Six-bay Autopro shop in Prince George is built on the notion that meeting customer needs is the key to repeat business.
By Allan Janssen
The whole team at Gears Plus in Prince George, B.C. From left: Joshua Hoff, David Allworthy, Dan Hoff, Jennifer Hoff, Delaney Tott, Tricia Marusiak, Kaitlyn Hoff, Jacquie Chappelle, James Teer, and Jeff Hoff.
Gears Plus, owned and operated by Jeff and Jen Hoff in Prince George, B.C., is the CARS magazine Shop of the Year for 2017.
Unafraid of change or technology, they’ve recently adopted a sophisticated digital inspection process to streamline inspections and aid communication with customers.
Jeff describes that as the most significant change to the business in the last 12 months.
“The AutoServe1 digital inspection has been instrumental at delivering trust and making our business more transparent,” he says. “It puts the customer safely under the car to see what the technician sees.”
Under the new system, technicians conduct a thorough inspection, inputting what they find directly into a tablet, along with digital images and videos to support their recommendations. Their full report becomes part of an estimate that can be forwarded by service advisors to the client for approval. An educational component offers customers videos that explain how their vehicle works and why maintenance is so important.
“So often when you try to explain anything technical to customers, you can see their eyes glaze over,” says Jeff. “But when they look at the pictures that we send them, they really get it. That’s been huge.”
Service advisor Jacquie Lauzon with Gears Plus customer Vicky Sjohall.
The system also enables greater communication between his service advisors and technicians – a team approach that has been a priority for him from the start.
“We’ve designed our operation to be hyper efficient,” he says. “We just spool it up. It’s so streamlined, with the technicians doing their thing, and the service advisors dealing with the customers, combining the work orders, ordering all the parts. As you finish one job you can just get going on the next. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
The staff go through a checklist every night to review how things went during the day, and figure out what’s going to happen tomorrow. They call it the “playlist” with color-coded jobs blocked off so that everyone knows how it’s going to roll out.
Because they work on a lot of late-model vehicles, Jeff has prioritized training and tooling. He arranges for a high-profile trainer, Dave Hurtubise at Hi-Tektraining, to come in at least four times a year to spend a couple of days with the staff.
“I’ll bring him in for a consultation or I’ll specify exactly what it is we’re looking for. Other times he’ll bring the curriculum,” says Jeff. “Too often shop owners will bitch and whine that they can’t get enough training or it costs too much to do training. But nothing’s stopping us from getting into action and making it happen. It’s not cheap but it’s worth it.”
Jeff (centre with technicians David Allworthy (left) and James Teer.
He raves about the strength of his technical team. He joins the techs on the floor most days, rolling up his sleeves and tackling the work with them.
“Our mechanical aptitude is second to none,” he says. “We get excited about difficult jobs. Personally, I can’t wait to kick the pants off that job! In my mind, it’s already fixed. My whole team has that confidence. All we need is approval to get going and then, stay out of our way!
When he’s not fixing cars, though, he’s running the shop with the latest business tools and management training. For years, he was involved in the ProShop program, run through NAPA by Dave Meunier and Murray Voth.
“I love those guys to death. But I needed a new window to look through so I joined the boys at ShopPros. They’ve been pretty instrumental in bringing in new ways to measure my business and involve my team. That’s been so powerful.”
Jeff Hoff with customer Marie Everett.
And Jeff is more than willing to share what he’s learned. Not only has he participated as an Autopro advisory board member for the Pacific region, he has served as a sector advisory group member for the automotive industry in B.C., assisting in building a training program for apprentices that makes sense for a high-tech industry.
“There were a lot of battles, because people are hung up on history,” he says. “I think history’s important but we’re not teaching a vintage course on the history of the automobile. It’s terrifying that apprentices are still being trained on old technology. Our apprentices have to be able to work on the stuff that is coming into our bays.”
Fixing the vehicle properly and meeting the customer’s need is the key to repeat business, he says.
“A reputation is not built overnight. And it’s not something you can buy or that can be gifted to you. It’s something you have to work for. It is the flywheel concept. You have to stick your shoulder into that flywheel and push, push, push, until eventually it carries its own weight.”
The six-bay Autopro shop was nominated by Eric Dufresne, manager of corporate communications for UAP Inc., who said Jeff and Jen have embraced “all the Autopro programs that allow them to offer great, honest service to their customers.”