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Compass

Since I can remember, I have always taken things and made them better. I learned how to modify things just after learning how to tie my shoes. From my bicycle as a wee tot, to my cars, to my business. I recall placing that card in the spokes of my bike to give it that engine-like sound. Later in life, I saved up to buy my first car. Of course, it was a red trans Am. Within a week of owning it, I replaced the exhaust with a louder one. 

Fast forward some years. I bought an existing European repair shop from George. He was an older gentleman that was ready to retire. The shop was a dirty, dingy, smelly place. There were ashtrays on the front counter, with a small mountain of cigarette butts overflowing. The front desk doubled as a glass display case where George kept car parts and motor oil in it for all to see. The dust all over the inside of the display gave you an idea of how often anyone opened it.

The shop could have doubled as a museum of historic junk in the off-hours. The lifts were old, and you couldn’t tell what their original color was. I would say rust if that were an actual color. The concrete shop floor was a blackish, stained, slippery, mess that after you walked on it, the bottom of your shoes was left the same color. The smell was a concoction of used gear oil and gasoline. The sound came from a staticky radio station on a handheld radio that the sub-woofers failed years ago, leaving that tinny guitar solo sound. The lighting was yellowish. Not sure if it was the reflection from the walls that had become stained with years of pollutants or just my memory of that place. Tattered banners were hung on those walls displaying the preference of motor oil that the shop sold. There was also a blue Mercedes-Benz banner on one wall. It was so full of dust, the only way to make out the writing on it was to squint. Technicians were smoking while working with drop lights that had actual light bulbs inside of them. You haven’t lived until you were burned on the arm by one of those things. 

I don’t even want to talk about the bathroom, but I will. A single bathroom that both the technicians and the customers shared. Inside, there was a slop sink that had greasy car parts left in it. The soap was orange pumice that I’m sure the customers loved to use. If only I could show my sarcasm in that statement. I remember walking into that bathroom for the first time. The initial feeling of horror came over me. The toilet looked like the last time it was cleaned, Reagan was in office. I couldn’t tell you the exact color of the fixtures, but they were that sea-foam green color that was popular in the 1980s. Decades later, this one thing still is the first thing I remember. There was a mirror over the bathroom sink. It was so filthy that you couldn’t see your reflection. I asked George about it. He said patronizingly, “It is so the technicians could see themselves and take pride in their appearance.” I was speechless.

The one thing that shop had going for it was the end result of the product sold. The repairs were done right and on time. The clients kept coming back because George could listen to that engine and make a slight adjustment with a screwdriver and it would purr like a kitten again. George wore the typical overalls that mechanics wore. You know the ones. If they were bright orange, they could easily be mistaken for inmate work attire, but these were grayish blue with a lot of dark stains. George always said, “Put down that broom. A dirty shop is a productive shop.”

I knew that if I were to stay in this line of work, things would need to be different— industry-changing different. I decided to up the ante on auto repair. Clients (not customers) come to my shop because it is nothing like what they have come to expect. The key is to make our clients comfortable as fast as possible by touching on all five senses and showing transparency in everything we do.

When they walk in the front door, the first thing they notice is the smell. We have a wax melt burner under the front counter with a seasonal scent that gets changed to a different one every day. In spring, we use flowery scents. Summer gets honeysuckle, coffee, beach sand, or any other scent that reminds you of summer. Autumn is great for baked pie scents or fall leaves. Just about any smell will hit the target in winter. Cinnamon and evergreen are great holiday favorites. It is similar to when you go inside a bakery. Although we are not selling food, we are offering comfort. The last thing a client wants is to feel they are in a repair shop. They know nothing about cars and feel that any amount they spend is more than they want to.

Next, they see the front counter. It is a clean countertop with a stone-faced front. There are two separate areas to be able to assist multiple clients at the same time. We also have live plants for added effect. Finally, two service advisors are smiling and greeting them upon their arrival.

What they don’t notice is the music playing at just above a whisper level. There are speakers strategically placed in just the right locations. The music is familiar, and it takes the dead air tension out of the equation. It hits their subconscious and makes them feel at ease. 

After they are checked in, they walk past the glass door that would take them into the shop. Usually, that stops them in their tracks. At that time, they typically say to one of the service advisors, “Your shop is spotless!”

Then our clients make their way to the waiting room after walking past the ultra-clean bathroom. Of course, we have the typical television and magazines. We also have the standard free Wi-Fi. What they see again is the matching countertop and a mini-fridge with a glass door allowing a peek inside without having to open it. A snack display that houses healthy and unhealthy snacks rests on top. Ending with a Keurig coffee maker and over 30 different blends of coffee to sample, we offer a variety to satisfy everyone. 

The seating arrangement is simple. The chairs are comfy enough to keep you wanting to sit for an hour or two, but look elegant. We also offer an Uber to get our clients home or a loaner car if their repair expects to be a few hours. 

What they don’t notice is the sounds of auto repair happening on the other side of the wall. We insulated that wall and added soundproofing to keep the shop noise in the shop. We don’t want them feeling they are in a repair shop.

My clients still joke with me today about that first shop. They all say that I’ve come a long way or that they don’t believe that we repair cars in our shop because it is too clean.

If you think about it, local hardware stores were beaten out by the bigger, cleaner, home improvement stores. Local auto parts stores were replaced by commercialized auto parts stores that doubled as auto repair shops. Right now, online ordering is bankrupting local retail stores. They try to keep up, but they are no match in the end for the convenience and speed of delivery that they offer. Everything grows, and everything dies. If you are not part of that growth, you are going to die and be replaced by a shop that evolved. 

Now that you know a little about me. In the coming few months, I am going to teach you some inside secrets of how to refine your business and transform it to the next level.

 

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