The Garage seems such a nondescript name for a service operation that has a four-generation history of service and commitment for the Vancouver area, and being one of the outstanding independents in Canada. The Garage got its name from the fact that it still resembles, with its bright blue roof and white walls, a traditional gasoline station; and though the pumps are long gone, the canopied pump island stands with a bench instead.
What has remained constant has been the Tremblay’s adherence to providing the highest level of customer service and care every day, and continuing the family’s legacy by building on the principle that vehicle maintenance is more than fluid flushes and oil changes.
“Back 30 years ago, the frequency of vehicle visits created a very lucrative and profitable business model, one which you did not have to do much marketing or advertising, because everyone’s car broke down,” said Ronald Tremblay, owner of The Garage and now a full-time Implementation Coach with Total Automotive Consulting and Training Inc. (TACT). “Today, cars perform well for longer periods of time and are more complicated to figure out, so the business model has changed. The older model of having your door open six-days-a-week and being available when a customer needs help is now ineffective for successful business and customer care.”
That new model is one Ronald built from the lessons learned when he decided to take a series of management and shop courses with David Meunier’s TACT group. Ronald Tremblay describes himself as similar to every other owner and technician in Canada: driven, but not wanting to let go; always doing too many things as once, in the bays and on the front desk; and fearing at the same time that if he turned his attention away for even a minute, everything would fall apart.
What Ronald Tremblay learned was to put in systems and procedures that not only streamlined the lines of communications between the service advisors and the technicians in the bays, but allowed him to focus more on growing the business by moving it away from primarily breakdown work to long-term, profitable maintenance work and proper diagnostics.
This involved several things, one being educating the customer. It is simply taking the time to help the customer understand the maintenance and parts replacement requirements of their vehicle. This puts a stop to any surprises about what has to be done to maintain a vehicle by properly diag- nosing problems before they result in an expensive breakdown. The Garage invests heavily in new diagnostic equipment and in ongoing training of its technicians so as to be able to diagnose and fix advanced electronic and computer problems on new vehicles.
“Thirty-years-ago, the amount of time needed for diagnosis was about 10 per cent of the day,” said Ronald Tremblay. “Today diagnosing can consume as much as half of a technician’s day. You need specialized tools and a variety of other high-end equipment in order to communicate with the vehicle so you can do your job and to be able to stand behind your evaluation of the situation with the vehicle”
The customer education and promotion of maintenance plans also means changing the ratio of service advisors to technicians. In The Garage, there are 2.5 service advisors for the four technicians. Why?
It is a truism that many shops are not reaching their full potential and profitability. While a shop may look busy, with technicians busily working in the bays and the service advisor handling calls and customer inquires, that frantic activity covers what in reality is a shop that is only generating a meager revenue and profit stream. The problem is work is not allocated accordingly to best utilize the full potential and time of the technicians and the shop’s staff.
What Ronald Tremblay learned and implemented was a Rack Workflow system, clearly visible in The Garage’s waiting area.
“This system is a visual demonstration for our customers and staff that we are highly organized and committed to our promises of time management,” said Ronald Tremblay “Our technicians, service advisors and manager, in a glance, know exactly how our day is going and how to contribute to its success. The Rack Workflow captures all the details for proper management and lower levels of stress for everyone. Things go well even when the manager is off site for periods of time.”
The result is a shop that generates higher profits, productivity of 85 to 90 per cent and customers that are getting the best value from the technicians. Ronald Tremblay soon found he could pull himself away from the business knowing that it would run smoothly, and he could devote himself fully to taking the lessons he learned to other shops by becoming an implementation coach with TACT. In 2009, he turned to his son Graeme to take over the full-timer operation of The Garage.
“It was unbelievable,” Graeme Tremblay said. “It was something I always wanted to do, ever since I was 10-years-old.”
Graeme is the newest-generation of Tremblays to take the helm of the family-owned operation: “My Great Grandfather in 1934, Alfred “The Chief” Joseph Tremblay began Tremblay Motors at 4th and MacDonald, a full service Chevron Station. In 1981, my grandpa, Alfred Ronald Tremblay expanded to 16th and MacDonald. My grandpa operated that location until he retired in 1995 and merged the business with “The Garage” at 24th and MacDonald which my dad, Ronald Tremblay started in 1984. While I am taking on the leadership of The Garage, my second cousin, Brad Tremblay, is taking over leadership of the original Tremblay Motors from his dad, Sam Tremblay, also 3rd and 4th generation Tremblays”
While only 25-years-old, Graeme Tremblay learned the trade honestly, starting with doing jobs around the shop to working with the technicians, then going on and apprenticing and becoming licensed while taking courses in shop management and shop operations.
Still, taking on the responsibility of running a full-time business had a unique set of challenges: the most critical was not running the business from a technician’s point-of-view, but from the point-of-view of a business manager and owner.
“The bays are still very close to me and it is very easy to shift into a technician’s point-of-view when I’m in the shop,” Graeme Tremblay said. “I had to take some business training to know to run things from a ‘business’ point-of-view.”
There is a reason to know what this is and why it is important. Almost all technicians want and many do move onto operating their own shops. The problem is being a business owner requires a different mindset than that of a technician: it requires knowledge of how to manage staff, time management skills, budgets and workflow, while resisting the temptation to run into the bays to help.
Doing so creates too many tensions and divides one attention away from what should be the main responsibility of an owner — operating a profitable business.
“How I put a stop to that is to show up to work in clothes that were much too nice to do that kind of thing,” Graeme Tremblay said. “That was the best thing I did, to start wearing appropriate business clothing to work. It helped me to discipline myself to not run into the bays at every little thing. I was not dressed appropriately to work on a car.”
One result of this business-point-of-view is the Concern-Cause-Correction process. Graeme Tremblay describes it as identifying what the vehicle owner’s concern is, identifying the cause and correcting that concern.
“This is very dependent on the service advisor’s skill in listening to the customer and then offering ways to address the concern, from maintenance service to diagnostic service. If there are other issues, the service advisor will talk to the technician about possible courses of action, and then the work is placed in the Rack Workflow.”
Once the vehicle work is completed, the staff will vacuum and wash the vehicle in order to further enhance the owner’s experience. Graeme sai d those final touches give the owner pride of ownership in their vehicle.
What has also helped The Garage has been the growing relationship with NAPA and access to its training and support programs. The Garage began as a client of Auto Marine Electric which later became UAP/NAPA and by 2002 began to make NAPA part of its supplier network for parts.
“A pivotal moment came in 2008 when TACT Inc. with PROShop Manager and NAPA’s close partnership came into the equation,” said Chris Thorne, national sales and marketing manager, Banners for NAPA Canada. “NAPA had a true interest in helping them win as automotive service business owner. At the time, they had experienced the PROShop Manager difference and they saw the value of accessing our operational, marketing, image programs and NAPA store support via the NAPA AUTOPRO network which made the ongoing relationship even stronger. In 2008, they attended the NAPA AUTOPRO 25th anniversary celebration in Cancun, Mexico and from that point on they became an active NAPA AUTOPRO network member that we are very proud to be associated with.”