With the summer months heating up and cross-country road trips beginning, many people want to make sure their vehicles are prepped for the long haul. For the first-ever July edition of Maintenance Chronicles, we will focus on Preferred Automotive Specialists, a six-bay shop located in Jenkintown, PA.
This shop boasts exceptionally high numbers in all categories (see chart below), and even more remarkably, reported no zeros in any category. General Manager Tom Palermo and his team of seven technicians focus on education in order to help their customers fully understand problems as soon as they arise, rather than putting them off and exacerbating their vehicles’ service and repair issues.
During the first two weeks of June, the shop serviced a total of 158 cars. While the most sought-after service was oil changes, it is important to note that many other services had extraordinary high numbers as well. For instance, Preferred Automotive Specialists sold 49 tires during this period, while shops chronicled in previous issues sold none.
According to Tom, this is likely because the shop also works with fleet customers, who accounted for 70 percent of tires sold during the two-week period. Tom attributes the wide range of services sold (such as lighting and wipers) to a number of reasons, including preventive maintenance, weather and state testing.
“I attribute the lighting and wipers to the very cold and wet winter we had, followed by the very hot spring and summer so far,” Tom explains. “The fact that our roads are not in great shape, coupled with the nature of traffic, translates to worn and broken suspension parts. Pennsylvania has an annual state inspection, and this time of year is usually a busy inspection period for us. When the vehicles come in, we are looking at the preventive maintenance items as well as the inspection items. From there, we’ll let the customer know what’s going on and talk to them about short- and long-term needs.”
On the shop’s busiest day during this two-week period, the crew performed 46 jobs on 17 cars. One reason why they were able to service so many automobiles is due to the number of technological advancements the shop has recently made. Besides using The NAPA Service Assistant, which helps explain a problem or maintenance item in a simple manner, employees also take advantage of the AutoVitals’ NAPA Digital Vehicle Inspection system.
Tom thinks the (digital inspection) app “really helps the inspection process go smoothly for the tech, service writer and customer. Using this system, the tech is able to document inspections using virtual inspection sheets (which are customizable), pictures and notes. This creates a professional, clean, and very presentable package for the customer. With that system, we are also able to measure each technician’s performance to verify inspections are being performed thoroughly and completely.”
They also use new technology such as a Customer Relations Management System to help schedule customers through their website, as well as via email. In the near future, customers will be able to schedule appointments on a forthcoming phone and tablet app.
While technology helps to keep their operations running smoothly, the employees at Preferred Automotive Specialists also rely heavily on communicating with and educating and supporting customers through every step of the repair process. This helps to explain how Preferred Automotive, as compared to other shops of a similar size, had an impressively high number of services performed — 313 in just 12 days.
“We believe educating our customers is the key to a successful relationship. We are a NAPA Auto Care shop, and this gives us access to a multitude of programs aimed at maintenance and improving shop operations,” Tom notes. “We always try to educate with regard to [the customer’s] specific needs. Also, we work on many different types and sizes of vehicles, which opens the door to a multitude of maintenance opportunities.”
He also highlighted how preventive maintenance can help save customers money and prevent bigger service tickets down the road by getting issues fixed as soon as they arise. In the end, the Preferred Automotive team knows that the focus should always remain on providing the customer with the best quality service possible.
“Always strive to be the best and do the best for your customer. That doesn’t always mean be the cheapest,” Tom says. “Be fair and ethical. Price shopping rarely works for the customer. More and more in this business, customers are beginning to realize that you certainly get what you pay for. If you treat your customers with loyalty and respect, it will be reciprocated.”
By educating customers and offering exceptional value throughout the entire repair process, the team is able to build trusting relationships that last. Preferred Automotive team members want to make the repair process as smooth as possible, and they help to accomplish this goal by offering amenities and services such as free car washes and detailing, pick-up and delivery, as well as towing and loaner cars.
In going above and beyond, and keeping the focus on the customer’s comfort, Tom fosters relationships with his customers and employees that make them feel like family.
“I view my customers, both fleet and private, as family,” Tom says. “They rely on our services to keep their vehicles on the road to accomplish whatever goals they have. We take this relationship very seriously and we’re honored that they have confidence in us to help them. When they have an issue, we want to be there for them to alleviate whatever burden they have. I try to put myself in their place when there’s a problem and ask myself, ‘How would I want to be treated?’”
Being a part of a family business from a young age greatly shaped Tom’s philosophy regarding how he treats both customers and employees. He understands how far-reaching and deep-rooted within the community his shop is.
“I tell everyone that we’re not just in the repair business; we’re in the relationship business,” he explains. “When I arrive in the morning, the first thing I do is remind myself that I have 25 people who depend on me making good decisions. Most of them have families, so it’s really not 25, it’s closer to 100 people who rely on me making good decisions. Using that logic keeps me grounded and focused.”
By keeping the focus on each individual customer and his or her specific needs, Tom and the employees of Preferred Automotive Specialists have built a loyal customer base since 1980, which as the numbers prove, looks sure to last.