Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2014   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Master Mechanic High Park

Service operation puts a premium on customer relationship building, being active in the community

The traditional route of starting or taking over a service operation is as follows: a technician is working at a service operation and after some years sees an opportunity to start their own business; or the technician is approached by the current owner where they work and has been asked to take over the business as the owner has decided it is time to retire.

Over the last decade, a new breed of owner is starting to become more noticeable. This is an owner who often is not a technician or service writer. More often, this new owner is someone who has worked in another field entirely. They approach automotive service as a unique and challenging business opportunity, where they can bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm.

Josie Candito, co-owner of Master Mechanic High Park, does not come with a history of working in the automotive services; nor does she come from a family that has worked in the automotive trade. She instead worked for over a decade at the head office of Master Mechanic, a private corporation established in 1982 as a franchisor to the automotive aftermarket. The company has 39 locations in Southern Ontario. She started off in the accounting department, but enjoyed being involved with new shop start-ups, and all aspects of franchisee customer service.

Working in the head office piqued her interest in operating her own service operation. When the location for this Master Mechanic became available some fifteen years ago, she decided to make the move. “I really liked the location, community and its mix of people,” she says. “I wanted to have my own business and be an entrepreneur.”.

Master Mechanic High Park is located on the cusp of Toronto’s Roncesvalles and Dundas West communities. These communities are rapidly changing, from what was once light industrial to one with new families, condominiums and a growing local and international reputation for being the home of unique shops, cafes and restaurants. These communities are also home to many newly arrived Canadians who are attracted by the schools, family-oriented neighbourhoods and the services that help them navigate their way in their new home country.

Josie is strongly community oriented, being an active member in BIAs, community projects, schools, safety issues and a strong supporter and fundraiser for programs supporting local animal rescues and shelters. She also sponsors popular sites as the High Park Zoo and worked with the Toronto StreetArt program to create a mural paying tribute to the zoo. The shop recently held a well-attended safety and charity event to raise money for a centre supporting women and children living with domestic abuse and a local animal shelter. The event featured Toronto police officers helping to properly install children’s seats and local entertainers. The highlight of the event was musician/producer Daniel Lanois performing from a rooftop across the street. Josie’s technicians and head office personnel answered questions about vehicle repair and maintenance.

Josie also spends a lot of her personal time promoting local activities and local events such as the Polish Festival, Roncy Rocks, The Junction Farmer’s Market and The Junction Musical Festival. She advocates for small businesses and is currently working with MP Peggy Nash to introduce legislation to protect small businesses from online review websites.

Josie, along with her business partner, Mike Tavares, says that the key to success comes down to making the customer comfortable the minute they walk thru the door. Being that the automotive repair is a grudge purchase it is the service operation’s job to ease the customer through all aspects of the repair process. Relieving customer anxiety and making them comfortable during this process is essential.

“What makes people loyal to their hairdresser, doctor or dentist? It’s the comfort, trust, reliability, and the personal relationship they have developed with them,” Josie continues. “However, there is a tendency in our industry for customers to bounce around from repair facility to repair facility. Why is this happening? We need to work towards giving customers this similar connection they have with other professionals they are loyal to.”

The service writer and technicians are encouraged to know customers by name, to take the time to listen and answer all questions about their vehicles. The technicians will often show the customer the worn parts on the car before the work is preformed, and explain why they need to be replaced. If the customer is not there, the technician will take photos and text or email the photos to the customer, and keep them up-to-date on the status of their vehicle. Knowing that the vehicle is important to many for getting to work, picking up children and running errands, Josie’s team makes sure to work with people’s schedules. If someone needs the vehicle by a certain time, they make sure to have the car ready by then. She and her team even help customers budget and prioritize repairs and maintenance work.

“I get to know my clients, call all my customers back after each repair and the customer knows who has worked on their car,” Josie continues. “I listen and empathize with my customers, understanding their requests, schedules and expectations. Listening to your customer is vital. Did they just lose their job or experience a recent tragedy, or are they are just having a bad day? I want the customer to feel at ease from the first phone call to when they walk into the shop. What I have learned is that you need to develop a personal connection with each customer and earn the customer’s respect through customer service, honest reporting and quality repairs. I want the customer to know we care about them and their car.”

Josie and her team of three technicians, apprentice and a co-op student take regular training through programs such program as NAPA Excellence. She works closely with local high schools to recruit apprentices from the school programs. She believes in providing up to date equipment and tools so the technicians can do their jobs efficiently and turn around cars on a timely basis.

She is part of the Master Mechanic Advisory Council and organized a Master Mechanic forum where franchisees can discuss issues and exchange ideas about improving customer service.

“Our mechanics provide an essential service, but are sometimes underappreciated in our industry. May we all continue to strive to give the best customer service we possibly can and transform the negative perceptions of our industry,” Josie adds.

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