Shop of the Week is a weekly column devoted to showcasing the efforts of automotive shops and their teams across Canada. Want your shop to have a turn in the spotlight? Send an email to email@example.com!
Name: Debbie and Milton Dennie
Shop name: Advance Automotive
Location: Perth, Ontario
Number of employees: 6 including owners
When did you open your shop? August 2000
Specialty: We specialize in transmission & differential diagnosing and rebuilds, as well as engine rebuilds, and carbureted engine vehicles.
Main parts supplier: NAPA
What has been your biggest challenge as a shop this year and how have you navigated through them?
DD: A fire broke out at the end of December 2019, which left us without an office for three quarters of the way into 2020. Thankfully, we had two security alarm systems which allowed us to react swiftly, leaving the bays untouched. We have the most amazing customers and one of the companies which we look after, RK. Porter Construction, surprised us with an 80′ office trailer within 24 hours. So many customers and colleagues made sure that we were well taken care of.
Our technicians, service writer, and on-site bookkeeper were back to work in just two hours. They insisted on taking care of our customers, while we looked after the office.
Navigating a rebuild through lockdown due to COVID-19 was also incredibly challenging. At the time, the laws in place during the lockdown were blurry, and as we all waited for clarification, Milton and I started tackling the tear down ourselves once we had the building permit. We spent the summer working our way through the renovations while working with other companies as they became available to do their specialty jobs. It was completed and we moved back in the new office in September.
What’s your biggest success story this year?
DD: Our biggest success story may be very different than what most might say. There was nothing “normal” about 2020. Our biggest success was the way everyone stepped up to do the only thing that could save us as a family and as a business. We reached out to a life coach/psychotherapist to gain support for our business. It was a long shot, but one I felt was the only option for us at the time–I just hoped everyone would be on board. I read many bios to do with coaches until I found one that sounded like it would fit our family and business. It was the greatest gift the family/employees could ever give to each other. The time, respect, and love to salvage what had been lost due to a fire, COVID-19 and little typical issues that are true of any business.
We all attended many meetings alone, as couples, and together as a team. It was (and still is) hard work and lots of compromising, and we are all learning to respect each other’s different thoughts and fears. On top of that, we’ve learned how to have a healthy conversation about the hard things and learn how to take constructive ideas and advice. I’d like to give a big thanks to Veronica at Aruma, because never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that one person could take eight different personalities and make us all think, share and laugh during meetings while talking about something so life changing such as the pandemic.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
DD: COVID-19 had a huge impact on our business as it followed right in behind the office fire. We had to let our female staff members go home to tend to their children as babysitters were shutting down. I took over their positions while my husband continued renovations, and the two technicians did what they needed to do to keep the customers safe on the road and the costumers with essential businesses getting to and from work.
Working from the trailer made communication hard as internet and cell phones did not always cooperate as it was a temporary fix. We had to get creative for customers as they were not being permitted in the trailer for everyone’s safety. The big scare came from the lack of PPE; we were going through a ton of wipes and gloves like every other garage and the jobbers could not keep up. The jobbers were doing their best to get everyone what they could, but their hands were tied.
All this put a tremendous strain on all four employees as our employees are two couples, two husbands and their wives. The wives were at home looking after children and all the while worrying about their spouses, as well as the financial stability of the business and the community which also would impact our business. As a team, we considered closing up shop and going home if our PPE were to run out, and what that might look like in the long run. Thanks to our amazing off-site bookkeeper, Katy, at K.T. Bookkeeping, that didn’t happen.
What kinds of digital technology are you currently using/implementing?
DD: Some of our most successful sources of technology vary from office to the technicians. In the office we use Mitchell 1 Pro Demand, linked with QuickBooks and different apps. We took a course in Nashville on the Mitchell 1 to reap all it has to offer. Our customers really love to communicate by cellphone, specifically, texting.
The service writer uses it to send estimates, gather authorization, and keep the customers updated at all times. The technicians like a variety of scan tools. The Snap On Brick is still used to this day in our business. They also have a couple OTC Scanners, lab scopes, Autel Elite, and right now, they’re very interested in checking out the Lankar and what it has to offer in the near future.
Each employee can also book in jobs on a shared calendar, and we have a 24/7 text service that allows customers to reach out to us and get a response in a matter of hours. We are also enjoying Facebook’s business page feature; it works well as a form of advertising, because in our area, everyone either recognizes or knows of someone who knows you in our small community of just over 6,000 people!
If you could see one change in the aftermarket, what would it be?
DD: The need for a two or three-tier pricing system for the automotive shops from the auto part supply stores. We love the employees that work at our part supply stores although they are undervalued in our opinion in our Napa and Benson stores from levels above. They are some of the hardest working, kindest, and smartest people. I believe there should be a three-tier system that should consist of pricing, like something along this line:
– A registered automotive business
– Backyard repair person
– DIY repair person
I have absolutely nothing against these other options for repair, as long as it isn’t working on safety components without a license. What is frustrating is when the person walking in off the street gets product for the exact same price as a shop that puts out thousands of dollars. A walk-in person can purchase front brake pads and rotors for $250 and spends maybe $1,000 per year at a jobber store but an automotive shop will spend an easy $180,000 per year in a two-bay garage in one store, and it will cost the repair shop the same $250. This is where the public is getting the mindset that the automotive repair industry is over charging.
Tell me an interesting fact about your shop?
DD: Advance Automotive is always doing fund-raising campaigns to support our local community. In three hours, we raised more than $1,800 for the Canadian Cancer Society. We also recently wrapped up a foodbank drive. Our purpose was to bring attention to the importance of supporting local businesses, while drawing attention to their local storefronts. Absolutely hands down, the thing we are most proud of is how we are all friends with many other shops, dealerships, Canadian Tire Service Centre, and all employees at part supply stores in our local and surrounding towns. We treasure our relationship with them!
Name a part/product you and your team are particularly enjoying this month?
DD: I would have to say that these days, the tool that is coming in handy is the digital battery and system tester with printer. The printout allows the customer to see the health of their battery and charging, which alerts them whether or not they need to replace it, charge it, or leave it. It also measures the voltage and provides an estimate on the remaining battery life. Vehicles are sitting at home more than usual , and customers are having issues with batteries.
Well done Advance Automotive with the comments on tiered parts store pricing. I’m sure the parts stores already have tiered pricing but unfortunately they give the DIYer’s the shops level of pricing far to often for the sale. Another issue with the parts stores are their price matrix does not make sense. I have seen aftermarket parts wholesale price triple the cost of OEM pricing, and they just keep raising the prices. We all need to concentrate on keeping these vehicles on the road affordably for a longer period of time, rather than gouging the consumer right back to the dealer for a new car or forcing the consumer to becoming a DIYer.