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SHOP STATS: Matt's Automotive Service Center   Locations: 5 in Fargo, N.D. and Moorhead, Minn.  Operator: Matt Lachowitzer  Total Average Monthly Car Count: 1,500  Average Staff Size: 9  Average Shop Size: 6,000-10,000 sq. ft.  Total Annual Revenue: $7.5 million  

How can a teddy bear, a coffee gift card and Harry Potter knick-knacks get you 2,414 referred customers in one year? Ask Matt Lachowitzer, owner of Matt’s Automotive Service Center. He opened up his own shop 11 years ago. Now, he’s gone from one shop to six, including a collision repair center, and has garnered $7.5 million in annual revenue with an average monthly car count of 1,500 and an ARO of $512, all because of his focus on customer service.

“We have a little bit of a different business model than other shops,” Lachowitzer says. “Our whole model is based on the customer experience, not dollars and cents.”

And to achieve Lachowitzer’s goal, a focus on providing a unique way to connect with a customer is key. Here’s how Lachowitzer strives to add a personal touch to the customer experience and remains memorable. 

As told to Abby Patterson

Our goal is to get one piece of information about a customer per visit. We have a “Director of Wow” at our company named Latha Swenson; her other internal title is “Captain of Fun.” Her main job is to find out what is going on in customers’ lives. She gets information and then has a dedicated budget to create a personalized gift that will make their day. It starts at the store level. Latha is at one location, so all of our team members have a piece in this. 

If a piece of information could be a “wow” idea, employees will send a note over to Latha to look over. She’ll start researching ideas on what we could do that will make the gift unexpected. Once she gets her idea, she’ll go out and grab the gift, add a handwritten card, and place the gift in the car so it’s the first thing they see when they get in. It takes a lot of teamwork to make this happen.

For example, we were giving a customer a ride home last week and she talked about how much she loved a certain coffee shop at the place she worked. So, we got her a giftcard to that shop when we dropped off her vehicle. Another customer, for example, is a huge Harry Potter fan, so we set some Harry Potter–themed gifts in her car. Whenever we do this, it’s always under $20. We unfortunately can’t do this for every single customer that walks through the door, but we always strive to do something to make the customer feel special. It started out simple and we’re always trying to change it up.

It’s been a big thing for us to try and do something different. We’re at roughly 72 percent women for customers, many with small children. I had an idea about six years ago to give a teddy bear to our best customers. I reached out to a promotional products company and it was way out of reach money-wise, so I started my own professional products business on the side, which helped bring the overall costs of the bears down. I provide nicer-quality bears, which run about $3 to $4 each, and attach our logo on it. The first year we did it, it blew up. I had customers calling me constantly on how they could get more. Now, we give them to all of the kids that come into the shop. 

I’ve gone through about 16,000 teddy bears, which totals out to roughly $50,000. This is our fourth year giving out the teddy bears and we make a different one every year. We have customers coming in with their kids asking when the next teddy bears are coming in. It’s become almost a collectible series now.

We have a gift-giving budget of $5,000 per month at every store. You’d be surprised how much good you can do with $5,000, and it can be scaled to size. We started with a $200–$300 budget at each store and it grew from there. It took us six months to figure out what the right number was, and we figured it out when she stopped using up all of the budget each month. We’ve changed the budget as we’ve been growing. Latha has an additional $60,000 budget for incentives like goodie bags to use each year, and this is not factoring in the teddy bears. We see at least 20 new customers per month with an average ticket of over $900 on those repair orders. Hey, I can throw money at TV, newspaper, or direct mail, but broadcasting what we are doing on social media gives us a guaranteed sale before a customer even walks through the door.

The referral business is the No. 1 thing that has gone up, as well as customer loyalty and retention. It’s really about building the relationship we strive for. Because we’ve done our research and fact-finding, people respond more to the personalized touch. The more personalized it is, the more they respond. And our reviews show that.

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