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

The Auto Guys

St. Thomas operation focuses on quality and its experienced staff to keep customers coming back

Bob Ward decided that there must be a better way of doing things for people looking to get their vehicles serviced. As a long-time veteran of the automotive service trade, having worked in service shops since his days as a university student in the 1980s, Bob has seen how the industry and customers have changed. When he first started, shops competed on price alone, from low-cost oil changes to vehicle brake maintenance and replacement at cut rates. It was a winning formula in those days as vehicles needed more work and service in order to stay on the road. Offering a competitive price or low price meant a steady stream of people rolling into the bays. It didn’t matter if you only saw them once as there were plenty of others behind them.

With today’s vehicles improving in regards to overall parts quality and vehicle owners researching more about what their vehicles need, competing on price is not a winning formula anymore. Bob says when he started the Auto Guys in St. Thomas, Ontario, after being a Midas franchisee for twenty years, he rethought everything about how to operate a service operation and how customers should be looked after.

Bob says, “I wanted to be able to look after all of the customer’s car care needs and to do that we needed to focus on quality of service and having our technicians have the skill level needed to do the work that today’s vehicles require. We focus on the quality of work. Customer service is emerging as a critical differentiator for businesses. When you bring your car into the Auto Guys, we set ourselves apart from the competition by providing services that exceed our customers’ expectations.”

Bob says that begins by first not competing on price or using poor quality parts. In fact, Bob makes that explicit on the Auto Guys web site in a blog posting where he explains the difference between competing on price versus competing on quality. It is best to quote that post in full:

“How many times have we heard, ‘You get what you pay for?’ How true it is! We need to think about value more than price. Automotive parts come in a wide price range that affects quality. Most of the less expensive parts simply do not meet original manufacturer’s specifications. You will sacrifice safety, durability and performance. Professional shops should use professional parts and stand behind them with a professional warranty. When shopping by price, you are not comparing apples to apples. Cheaper price quotes mean cheaper parts quality and cheaper labour quality, plain and simple. Think about this when you are transporting family and friends. Cheaper parts don’t last as long as good parts, so you will be doing some jobs multiple times. This is where value comes in. Do a job with quality parts and you may only do it once.”

Bob explains, “We brand ourselves on our consistently high level of service, our warranties such as our two-year 20,000 km guarantee on everything we do and we insist on only using high quality parts on all the vehicles we service. We refuse to use low quality parts just to save money. Today’s vehicle owners are more educated about what their vehicle needs and are looking to develop long term relationships with service operations. One way of doing so is making sure that service operations offer a consistent level of service and have technicians who are properly trained and licensed.”

“What customers want today more than anything else, is consistency of service,” Bob continues. “Consumers today want us to know them better on a personal level and they want us to know what their vehicle needs when they bring it to us. They want to know that we understand the maintenance and service requirements of their vehicle and to help them maintain that second most expensive investment they have, after their home. Our technicians take each customer out to the bays to show and explain any maintenance or safety concerns with their vehicle. If they aren’t in the shop, we keep in contact by texting, emailing pictures and videos so they know what is going on at all times and feel like they are a part of the process and have more knowledge to make an informed decision.”

The Auto Guys has three licensed technicians working in the service operation’s 3,600 square foot facility. It has five bays, with four frame lifts and one drive-on lift for wheel alignments. The most senior technician has 18 years of experience and Bob says he can tackle any problem thrown at him, no matter how obscure or difficult to diagnose. The next most senior technician has 10 years of experience and his newest technician received his licence last year after coming on board with the Auto Guys during the second year of his apprenticeship. Bob says his technicians are always taking training to stay up-to-date on the latest vehicle technologies, both through online classes offered by such parts providers as ACDelco and hands-on classroom programs.

Bob and his front counter service manager also take regular management training courses.

Bob pays his staff well, but he expects a lot out of them in the way of commitment to their work, ongoing training and their interaction with the customers. He has weekly meetings with the staff to discuss issues and to find ways to improve the service and operations, such as the roll-out of tablet technology for the technicians and service manager.

“Everyone who works here must have good people skills,” Bob says. “They must make the customer feel comfortable coming to us with their vehicle and they must take the time to listen to the customer and to talk intelligently about their vehicle. Simply put, our staff talks to people, not at them.”

One challenge that Bob says the automotive service industry has is finding and retaining the right people. “Too often we hire people just to fill a position and not hire for where we want our business to be in the future. We often hire people who are not suited for the work we want to accomplish and where we want to take the business. We can’t keep thinking about where we are now, but where we want to be 10 years from now.”

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