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Connecting with Community

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What is your shop known for in your community? Quality repairs at reasonable prices? The best customer service you’ll find anywhere? How about being just plain incredible?

That’s the reputation Houska Automotive in Fort Collins, Colo., has, largely because of owner Dennis Houska’s efforts to go above and beyond repairing vehicles. His shop has helped assist families with special-needs children, raised money for local schools and the construction of a new cancer center, and taken part in a variety of other charitable ventures.

“You meet a lot of really good people being involved in these types of things,” Houska says, “and those are the people that make good customers.”

Houska is one of three shop operators featured in “Giving Back,” a story on the benefits of contributing to your community. These operators have built customers for life through their community engagement, using methods ranging from donating shop-branded water to local organizations to performing free child-safety seat installations and inspections. Houska and his industry peers are quick to point out that these initiatives aren’t driven by dollars, but there’s no doubt that the goodwill has helped build trust with customers and drive new business.

It’s called community branding and it’s something any shop can do, regardless of size and income. Connecting with your community will help ensure that your business has enough backing to pull through the hardest of times and the ability to thrive during the good ones. To help your facility get started making a community connection, try this advice from Aaron Clements, who owns C&C Automotive in Augusta, Ga., and is a pro at organizing community events at his shop.

In this issue, you’ll also find a feature on a shop owner who took some cues from a career in the restaurant industry to build a customer-service model that set a new standard in the industry. A bad experience at a shop that fulfilled all the wrong stereotypes about auto repair shops led former restaurateur Greg Sands to open up his own chain of repair centers. There was a big learning curve to be sure, but it wasn’t long before Sands was passing up shops that had been in business for generations. He’s opened more than 70 shops since the mid-1990s. His secret? Being a “yes” company.

“All I did was say ‘yes’ to every single customer that came through the door,” he says. “I didn’t know any better. That’s the way I was trained in the restaurant business.”

There’s something to be said for bringing successful tactics from other businesses into the auto repair market. Looking in nontraditional areas for ways to improve operations is a lesson that really can be applied in any industry. Read more about Sands’ strategy in “At Your Service.”

On the flip side, another way to find fresh ideas is to expand your connections to professionals within the industry. Joining a network of shop operators, such as a 20 Group, is a great way to see what is working at facilities in your market and across the country. Such organizations offer a place to compare performance data with similar shops and find solutions to common challenges. Find out how you could benefit from a peer network in “Strength in Numbers.”

If any of these strategies have worked for your business, or if you’d like to share your own methods for shop growth, send me an email. We’re always hunting for the next big business-building story to share with the industry.

Jake Weyer
jweyer@ratchetandwrench.com

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