Success comes from putting the customer first, building long-term relationships
As long as Garage of the Year has been in SSGM there have always been disagreements. Why one shop is chosen over another equally worthy shop; why is an independent chosen over a banner-branded shop; or a banner-branded shop over an independent. Why one criterion is more important than another? Then there are the conspiracy theories as to the winner, luckily none involving a grassy knoll or authorship over a disputed text.
I expect this year’s choice will bring about the same debates. But one thing we have always put front-and-centre when we decide on a Garage of the Year is: does the shop represent what is best in this industry? And this year’s choice certainly does represent what this industry does best. From the moment one enters the Meineke Car Care Centre on Hwy. 7 in Vaughan, Ontario you understand that it puts the vehicle owner first. You are greeted at the door immediately by service writers who ask how they can help. If they are with other clients, they tell you they will be with you shortly and offer you a coffee or espresso. The waiting area is clean, modern . . . dare we say even inviting with a fireplace and comfortable chairs, a play area for children. There is free WiFi and a large screen television tuned to local news and entertainment programs. If a child wants to watch a favorite channel the staff is more than happy to find the station.
Yes this shop is new, but spend time with the expert technicians and the three partners, and you can see they have studied what makes a good service operation and they have applied it from the very beginning.
Meineke franchisee Cam Campli, together with franchise partners Andrew Jackson and Wendel Clark, places a high premium on communication and building customer trust.
“What we emphasise to all the technicians and our service writers is to communicate well with the customer, explain clearly and intelligently what the technicians have discovered about their vehicle, what is recommended and give them the information they need to make an intelligent choice for the services they need for their vehicle,” Campli says. “One thing we really put a high premium on here at this shop is customer education. Not every customer understands what is happening with their vehicle so we try to spend that time educating them, on such things as the importance of winter tires or using a high-quality motor oil for an oil change, as examples.”
Campli, who with wife Rita operates another Meineke Car Care Centre in Richmond Hill, Ontario, says vehicle owners today are not necessarily focused on getting the lowest price, as many might expect. They are instead focused on quality and building a relationship with a trusted team of professionals who will protect their vehicle investment. Relationship building is a key part of the Meineke philosophy.
“Take something like brakes,” Campli continues. “I initially thought people would focus on price, so like many, we offered a three-tiered pricing formula. What we soon discovered is that we became more successful when we moved to providing a quality, warranty-backed brake and rotor combination, and had our service writers explain to customers the advantages of installing high-quality friction and rotors. The service writers take the time to explain to the customer about brake wear, the importance of quality friction and rotors and why replacing them together is important, and the lifetime warranty that comes with certain components. Simply, it benefits the customer. By using quality parts, it prevents comebacks and it benefits us as it keeps those customers coming back to us for other vehicle work. They see we care about them, the investment they made in their vehicle and that we will provide them with the best parts and service for them.”
Using quality parts is especially important for the high end nameplate vehicles that make up a large percentage of the work coming into the shop. These owners often insist on OE-spec parts as recommended in their manuals. Valvoline’s synthetic motor oils and fluids are the brand of choice, as well as Dexos-rated oils, and Bosch and Mann+Hummel are clearly favoured by these owners for filters. Campli ensures that these brands are always in stock and easily accessible to the technicians in their work areas. The work areas are regularly cleaned and free of tools or equipment lying about when not in use. There are six active bays, with one dedicated to fleet and heavy-duty trucks. Access doors are on either side of the bays allowing easy access for vehicles.
Campli says he and his team also put a premium on keeping the technicians up-to-date on the latest vehicle technologies and having them take regular training. Meineke offers a range of online training programs and the technicians are encouraged to take full advantage of them, as well as programs offered by local parts suppliers and manufacturers. He and his team have regular weekly meetings with the service writers and technicians, reviewing the operations and looking for ways to improve the service.
Campli, Jackson and Clark have high praise for the technicians who work at the shop.
“Our master technician Jim, who has 35 years of experience, has not found a car he could not diagnose, in the time that we have been open,” Campli says. “We recently had a high end vehicle come here that the dealership could not diagnose. It had an O2 sensor wire that was arcing with another wire, but where those two wires were coming into contact was not visible. It was, in fact, behind the firewall. The owner complimented us that his car had gone back to the dealership several times as they tried to learn where the problem was that caused the O2 sensor issue.
“They could not find it — but Jim did. The care and expertise that Jim showed is the level of what we want here in the bays from all our team.”
Keeping vehicle owners coming back with quality service is one thing. Engaging with them is another and that is where Jackson and Clark come in. Both bring a wealth of experience in leveraging new communications strategies and promotional expertise to the table.
Said Meineke Canada president Duane Arbeau, “Wendel serves as a great ambassador to the Meineke brand. In addition to being a franchisee, he attends franchise shows with us and goes above and beyond to help. He also serves as our national spokesperson and helps us with retail sales and promotions. We just finished filming some commercials with Wendel that we are very excited about. He is well-recognized and respected across Canada. With the Meineke brand, we think that’s a pretty powerful combination.”
“Because Andrew and I are in the promotional end of the business, we are working to raise the profile of the shop and use social media to drive business,” Clark says. “We are working right now to develop processes to increase customer retention. We worked on developing the visual presentation of the shop, how to make customers feel comfortable coming to us with their problems and we are using Facebook and Twitter, for example, to engage with our customers.”
The Meineke shop has been particularly effective in growing their customer email database, through the Meineke EClub program with over 50 per cent of their customers supplying emails. The emails are used to not only send customer service reminders, but to solicit feedback.
“I respond directly to emails from customers,” says Campli. “I see that as a necessary part of customer relationship building.” Campli adds customers are pleasantly surprised by his answering their queries and that he takes their feedback seri
ously; and he will respond to them right away, even if it is at eleven in the evening, as he recently did with one customer who emailed him.
“She did wonder if I ever slept,” he adds.
In case anyone thinks that Wendel Clark’s role is simply that of a spokesperson, think again. Along with Andrew Jackson, who it turns out is a long-time friend, he sees this Meineke Car Care business as a long-term commitment. He and his partners are looking to open at least two more locations soon and Clark enjoys the work of building the business and interacting with the customers. He says that someday his children might want to think about the business as a career prospect so he is serious in looking to make the business a success, although he does say there was another reason for getting involved in the business with Campli and Jackson.
Said Andrew Jackson, “It’s been lots of fun learning and developing the Meineke business. Having a strong staff is critical. Our focus is on building the right team and to make certain we all support each other.”
“We are trying to turn a Montreal Canadiens fan [Campli] into a Toronto fan,” Clark jokes. “Cam does live in Toronto! The Meineke business is something I want to be around for a long time which is why I moved into an ownership position and I really love working with people.”
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