by Debbie Briggs, contributing writer
Having been a car dealership for 90 years has its benefits. Glenway Auto Center in Cincinnati, OH, opened in 1919 and serviced Chevy vehicles until the doors were shuttered in 2009, in the wake of dealership closings across the country. But, as the saying goes, when one door closes, another often opens and, in this case, it was as an independent repair facility and body shop less than a year later in June 2010.
Co-Owners Phil Purkiser and Mark Ackerman have never forgotten the business’s dealership roots, taking the best of that world and putting a fresh spin on it to become one of the larger independent repair facilities in the greater Cincinnati area, and an ACDelco Professional Service Center (PSC) to boot.
“We have a dedicated customer drive-in lane, where customers drive inside instead of parking their car outside and walking in,” Purkiser says. “Since we used to be a dealer, a lot of our current facility has been set up how we used to operate.”
Rather than reinvent the wheel, Purkiser and Ackerman decided to spruce up an already nice building by taking off old doors and replacing them with glass ones.
“It wasn’t so much improvement, as it was opening it up,” Purkiser says, adding that it’s made for a “bright atmosphere” that customers notice often. “At least once a day, customers will comment about how clean the facility is and make comments about the waiting area, bathroom and drive-up area.”
Do What You Know
The shop still specializes in the repair of GM vehicles, however, the switch to independent has allowed the facility’s eight techs six flat rate and two quick lube to work on all makes and models. Given that expansion, all the technicians are paid to attend training throughout the year.
“All six of my flat-rate technicians are ASE-certified, and we have other General Motors’ certifications as well,” Purkiser says. “I have a couple of guys who are SP2 haz mat certified, and then we just have on-going training by the ton training as far as Hyundai, Kia, Honda and Toyota. We just continuously train on those (nameplates), over a dozen classes a year, at least.”
Reps from suppliers such as ACDelco, NAPA, CARQUEST and Denso will teach classes at the shop on common issues such as driveability. Techs will also take advantage of ACDelco’s interactive distance learning classes. Purkiser is quick to point out that employees are paid to learn.
“They are paid for that training,” he says. “I know I’ve talked to a lot of technicians from other shops, and they don’t get paid for that. I want them to be enthusiastic about taking classes.”
That and a number of other factors help explain why the shop experiences very little turnover.
“We have a great work atmosphere and a very clean facility,” Purkiser points out. “The average number of years our employees have been working for us is 13 years. They go from 28 years down to two.”
How Can We Help You?
Glenway prides itself on catering to long-time and new customers alike, and don’t just take Purkiser’s word for it Google it. Purkiser says their reliance on CRM provider Demandforce has helped them build an impressive customer service rating.
“Demand force follows up the day after we close a repair order, asking that customer via e-mail how their service was and to please rate us,” he explains. “If you Google us, you’ll see a five-star rating (out of five) from more than 800 reviews.”
With the proliferation of smart- phones, Purkiser says they decided to forgo “snail mail” in favor of e-mail and are very aggressive in getting a customer’s e-mail address for all communication. And if you think that approach keeps the shop from having a personfied able reputation, think again. Purkiser says Ackerman routinely visits businesses in the area, live and in person.
“My business partner will actually go from building to building talking to people,” he says. “They all know his face, and they ask for oil change coupons when he comes in. So we’ve created an atmosphere where we’re keeping in touch with people, and we want to make sure they’re keeping in touch with us. We’ve found a lot of new customers that way.”
Vehicle technology isn’t the only area in which a successful shop needs to stay current. Purkiser says he and Ackerman, along with their four service writers, have all attended seminars through the Automotive Training Institute on how to boost profit in business.
“As we’ve attended some of those, we’ve tweaked some of our procedures, as they relate to shop supplies, labor rates, places where we weren’t in the ball game,” he says. “It’s made a substantial increase probably a three- or four-point increase as far as gross profit goes. It doesn’t matter if you’re the owner or the car jockey; you have to be trained to keep up with today’s business.”
Purkiser said the shop was also laid out slightly different during the transition from dealership to independent in order to maximize the shop’s 17 work bays.
“We’ve dedicated just two stalls to doing the quick lubes, which keeps all that fast-moving traffic out of the flat- rate technicians’ stalls,” he says. “That increases our productivity quite a bit by not having the flat-rate technicians working on the oil changes.”
Another change to their 10,000-sq.- ft. building during the transition was the switch from old incandescent lighting fixtures to T5 florescent lighting which uses a quarter of the power of the old bulbs, significantly increasing energy efficiency.
“We also put in oil-burning furnaces, so we don’t have to send our oil offsite and it doesn’t cost us anything to burn it,” he says.
Consistency Is Key
When asked about the shop’s continued success, Purkiser is quick to point out the relationships the shop has developed with ACDelco and the Better Business Bureau.
“It shows that we’re serious about our business,” he says. “We have a high-profile business here, and we expect to keep it that way.”
In addition to those affiliations, Purkiser says consistency has gone a long way in building customer confidence in the shop.
“One of the key factors here is consistency,” he says. “We feel like we’re very good with that. We have the same faces here, the same procedures for every customer who comes in. Customers can expect the same thing every time they come in here clean waiting room, clean bathroom and free coffee. The technicians can expect a clean place to change their clothes, clean stalls to work in and cars to work on.”
Of course, quality repairs are also a large part of the equation, and that’s something you can count on at Glenway Auto Center.
“If you’re not putting out the best product,” Purkiser concludes, “then you probably shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing. With our association with ACDelco, we feel very strongly about the services that we provide.”
It’s a tried and true plan for success that has worked since 1919 and will surely carry the shop through the next 90 years.
Article courtesy of SHOP OWNER magazine.