Auto Service World
Feature   September 21, 2009   by CARS Magazine


You can boost your bottom line by embracing an ancillary business that has nothing to do with repairs and maintenance.

 By David Menzies

John Cochrane doesn’t want to give his customers any excuse whatsoever to stray elsewhere for their automotive needs. And for good reason: once departed, those customers might never come back to Cochrane Automotive.
While the lion’s share of billings for Cochrane’s 10-bay Toronto shop is for maintenance and repairs, Cochrane also sells and installs a complete line of auto accessories to keep customers happy in case they have a sudden urge to upgrade their vehicles.
Thus, if a client wants heated seats installed – no problem. iPod integration? Piece of cake. Engine immobilzer, remote starter or a kick-ass stereo system? All one has to do is ask.
Indeed, the list of accessories goes on – and on. Cochrane’s shop will also install in-dash navigation systems and overhead DVD players; satellite radio and cruise-control; power windows and power locks; security systems and rearview cameras. You name it, Cochrane Automotive likely sells, services and installs it. And there’s a sign strategically posted in the shop’s waiting area reminding customers of this fact.
Indeed, while Cochrane doesn’t remotely resemble Xzibit, he’s ready, able and willing to pimp your ride.
“It [accessory line] is all about offering our customers bumper-to-bumper service,” says Cochrane. “I don’t want to give my clients any reason to leave my shop to get accessory work done elsewhere.”
Cochrane notes that due to the electronic and computer complexity of today’s modern vehicles, an increasing number of consumers want aftermarket accessories to be installed by qualified professionals. Meanwhile, installing such equipment doesn’t require any additional training or skill-set development by Cochrane’s technicians as the work is outsourced to MASS. Electronics.
“They [MASS installers] really know their game,” says Cochrane.
In addition to selling and installing various aftermarket automotive accessories, sometimes it makes sense for a repair shop to piggyback the core business with a sideline.
Three years ago, Christine Henderson, owner of Henderson Automotive in Hampton, Ont., noticed it was hard to source NASCAR paraphernalia in her area. So, Henderson took a gamble and purchased a complete inventory of NASCAR products, ranging from baseball caps and T-shirts to die-cast models and leather jackets. She also purchased time on a couple of local radio stations to promote the shop’s NASCAR merchandise.
Henderson’s hunch paid off. Today, the NASCAR product line accounts for 10% of her shop’s overall revenue. And Henderson says she’s snagged at least four new regular automotive customers who were originally drawn to her shop to purchase NASCAR items.
“We always have these great discussions in the shop about how can we get more people in the door,” says Henderson. “Selling the NASCAR merchandise was our first big idea – and it worked.”
Likewise, George Soros of Universal Auto Techs in Richmond Hill, Ont.was looking for something to lure would-be customers into his shop. His solution: Soros operates a subsidiary business wherein he rents U-Haul vehicles and sells moving supplies.
While he admits that running the U-Haul business “can sometimes be a pain in the ass,” the moving supplies business has proven to be extremely profitable. Better yet, Soros estimates that in the past five years, his side business was responsible for bringing in 30 new regular customers to his auto shop.
“It [U-Haul business] has been a good thing because they [U-Haul clients] discover we’re also here for their cars,” says Soros. “It’s all about creating awareness for our shop.”
For Rob Scott, owner of Glenwood Auto Service in Saskatoon, running an ancillary business is a key component when it comes to attracting a whole new type of clientele.
Hoping to snag more maintenance and repair work from high-end Asian and European vehicles, Scott decided to open a detailing shop. While the detailing business was a money-loser for the first five years, it nevertheless served a marketing purpose.
“We could tell the owner of a late-model Lexus that he didn’t have to take his car to the dealership for maintenance work – we could do it all right here for him,” says Scott, noting that owners of high-end imported vehicles are likely candidates to take advantage of detailing services.
If anything, the investment in the detailing business as well as other marketing initiatives has paid off for Scott’s shop. Six years ago, foreign nameplates represented about 18% of his business; today, this figure stands at 35% – and growing.
Sometimes a piggybacked business might have absolutely nothing to do with the automotive trade. For example, later this month, Jessica Gilbank, owner of Ms Lube in Toronto, is opening a yoga studio/art gallery on the second floor of her shop.
Gilbank says she’s renting out the 2,200-sq.-ft. space to yoga and Wen-Do instructors for a nominal fee. All of the classes will be booked by the instructors, which means Gilbank won’t have to divert her attention from the automotive business. As for the art gallery, Gilbank says this is her way of creating goodwill by “giving back to the community.”
However, Gilbank isn’t entirely being motivated by altruism: she predicts the yoga studio/art gallery will mean Ms Lube will capture “10 new customers a month – easy.”
As well, later this year, Gilbank is dedicating an area in her shop that will be dedicated to dent and scratch removal. In addition to being a profit centre for her shop, she notes that customers are so time-famished today that if a shop can be a place that caters to one-stop shopping, “they [customers] will love you for that.”

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