Put Customer Education First
Matt Lachowitzer spent the majority of his career working in dealerships—and then he had enough.
“What I experienced is that dealerships revolve around numbers,” Lachowitzer says. “There’s nothing about people.”
That’s why in 2009, Lachowitzer went out on his own and built his shop, Matt’s Automotive Service Center, in Moorhead, Minn., from the ground up. Determined to do things differently, Lachowitzer built his shop around educating, not selling, to customers. That’s part of the reason that he was nominated by his marketing coordinator, Alejandra Saavedra, for a Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Award. Saavedra says that under Lachowitzer’s leadership, the entire staff understands the importance of giving customers all of the necessary information, rather than trying to sell the most work.
“It’s our duty to never put money before our customers,” Saavedra said in her nomination.
Lachowitzer now has two locations, one in Fargo, N.D., and one in Moorhead. Through his growth, he’s kept his mission the same—customers come first. Matt’s Automotive was the first automotive facility in its marketplace to go completely paperless; all of the technicians have iPads that they can use to show informational videos and pictures to customers. Every inspection that is done is digital, providing the customer with more access to information.
“We show them good and bad pictures of what’s going on in their vehicle,” Lachowitzer says. “We want them to see the whole picture.”
Lachowitzer’s dedication to education spreads outside of the shop. The shop throws a number of different educational events, including a “Power Car Care” seminar for women and a two-hour automotive class through the Jeremiah Program, which is a nonprofit that helps get single mothers back on their feet.
“Honestly, those events have been my favorite part of what I do,” Lachowitzer says.
The approach that Lachowitzer takes is all about perception. By putting people before sales, Lachowitzer thinks that the industry can turn its image around.
“I hate the word ‘sales,’” Lachowitzer says. “If we do a good job educating, we’ll never sell anything in our life.”
Know the Difference.
Some shop owners may have no idea that they’re “selling” to customers. Lachowitzer says that a common sign that someone is guilty of this is a lack of trust.
“You won’t see people throwing their keys at you and telling you to do what needs to be done,” Lachowitzer says. “You also won’t see many return customers.”
His customer retention rate is in the high 80s. Lachowitzer has built trust up with his customers because they know that he and his staff are not going to charge for something that doesn’t need to be done.
If you’re still questioning yourself, Lachowitzer suggests looking at reviews.
Instill it Within Your Staff.
Sure, this method sounds great to upper management, but how can a shop owner expect his employees not to sell when their paychecks depend on it? Make sure it doesn’t. Lachowitzer’s entire staff is paid on salary, which he says has created a successful environment.
“Hire the right people and make sure they’re not worried about their paycheck; it changes the sales process,” Lachowitzer says.
Transparency is Key.
In her nomination, Saavedra mentioned that the staff often brings customers right onto the shop floor to show them exactly what’s going on with their vehicles. For educational purposes, it’s always better to show and not tell, which is why he uses digital inspections and shows his customers photos and videos whenever possible. This type of transparency is key for Lachowitzer and his mission to educate.
Take it Outside of the Shop.
Within the shop walls, there’s always a possibility of a sale. However, taking it out into the community and offering education shows that a shop isn’t just after your money. Lachowitzer is passionate about community involvement; he supports local schools and sports teams and makes a number of charitable donations throughout the year. This involvement has helped spread the name in the community as a mechanical repair shop that’s invested in the well-being of its customers. His seminars, which he created himself, are extremely popular. The shop has thrown five to date. The last one had to be capped at 80 people because of the high level of interest. The event had over 600 people interested and 170 shares on Facebook.