About six or seven years ago, Ryan Bennett, owner of United Auto Care in Flowery Branch, Georgia, had a vendor come into his shop. After pulling into the shop, they made a mad dash to the bathroom.
Bennett joked with him, “You couldn’t go fast enough, could you?”
The vendor told Bennett he waits all day to use the bathroom until he gets to Bennett’s shop.
“What?” a confused Bennett asked.
“You have the cleanest bathroom I’ve ever been in an automotive shop,” the vendor told him.
He told Bennett that from the offices to the lobby to the bays, the facility was spotless. He hadn’t ever seen a shop as clean as United Auto Care.
That stuck with Bennett. He noticed reviews left about the cleanliness of his shop. Bennett soon realized he was onto something—that your shop’s first impression might make a huge difference. Bennett started making intentional investments into his shop’s upkeep—something he continues to do, and something he believes is a big part of United Auto Care’s success today.
“By watching my consumers’ behaviors, and even my vendors, purposely waiting, you know, eight hours to get to my bathroom, that’s what really sparked me (to make large investments in-shop maintenance,” Bennett says.
A Lasting Impression
Ever since Bennett noticed the attention being paid to United Auto Care’s appearance, he hasn’t hesitated to invest money into the upkeep of his shop.
Bennett has his buildings painted every two years; the outside parking lots are power washed once a month. They’re blown, swept, and cleaned up daily.
Bennett makes sure the grease is wiped from every corner of the building. If he notices that grease won’t come up when they mop, Bennett doesn’t hesitate to yank the floors and put in new ones. He’ll do a renovation within the shop at least once every two years.
Bennett even makes sure the chain-link fence around his shop isn’t rusting. It’s all an intentional investment, and one Bennett believes is paying dividends.
He likens it to driving down the street and seeing two restaurants. If one is run down a littered with trash and the other is clean and kept up, which one would you take your family to? Bennett has the same mentality with shop maintenance.
“We’ve done everything we can to keep the modern appeal, and a very clean, fresh appeal within the lobby, the waiting room, the front office areas,” Bennet says, “even the way the shop, the bays are kept and the buildings’ appearances.”
‘He Thinks I’m Nuts’
While Bennett has had lots of positive feedback from his customers, certainly not every shop owner feels the same way as him.
Bennett has a friend who owns a shop out in Florida who thinks Bennett might spend a tad too much on the maintenance of his shop.
“He thinks I’m nuts,” Bennett says.
“He’s like, ‘Ryan, you spend $10,000 a year just (on) shop maintenance,’” Bennett says. “I’m like, ‘Aboso-freaking-lutely I do.’ Absolutely, without fail.”
Bennett thinks too many shop owners look at maintenance the way his friend in Florida does: as a loss and an unnecessary expense. Bennett thinks much differently. He believes people come to his shop because of the time and energy he devotes to its maintenance. Those investments are investments into the brand.
“If customers won’t see you invest in yourself, they can’t invest trust in you,” he says.
Like Attracts Like
Besides being an investment into his shop and brand, Bennett believes United Auto Care’s appearance brings in customers off the streets. He’s gotten comments about his clean bays and how his lot isn’t littered with car parts.
And, while the area Bennett is in is growing, it hasn't been traditionally known to be a big money area. Still, where he is “off the beaten path in Georgia,” Bennett says customers don’t think twice about bringing a Ferrari into his shop.
Bennett recently had someone come in for an $8,000 job on a Mercedes G Wagon—the type of jobs he doesn’t believe he’d get if he didn’t take pride in the upkeep of his shop.
“If I had grease and just stuff lying around everywhere, and my shop was unpresentable and unkempt, I just couldn’t imagine those customers are going to come in,” he says.
Presentation, Pride, Profit
Bennett’s been able to establish United Auto Care as the place to bring in high-end cars, and the shop you’d choose if you were to drive down the street. The results are showing.
United Auto Care has an effective labor rate of $149 an hour and an average repair order of over $700 a ticket. Bennett believes the success his business has seen is because of the pride he takes in presenting his shop as the shop he wants to be. The appeal and look of the company all factor in.
“I believe in my heart that when a customer sees you take that kind of pride into your building in the way that you keep it up,” Bennett says, “they don’t really bicker that often whenever you are at that price.”
Bennett says too many shops focus on staying profitable, which is, of course, every business’ goal. But Bennett would say it’s not an unnecessary expense but rather one that can drive your business to new heights.
“Don’t worry about the 10 percent you’re losing every two years,” he says. “Worry about the 35 percent that’s never walking in.”
“What you look like is what you’re going to attract,” he adds.