have nice hand towels and different amenities in there, and they’re always kept clean.
There are plenty of process-oriented changes I’ve implemented, too, and I’ll involve everyone in those decisions. I’ll bring an idea back from a 20 Group meeting and ask everyone how they feel about changing how we handle our work orders and workflow. Even simple things like using a key management system makes everyone’s jobs a little easier.
A huge one for us has been finding different ways of soliciting feedback from customers. One of the things that we just recently started doing is before everyone leaves, they’re handed an iPad, and it just asks them to check in or check out, and then 30 minutes after they leave, an email or text message asks, Were you satisfied with your interaction with Alex Luxury and Classic Cars? If they reply yes, we’ll ask them to leave a positive review on Google and Yelp and Facebook.
While working on the business, I’m also trying to stay on top of everyone, making sure we’re getting everything done. If my employees see me being active and passionate about improving the business, they will do the same.
I make sure that everyone cleans their work spaces before they go home, everything is closed up properly, all customers were called and all cars were picked up. Nobody likes to stay late for customers, but if they're running late, we always do it. We do whatever it takes to make sure our customers are taken care of.
Then I make a list of anything I didn’t get to that day so I have a list ready to go to start all over the next morning.