Building a Better Shop Atmosphere

Oct. 1, 2014
Adam Keyser, general manager at Avalon Motorsports in Denver, uses psychology and storytelling to build a profitable, welcoming environment

Adam Keyser says he may be one of the last people who got into the automotive industry just by “having a driver’s license.” He loved cars, and got a job at a local shop the day he turned 16. Now, as general manager at Avalon Motorsports, a German specialty shop in Denver, he has used his extensive industry training to turn the independent shop into a model of efficiency and innovation. 

The luxuriant customer lounge and immaculate shop space set the stage for a customer experience that, under Keyser’s direction, offers a clean-cut-but-youthful brand of professionalism with a staff that’s primarily in their late 20s and early 30s.

In his four years at Avalon, Keyser has organized a shop culture that minimizes mistakes and has developed a homegrown inspection process that has become a valuable revenue stream, rather than a drain on its technicians.

We don’t inspect cars like most other shops do. We don’t offer a complimentary preventative maintenance inspection like a lot of shops. When technicians aren’t getting paid for inspections, they typically don’t like to do them. We sell an inspection to the client every time they come through the door if they have not done one in the last six months. For cars from 2004 and newer, it’s $90; for 2003s and older, it’s $120. 

It gives us the opportunity to pre-qualify customers as a buyer, because if they are willing to spend the money to know what’s wrong with their car, they’re probably willing to fix their car. 

When you don’t pay for an inspection getting an oil change at one of the big-box stores, having a guy tell you that you need $3,000 of work can be off-putting. 

If you walk in the door and we say, “Mr. Customer, your oil change is this much and the inspection is this much and now your service advisor says you need $3,000 worth of work,” you’re more prepared for it, you know it’s coming, and you’re more than likely going to be interested in buying some or all of the repairs. 

Also, the technicians are getting paid for the time they’re actually spending with the car. It works, because we can generate a lot of work out of them and it allows us not to shellshock customers. If the customer declines the inspection, we support them in whatever decision they make. We’re not going to beat people up and say, “If you don’t inspect your car, it’s going to turn into a big P.O.S.”

Another unique part of our inspections is how our technicians take notes. They write as if they were talking to the client as opposed to the service advisor. At the end of the day, the client can go back and read the repair order and feel like there’s no bending of the truth. 

If the customer heard a clunking noise going over bumps, our technicians won’t write, “Clunking noise coming from strut mount.” Instead, they’ll write, “Took the vehicle on a test drive down a road that’s really bumpy. While I was driving on that bumpy road, I was able to hear the clunking noise. I drove the vehicle back to the shop, put it on the rack and lifted it in the air. I checked this component, that component … and I was able to determine that the strut mount was making the noise. So I replaced the strut mount, got everything put back together, went and drove that car down the same road, and now the noise is gone.” 

It’s storytelling as opposed to just saying, “Replaced the strut mount.” That has really helped a lot. When they can tell the story that simply to a service advisor, it’s that simple when telling it to the client. That means they’re spending extra time writing their story and selling more work.

When I first walked into this shop four years ago to ask owner, Brian Sump, if he needed any help, the building was still under construction—maybe a quarter of it was done. I could see what Brian was doing and how he was truly trying to give a surprising first impression when customers walked through the door. 

We keep everything very bare around here, and we don’t have a lot of sales-pitch-type stuff in our service area, like the difference in these shocks over those shocks. It’s very simplistic, but urban and comforting when you walk in. Walking into our shop, you could be walking into a lawyer’s office, a doctor’s office or a high-end hotel. 

Our staff members are all clean cut. We don’t require that you’re clean shaven—I rock a three-day beard all the time—but when I don’t have facial hair I keep it shaven with a clean haircut, good dental care, just taking care of yourself.

Everyone up front dresses in pressed collar dress shirts, dress slacks, dress shoes and a belt. That’s a big change I wish more people in the automotive industry would do, because it would put a better face on the industry in general. 

If more people tried to do it right, the industry wouldn’t have that sleazy, grimy undertone that a lot of people think we have. 

You can see customers looking at our service write-up area, at the granite countertops on our desks, the spotless floors and the lack of clutter from paperwork or parts. You can see them soaking it all in and thinking, “I can’t believe how clean this place is.”

Our client lounge is very clean—we don’t have tables cluttered with 100 magazines that are five years old. We have a coffee bar and a refrigerator with all sorts of waters, sodas and juices for the clients. We also have a big flat-screen TV and very comfortable couches. People say that if we would put a barista in there, they’d probably just come to hang out every morning before they went to work.

Customers are also very wowed when they go into the shop, because we work very hard to keep it clean at all times. We have really good lighting throughout, and it looks like a showroom except for the lifts. 

Some of our loyal customers like to be a little bit snide and make comments about the trash can being a little too full or things like that. Watching people walk through it on a daily basis is very cool to see.  

I get myself here by about 7 o’clock in the morning, because I typically need some quiet time to get caught up on some things every day. I look at things as a pyramid, and the things on the top are important and those on the bottom are unimportant. A lot of times the bottom-of-the-pyramid stuff rolls over to the next day, and it moves up the pyramid just because it’s now a day later. 

I take care of all the facility needs, so on a daily basis I walk around the shop with my eyes open. I’m looking for burnt-out light bulbs, smudges on painted walls, cracks on the floor, broken chairs, broken desks or anything that might need to be repaired immediately. I’m also trying to keep my eyes open for things that may need to be repaired in the future. 

I still write a lot of the service, probably 35–40 percent, and then my two service advisors split the rest between themselves. I also take care of any technician needs, like if they need parts, parts were ordered incorrectly, parts haven’t shown up, or technicians being prima donnas and I need to go in there and make them feel better about themselves. 

I like the challenges people pose on each other, whether it’s an objection to something we’re trying to sell or challenging me by teaching me new things. I like everything about interacting with people. 

I like to embrace the psychology of sales—meeting people on their levels, having the same body postures, just mirroring them. Things like that fascinate me. If you’re standing there long enough talking to somebody with your arms crossed, they’re going to eventually cross their arms, and that kind of stuff is just cool to me.

I find my job very fun, because it’s always something new. There’s really no repetitiveness in the automotive industry in any career in this industry. Sure, you might see the same things time and time again, but they’re never exactly the same so it’s always a new challenge, and I always feel like I’m learning. 

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