Shop Profile: Baum Blvd. Automotive
It is often said that change is the only constant. Nobody understands that better than Chuck Wichrowski, owner of Baum Boulevard Automotive, an 8-bay automotive repair shop in Pittsburgh, PA. He has built his entire business model around the concept.
“Dealing with change has been one of the central elements in our shop’s success,” says Chuck. “Early in my career, I noticed rapid changes taking place all around me. Advances in automotive technology, a shift in local demographics, new and more creative business management techniques — it all made me realize that if I wanted to stay in business, I would have to adapt to these changes very quickly.”
Adapting to Change
General business training was a fine start but that was not enough. “I needed to learn how to handle the unique problems of running a repair shop business — and keeping it profitable,” he said. So, he reached out to the experts in the industry.
To learn how to organize and manage his business, Chuck turned to Management Success, a management and sales training company for independent repair shops.
For repair and service work support, he chose Bosch, worldwide supplier of automotive parts to vehicle manufacturers and the aftermarket, and applied to become a Bosch Car Service (BCS) center. After going through a very exacting evaluation process, he was enrolled into the exclusive Bosch Car Service international network of shops whose repair and customer service standards meet the company’s demanding criteria for excellence in the services they provide.
As a BCS shop, technicians at Baum Boulevard Automotive now had access to the latest technical training and equipment as well as marketing tools and service information from Bosch. Soon it became obvious to Chuck that adopting the complete Bosch Car Service program could help elevate the standards in his shop and enhance value for his customers.
“Associating with a large group like Bosch Car Service not only helped me fix cars, but also gave me an identity that made me stand out among the many repair shops out there,” Chuck commented.
Establishing an Identity
According to Chuck, “the very first thing a new customer sees is the appearance of your shop. Since one of the groups we are targeting is owners of high-end vehicles who are at the end of the dealer warranty, we want to give the impression that we are equal to dealerships in every way.”
To that end, Baum Boulevard Automotive elected to implement the recently-launched Bosch Car Service imaging program to project the look these customers expect. Customers who, when they now walk into the shop, often use words like “clean,” “stylish,” and “modern” when commenting on the new look, Chuck said. Furthermore, because it is located next to the local Mercedes-Benz dealership, their customers sometimes will walk into Baum Boulevard Automotive thinking it is the dealership’s service department!
Delivering on Your Promise
“Once the customer is in the door, you have to deliver,” Chuck said referring to those who come in seeking service. “The Bosch Car Service program helps with providing me up-to-date tools, training and information to stay abreast of advances in technology and be able to fix any vehicle out there. In fact, being part of an established and successful network gives me a framework of standards to operate my business in an efficient and professional manner.”
With vehicle systems becoming more and more complex, many service shops are focusing on specific makes and models to keep up with the avalanche of new information coming their way. Chuck, on the other hand, is willing to service and repair any vehicle that rolls into his shop —domestic, Asian or European.
“Naturally, having to work on every car out there is tremendously difficult for our technicians,” said Chuck, acknowledging the challenges associated with his business model. “We often spend time solving mysteries that turn out to be common failures which a dealer or brand-specific shop knows from previous experience.”
For example, recently we were stumped by a random battery drain on a BMW X5. We caught it only when we noticed a glow in the daytime running lights when we were turning off the shop lights at the end of the day. My tech traced the fault to the lighting module that was soaked with water from a clogged roof drain. When I called for a price on the module, the BMW parts man said “it happens all the time.” Learning that lesson cost us a great deal of uncompensated time.”
On the positive side, the service bays at Baum Boulevard Automotive are always full.
Helping Technicians Keep Up
So, how does Chuck make sure that his technicians are equipped with the knowledge and training necessary to fix any vehicle that comes through the door?
He has a strategy. In an industry in which most shops are looking to hire technicians straight out of tech schools, Chuck prefers to take in the more experienced ones who have worked at a dealership but, for some reason, chose to quit. As a result, the techs at Baum Boulevard Automotive come with experience and training acquired at various dealerships such as GM, Toyota, Audi and others, and then share their knowledge across brands with other team members at the shop.
Also, each technician receives a laptop to access dealer and aftermarket software systems that are updated regularly. Additionally, the shop owns a number of scan tools with laptop-based software that work on different vehicles. Chuck’s technicians use Bosch training, AVI courses, WORLDPAC training, the Allegheny County Community College automotive courses, Identifix and a network of contacts with local dealerships to be able to successfully repair any vehicle.
Wooing Future Customers
For Chuck, adapting to change goes beyond addressing current challenges to his business; it includes anticipating future ones as well. Recognizing that he has an aging customer base whose need for automotive service is declining, Chuck set about looking for a new market with which to engage. With University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Chatham, Carnegie Mellon and many other college campuses and hospitals nearby, he found it in the young university students and medical customers and decided to capitalize on his proximity to them.
“These people drive the cars we want to work on,” remarked Chuck. “European, high-end Asian, hybrids and electric cars have now become a significant portion of our overall mix.”
With that in mind, he targeted his marketing efforts toward this potential customer base. Learning that this group listens to National Public Radio, Chuck began to underwrite broadcasts and sponsored its community events. He responded to their strong environmental awareness by promoting the fact that his shop is the only retail source for bio diesel in Pittsburgh, that it is involved with Carnegie Mellon’s electric car conversions and that he has an electric car charging station on site. He is also a board member of Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities, an organization for promoting the use of alternative fuels.
“To adapt to our younger customers, we have also changed the way we communicate. We text them, send quotes by email, send pictures of needed repairs to their phones and generally have established our business as one that will always be current with all the technologies needed to fix their cars,” he said.
Chuck has found the Bosch Car Service credit card to be particularly suitable for this group. First, it can only be used for purchasing automotive parts and service at participating Bosch Car Service facilities. Second, the customer can take advantage of promotional financing on all qualifying purchases. So, if multiple repairs are needed on several cars throughout the month, for example, and each one meets the minimum purchase amount, the customer would qualify again for the same benefit. Not to mention that the credit card can still be used for smaller purchase amounts.
Finally, authorized users can be added to a Bosch Service credit card account, so all family members can have a way to pay for necessary car repairs at their own pace, while still ensuring the credit card is a dedicated way to manage those expenses and only those expenses.
What Does Not Change
What does not change though, is his focus on delivering outstanding customer service. This involves taking special care to communicate to his staff that they are primarily in the business of solving the issues that a broken down car can cause its owner. His advice to his staff is: if the customer needs transportation, suggest a reduced price rental; if they are overwhelmed by the repair cost, sign them up for the Bosch Car Service credit card; if they can’t get here by closing, let them pay by phone and pick up the vehicle after hours.
“My customers really appreciate the help we offer in sorting out the logistics of being without their cars,” Chuck said.
According to him, adapting to his customers’ needs is key to the way he does business. “We want to be the first call when a car problem occurs and have our customers be confident that we will resolve their problem honestly, quickly and with a minimal amount of drama.”
For information on the Bosch Car Service network, visit www.boschcarservice.us/Pages/Overview.aspx.
Article courtesy of Shop Owner.