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Hitting Your Highest ARO

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SHOP STATS: BMW Excluservice  Location: Rockville, Md. Operator: Stephane Grabina Average Monthly Car Count: 122  Staff Size: 12 (1 parts manager, 2 service writers, 1 general manager, 6 technicians, 1 bookkeeper whose part, including Grabina)  Shop Size: 5,000 sq ft; Annual Revenue; $1.6



If Stephane Grabina, owner of BMW Excluservice in Rockville, Md., had to describe his shop’s average repair order, he’d say, “unusually high.” Since taking over the business from previous boss and mentor Lothar Schuettler in January 2013, he’s worked to tweak the shop’s processes in order to accommodate the changing industry.

he ARO when I first took over was about $750,” Grabina says. “[Our ARO is] $1,125—and that’s not including sales tax.

Prior to taking over BMW Excluservice, Grabina left the shop in pursuit of other opportunities. After a stint in the mortgage industry, which crashed, and, later, a dealership job that let him go right before the holidays, Grabina gave Schuettler another call.

“I was supporting a wife and an infant,” he says. “I ended up calling Lothar and said, ‘Hey, here’s what’s happening; do you have anything for me?’ and he goes, ‘The timing couldn’t be any more perfect.’”

Grabina worked for the business for three years and then officially became the owner starting Jan. 1, 2013. In the first year, the business stayed the same, he says, but he began to look for other ways to grow the shop.

“One of the benefits is our average income for the area. We’re talking $220,000–$275,000, depending on the zip code you pick,” he says.

Over the past few years, Grabina has worked to improve and sustain the relationship between his staff members and customers, which ultimately provides trust, enabling customers to believe in the repairs suggested for their vehicles.

Grabina highlights what aspects of the business he’s worked to improve, which has aided in the overall improvement of his business’ ARO.


Creating a Comfortable Setting

In order to be the shop that customers want to visit, you have to work on creating a shop environment that customers are comfortable walking through. In fact, customers are encouraged to walk to the shop floor and talk with technicians.

“Wherever your car can go, you can go,” Grabina says. “We [are] proud of the fact that our shop is clean and we encourage our customers to talk to technicians.”

For Grabina, following his boss’ initiative of keeping the shop tidy played a large role in generating business. Advanced vehicle design has changed the way shops need to function. Repair information, diagnostic scanning, improved facilities—it all plays a role in needing a facility and level of professionalism that meets that overall shift.

We also have very high standards,” Grabina says. “We keep the shop clean [because] for us, it’s like a kitchen and a restaurant. It’s got to be clean to the point where you put a trash can underneath it to catch the dust. We don’t put seat covers [on customers’ vehicles], so you just have to be clean and you don’t have to worry about that.

“That was a set standard.”

Now that customers aren’t confined to sitting back in the waiting room during their visit to the business, it’s helped establish relationships between both customers and technicians as both interact throughout the repair process.

“I think the fact that [when] the client can put a face to the person whose working on the car, it [the service] becomes more personal,” he says.

Grabina compares customers at the shop to those who get their hair done by the same person at the barber: Do you typically go to the same hairstylist, and what do you do if that hair stylist moves?

“We want it to be a personal experience with the technician who is working on the car,” he says. “[We’ll say], ‘Hey, Jim saw the car and found this wrong with the car; we’ll go have Jim take care of it.”

Owner Lesson: Establish shop expectations among employees.


Developing a Modern Routine

As vehicles became more complex, Grabina realized that the shop needed to focus on implementing a modern-day inspection process for the business. The previous owner had an estimate sheet on the back of the repair order, Grabina says, but it covered more of the basics.

“As cars changed, for example, we started working on cars that had an electronic power brake, [and we thought] we should add that to it. We were always going to find something new,” Grabina says.

In December 2015, the shop decided to start writing down the items checked when building a repair order for customers as a way to nail down a checklist to which each technician tends.

“It took about a month from the first draft until we [finished],” Grabina says. “We would try to meet once per week and if someone would go to the shop foreman and say something [new], then he would write it down.

“At the end of the week, the shop foreman, another lead technician and I would meet and we would say, ‘Hey, we should do this.’”

Once everything was set in place, Grabina says the shop brought in digital inspections so it can now offer its customers a more visually easy-to-understand inspection.  

“Now we have pictures that we can email our customers,” he says.

Adapting to the usage of digital inspections took a bit of time at first, Grabina says, but after seeing how it works, the staff has adjusted well to the new process.

“So, most of the guys took a while to adapt, but once they got the hang of it, they don’t want to go back,” he says.

Owner Lesson: Make necessary changes in order to accommodate the industry.


Keeping His Staff Happy

When your staff is taken care of by the business, staff members are likely to stay at a company and work hard in the process. After taking over the reins, Grabina developed an appreciation for the legacy his boss left within the company, namely caring for your employees.

“He was an incredible leader and an incredible culture generator,” he says. “We see ourselves as family and we watch each other’s backs and that’s how I believe we’re able to keep people.”

The shop’s overall culture aided in the success of the shop, Grabina says.

“We have the luxury of having a lot of technicians,” he says. “We have a technician that started in 1994, so this is his 25th year, starting next year, of being with the company, [and] another technician has been here for 17 years.”

However, a small part of the culture that Grabina tries to focus on is keeping all job positions filled.

“The fifth or six [technician job] is kind of a revolving door,” he says.

Since the shop caters to specifically BMWs, Grabina focuses on looking for individuals who are willing to learn and work directly with staff members during the training experience.

“We usually hire someone who already has experience, but there’s not much that we can teach them on these cars because you’re only going to learn by habit,” Grabina says. “We usually have them shadow one of the senior technicians from a few days to a week, and we pay them a basic salary where we pay them hourly in order to have a check.

“We do pay our technicians flat rate, but I want them to feel comfortable and ease [hires] into how we do things.”

During the training period, Grabina’s staff is able to connect with hires and typically identify whether they’ll last long at the business.

“If someone is not a team player or a primadonna, they will not last in our company,” Grabina says. “People have to be open and honest, and then the group brings you in; if you aren’t, then, I’ll be honest, you’ll get shunned.”

Owner Lesson: Create opportunities where staff can grow.


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