MAXVILLE SERVICES Location: Woodbury, Minn. Size: 7,500 square feet Staff: 6 (2 technicians, 1 owner, 1 general manager, 1 marketer/IT specialist, 1 part-time hair stylist) Average monthly car count: 180 Annual revenue: $450,000 (projected)
Every once in a great while, a new customer will walk into Susan Moynihan’s shop, quickly scan the lobby, and express confusion, wondering if they’ve arrived at their intended destination.
The uncertainty, however brief it may be, is understandable. Upon arrival to Maxville Services in Woodbury, Minn., first-time visitors are greeted with amenities you simply wouldn’t expect at an auto care facility. In the back left corner of the lobby, for example, is a hair-styling area. A few feet away is space dedicated for manicures and pedicures. There’s an arts-and-crafts area, as well as the “Max Market” boutique. In the far right portion of the lobby, several cushy leather chairs form a semi-circle, allowing parents to easily supervise if their children play with the shop’s Nintendo console.
“This doesn’t look like a repair shop,” Moynihan says of her business, which, as of this writing, was nearly one year old. “And the environment is a huge factor for customers.”
This is what Moynihan feels modern auto care should be, and where it fits into a consumer’s life. Visitors to auto shops are no longer content just sitting in a waiting area watching “The Price is Right," she says.
No, in 2017, many customers want the experience to benefit them, beyond simply having their car’s oil changed.
“A lot of people have the perspective in automotive, ‘I don’t want my customers waiting, so what’s the point of creating a welcoming environment?’” Moynihan says. “We want to create an inviting environment.”
MAKING CUSTOMERS COMFORTABLE
Moynihan once served as the director of sales for a parts provider, touring the country, bouncing from shop to shop. Before long in that role, Moynihan noticed a trend developing at facilities she toured.
Many of her colleagues in the industry were a bit indifferent with their customers, in their attempts to keep business rolling like a conveyor belt.
“The environment—it just wasn’t catering to customers,” she says, in reference to auto repair shops in general.
Moynihan eventually came to a conclusion. She decided to open her own shop, in an effort to provide a fresh perspective on the auto repair experience and offer greater transparency to customers. She sought to eliminate the intimidation that clients can feel when they walk through a repair shop’s doors.
When you pull up to Maxville Services, in the affluent Twin Cities suburb of Woodbury, the auto shop’s facade resembles a four-star restaurant. The facility sits at the end of an upscale mini-mall.
On the inside, there’s a decidedly relaxing aura about Moynihan’s shop, with that lobby that resembles an upper-middle class living room and which essentially features multiple businesses in a one-stop setup.
One feature Maxville Services’ owner loves showing off: the Wii U video game console in the kids’ corner. That amenity has nicely facilitated the shop operator’s grand plan for customer service.
“My goal is we have to bribe the kids to leave—and we do, a lot of times, have to bribe the kids to leave, because they want to stay,” Moynihan notes, light-heartedly.
“Think about McDonald’s; why do you go to McDonald’s? Because the kids love the Happy Meal, right? The kids ask for it. And that’s what I try to create, is an environment where the kids love coming here.”
Moynihan would love to ease the anxiety that so many customers experience when they visit auto shops. That’s a key reason why her shop offers manicures, for example, and “Cupcakes and Cars” clinics.
Moynihan wanted to inspire the same comfort that she, herself, felt when she once visited Airpark Auto Service in Scottsdale, Ariz., which was founded by Stacey Grobmeier over three decades ago. That also explains why Moynihan doesn’t speak to customers using auto-industry jargon, and makes every effort to educate visitors to her shop.
“Overall, what we’ve found is, they’re really just overwhelmed,” Moynihan says of customers. “Because it’s kind of like going to a doctor; we’re speaking a language they don’t fully understand.
“What we do [at Maxville Services] is, we actually walk them out so they can see what’s wrong with their car. And a lot of times we focus on safety concerns—what will leave them stranded on the side of the road potentially. I think they really enjoy being able to see what’s wrong with their vehicle.”
While Maxville has gained a regional reputation for being a shop that caters to women, Moynihan says her philosophy as an owner is to make all customers feel comfortable, and knowledgeable.
“They’re definitely our target market,” says Moynihan—whose six-person staff includes four women—of female customers. “But we’re getting a lot of really positive feedback from guys.
“My general manager, Dana [Bona], she has grown up in the auto industry, so she can talk cars as well as any auto enthusiast. So, guys that are gearheads that come in like the fact that she can talk just as well as they can.
“And, the guys that aren’t as knowledgeable about cars love coming in, because they don’t feel as intimidated.”
FORGING LONG-LASTING TRUST
To say Moynihan did her due diligence before opening her own shop would be a blatant understatement. She studied Twin Cities census data like she was bracing for the SATs. She drove around suburbs for nearly six months, searching for the ideal facility.
Lo and behold, she ended up in a 7,500-square-foot, former lighting warehouse that had been vacant for five years—in an area that wasn’t zoned for automotive, in a suburb that didn’t allow overnight parking.
Yet, a few of Moynihan’s business lessons have helped her shop survive nicely. Among them:
Keep Your Neighbors Happy.
Moynihan knew—after needing unanimous approval from the local city council to acquire a conditional-use permit—that angering Woodbury residents would be a bad idea. So, when locals expressed concern over potential noise, Moynihan took a precautionary measure. The crew at Maxville Services noticed the old lighting warehouse that would serve as its shop floor featured an empty stairway in the back. Thus, Moynihan had her shop’s compressors placed in that area, where concrete could insulate them and mute noise. A potential issue was promptly silenced.
Keep Your Customers Informed.
As nice as waiting room amenities may be, Moynihan knows legitimate service needs to emanate from her shop floor. As a result, the owner made sure to utilize digital inspection software (from Bolt On Technology) to text her clients throughout the repair process. Maxville Services will occasionally get the go-ahead for additional work by texting customers while they’re running errands. In the same informational vein, Moynihan makes sure to offer multiple clinics throughout the year, even for local Girl Scouts seeking their automotive badge. The clinics have sparked consistent return visits from attendees or their families, the owner notes.
Keep Your Customers Stimulated.
Few interests are overlooked at the front of Moynihan’s shop. The kids area includes a costume wardrobe. The Max Sweet Shop supplies hot cocoa. The staff beautician is typically on hand no less than 20 hours a week, depending on the amount of appointments. And men’s interests aren’t completely ignored, as the Sports Illustrated on the lobby coffee tables suggest.
“Roughly 75–80 percent of our customers wait. Even for a brake job they’ll sit and wait,” says Moynihan, whose young shop has an average monthly car count of 180. “So, we want to create an inviting environment [that’s] relaxing for them, and be able to offer things they can check out through this, while they’re here.”
Ultimately, the core values that guide Maxville Services’ business are efficiency and trust. While the former is important to the shop’s owner, the latter is imperative.
Moynihan’s motivation for becoming a shop owner, after all, was “bringing a fresh perspective, so that people’s attitudes about automotive change a little—it’s that full transparency, and educating them.
“It’s like when you have a doctor that you feel really comfortable with,” she adds. “I want the customers to feel very comfortable with us, [so] that they don’t have to second-guess or question what we’re recommending.”