In business for almost 10 years, Joe Stephens puts his customers first. Quality repairs keep them coming back – and telling their friends and family.
For Illinois shop owner Joe Stephens, it’s not just about fixing cars. His goal is to not only provide his customers with quality repairs, but to educate them as well. It must be working: Stephens will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of the 6,000-square-foot shop in May.
“The most exciting thing that has happened in my business lately has really been going on for years, and that is seeing and meeting new customers,” says the owner of Stephens Automotive. “Meeting new people, diagnosing their problem, repairing it and seeing them leave happy. They leave happy because if the customer asks me a question about a repair, I take them back to their car and show them the work they need and why. This develops a high level of trust. It also gives me a chance to show off our incredibly squeaky clean shop, which a lot of people think is one of the best-equipped shops in the state.”
Stephens says his shop, staffed by three Master technicians and a service writer, averages 50 repair orders a week. About 65 percent of the work is done on Toyota and Lexus vehicles, but domestics and other imports are also serviced. Rounding out the service schedule are a few fleet accounts consisting of vans and trucks.
“I worked at a local Toyota dealer for approximately seven years before starting my own shop,” Stephens says of his decision to focus on that nameplate. “I’ve employed guys with a Toyota/Lexus background to enhance our Toyota/Lexus expertise, but we also have people who specialize in the domestic repairs, so we cater to all of our customers’ needs.”
The repairs at Stephens Automotive are the result of knowledgeable technicians and the use of quality parts.
“They fit and work the best, and always last,” Stephens says, “so the vehicle gets fixed right.”
One of his biggest challenges, Stephens says, is finding those qualified technicians in an era of increasingly complex vehicles. More training is necessary to use and understand scanners and computer diagnostics.
“Technicians today rate with doctors,” Stephens says of the level of education necessary to diagnose and repair today’s vehicles.
And with the huge expense of the scanner and software updates, Stephens says he recognizes the time his technicians put into diagnosing a problem, and if questioned by a customer, he takes the time to explain why the charges are reasonable. It’s that kind of commitment that keeps customers returning.
“When a customer walks in our door, we listen to them explain the problem they’re having as we fill in our customer check sheet,” Stephens says. “We go to work to diagnose the problem, come up with a fair cost and a completion time, and we call the customer to give them that information.
“We don’t call twice, and we stick to the quote,” he continues. “We really focus on good communication and no curveballs. Our complete checkout by our top-notch staff keeps surprises and comebacks to a minimum.”
Mutual understanding on both the part of the shop and customers, Stephens says, means avoiding putting out fires later. The technician, the service writer and the customer should all be on the same page from start to finish.
And that’s just one bit of advice he would give to any shop owner. He also recommends cleaning up the shop, getting organized and hiring qualified people who reflect your values.
“Hire the energetic, happy, organized tech,” he says, “who wants to get somewhere in his life.”
Last, but not least, Stephens advocates not only spending time growing your business but with your family as well, as his wife, Kimberly, and two children, Joey, 7, and Vanessa, 3, well know.
“Work on the shop running without you,” he says, “so you can go home early to be with your family.”