Having opened Shannon Family Automotive four short years ago, co-owners Larry and Colleen Shannon, who are only in their early 30s, have learned a thing or two about running a successful independent automotive repair shop. First: Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.
“When we were looking for a service writer, we really struggled with finding a qualified person who would be trainable to our way of doing things,” Colleen explains. “After four failed hirings, we turned to a local HR consulting firm. They helped us to define the characteristics and abilities we were looking for, then they renamed the position and wrote the job posting.”
The firm took care of reviewing resumes, conducting phone interviews and also had applicants complete a compatibility questionnaire to narrow down the pool of candidates to six.
“While it certainly cost some money to use this service, it was worth every penny because we hired someone who is a perfect fit for our shop and has all the qualities we were looking for,” Colleen says. “We anticipate her having a life-long career at our shop.”
The couple currently employs two techs, who primarily work on Honda, Toyota, Acura and Lexus models at the Folsom, CA, shop, but they’ve expanded operations quickly going from two bays to five bays after only 18 months in business. And they’re looking to expand once again within the next six months. Increased business has necessitated adding a third tech to the mix.
Not satisfied with the blind-interview approach of candidates through online job posting sites, Larry says they have taken a different approach when it comes to hiring new technicians.
“We mostly rely on the drivers of tool trucks to send us names of potential employees,” he says. “These guys understand our business model and know what we’re looking for in a technician. They also know what we do not want in a tech, so in a sense, they pre-screen local applicants for us.”
Paid to Train
Once hired, Larry and Colleen strive to offer the right balance of benefits and perks to keep employees engaged and happy in their positions. They allow them to use the shop for side jobs on the weekends or after work, and offer above-average wages. They also recently started to provide employees with training videos they can watch at home — and be paid for their time to learn.
“We’ve created a workplace that takes our employees’ well-being into consideration at all times,” Colleen says. “We strive to treat our employees with respect and to keep the doors of communication open.
“We also allow our employees to choose their own training,” she continues. “We present them with opportunities and will pay for any training they take.”
In addition, Larry says they are in the process of implementing a team bonus incentive program to help increase shop profitability.
“We plan to give the entire team a percentage of the increase, beginning with 10% for up to a $3,000 increase, and capping at 20% of a $10,000 increase,” he explains. “We’ve designed the program to increase not only teamwork but efficiency as well.”
Tools of the Trade
Overcoming objections is a common problem shop owners face. The Shannons have met this head on by using a tablet system from Bolt On Technology that takes the “hard sell” out of the repair process. The software includes an inspection system that shows the customer in digital clarity what’s wrong with their vehicle.
“The tablet system has streamlined our inspection process and increased our ability to document needed repairs,” Larry explains. “Through the tablet, we can directly text customers pictures of broken parts or leaks, as well as before-and-after pictures of completed work.”
The couple also takes advantage of modern technology in the form of a clean, easy-to-navigate website that was up and running before they even opened the doors.
“Our website is an important component of our business,” Colleen says. “We do not advertise in any print media and don’t even include our phone number in phonebooks! Our website is the first impression new customers have of our business, and we take that very seriously. In the four years we’ve been open, we have updated and redesigned our website three times. It is our intention to continually update our site and keep it fresh and interesting.”
The Shannons also pay close attention to shop appearance, making sure that it’s not only a great place to work, but that it’s an inviting space for customers. The office space is extremely clean and the décor appeals to their target demographic of women and families.
“We have granite counter tops and cherry furniture with cream-colored cushions,” Colleen says. “We also maintain a high level of cleanliness throughout the shop and office space. Our shop floor is covered in high-grade epoxy and is thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis. Technicians are required to clean up spills quickly and to use the floor washing machine on their individual work area after a messy job.
“We have windows from our waiting room into the shop, which keeps us accountable to our customers for a clean environment,” she continues. “We have even hosted a local Folsom Chamber of Commerce training meeting at our shop and were told over and over how amazingly clean our shop is! We really do strive to create an environment that puts people at ease and takes the fear out of car repairs.”
Larry says the staff at Shannon Family Automotive does its best to provide exceptional customer service, which is evidenced by customers who “can’t stop talking about us.” The dynamic duo did extensive market research before choosing where to open their shop, which they say has helped them define their target market. This, in turn, helps them make clear decisions regarding where and how to promote their business.
“Treating customers with integrity and respect is critical to building good, long-lasting relationships,” Larry says. “We view each customer with long-term potential and do what we can to take care of each person as an individual. We are flexible with appointments and friendly in our communication, stressing always that we want what’s best for the customer.”
So effective is their customer-oriented approach that the shop was recognized as the 2014 “Business of the Year” by the Folsom Chamber of Commerce, which the Shannons can’t say enough about in terms of bolstering their place in the local community.
“This organization has created numerous opportunities for us to network and build relationships with other local business owners,” Colleen says. “It has put us in close proximity to city officials who were helpful in the permitting process when we had to move and expand our shop. Many members of the Chamber have become customers who tirelessly recommend our shop to people in the community. Some of the most useful connections have been with dentists and real estate agents.”
Having built the shop on a solid foundation of quality repairs and customer service, Larry is quick to point out that shop owners should never be afraid to make a fair profit on the work they provide.
“It’s important to believe in the value of the service being provided,” he concludes. “We do not give coupons or discounts because we are entitled to earn a fair profit on every job we do. Having a low profit margin does not help keep our shop in business, and it does not help us retain customers either. By building in the value of what we do and communicating that to our customers — who trust us and know we care about them — we are able to keep our profit margins up and the business flowing in.
“We are not the cheapest shop in town, but we are the best.”