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Shop Profile: Louden Motorcar Services, Inc. – A 30-year Success Story

We present an update on shop owner Steve Louden, who was first featured in ImportCar 30 years ago. While many things have changed since Steve opened Louden Motorcar Services, Inc. in Dallas back in 1977, one thing hasn’t: integrity. It’s what has helped him build a customer base that trusts him implicitly to ensure that their Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches are repaired quickly
and accurately.

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ight” alt=””/>Then the retail work started to come in, and the business began to expand quickly. He hired his first employee, followed by a move into a larger rented building and the hiring of two more employees.

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“I saw the need to own our own building and built our present facility in 1982,” he says. “One of the biggest advantages of the new ­facility was getting rid of the jack stands and having in-ground lifts. We started with four and added five more as we grew. Each tech has two lifts.”

Louden recognized early on the need to become ­involved in the industry and immediately joined ASA, the Automotive Service Association. Louden served on the board of directors of both the state and national associations and eventually served as chairman of both boards. In 1986, Louden Motorcar Services became a Bosch Authorized Service Center, and Louden served as chairman of the first BSC Member Council.

“The education and numerous friends made in the industry, from being involved in both ASA and the Bosch BSC organizations, has been very instrumental in our success over the years,” he explains.

a well-manicured entrance is part of louden’s marketing plan, along with a building that does not look like an auto repair shop. many first-time customers will drive by, not realizing the facility is actually an auto repair business.Louden was not only one of the founders of the Automotive Management Institute (AMI), which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, he has presented management seminars from coast to coast and was in the first graduating class of Accredited Automotive Managers (AAM). At the start, AMI offered 26 courses taught by 10 instructors. Today, courses are offered on a range of topics, and its programs have attracted 177,000 enrollments throughout North America.

“We were sitting back one day and said there’s a lot of technical training out there, but we really need to get some management education aimed at the shop owner,” he remarks, adding that his involvement in an industry 20 Group with other shop owners for the past 16 years has been invaluable as well. “We still participate in the group and have made life-long friends both professionally and socially.”

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EMPLOYEE RELATIONS/BENEFITS
Louden says another piece of the success puzzle is without a doubt the shop’s group of dedicated employees, or “team members” as he prefers to call them. Treating people like people, he says, hasn’t changed any since he opened his doors more than 30 years ago.

“Everybody likes respect, and team members like to be proud of where they’re working,” he says. “We’ve had only 14 techs in 30 years. That’s unbelievable. I know guys where that number would be 150.”
Louden provides the shop’s four full-time technicians with a full benefits package, including paid ­vacation, but not sick time. The shop is also air-conditioned.

“We don’t do sick time,” he says. “You do sick time, and you know what? They’ll take it. We give them time off. They can be sick, they can do personal business or they can take vacation. And it works really well.

“My top people who’ve been here the longest, they get three weeks of paid vacation and seven paid holidays,” he continues. “So I’m paying them a month to be off — that’s pretty good. And we pay medical ­insurance, we’ve got dental insurance and we’ve got a profit sharing plan.”

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He also sells his employees parts at a discount — at cost plus 10 percent — if they want to fix their own cars. A five-day workweek, Monday through Friday, is also appreciated by team members.

We don’t work Saturdays, and that’s a big deal,” he explains. “The guys who used to work at the dealerships hated that because they had to work on ­Saturdays.”

Another benefit? If they aren’t already certified, Louden pays his techs to become ASE certified. They are paid $100 for each of the eight basic courses they pass, plus $200 when they reach the Master-certified level.

“It’s a good benefit for them,” he remarks. “It’s good for their ego. It forces them to get out of the shop and study.”
Louden has supported ASE for many years and has been an ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician (CMAT), certified Service Consultant and certified Master Engine Machinist himself. All techs are certified, along with parts manager Jon Coleman who is also a certified Sales Consultant. Louden is presently serving on the ASE Board of Directors.

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Though turnover has been low, Louden has always asked himself one question when hiring a new tech: will he be a good fit?

“Will that person fit in your team — or will he be a rabble-rouser and upset the whole apple cart?” he says. “I don’t care how good of a tech he is, if he can’t fit in the team, then there’s going to be friction.”james moir has been a valuable team member for 15 years. steve and james are currently working on james’ buy-out package.

One hire that has been a win-win situation for Louden is James Moir, Vice President of Operations and Service Manager. Moir joined Louden’s team about 15 years ago and is now planning to take over the business from Louden.

“My general manager and owner-to-be came in sweeping the floors,” Louden recalls. “I recognized his intelligence, and I sent him through a zillion schools and conferences. There are very few things that he can’t handle. Moir is also an ASE CMAT, certified Service Consultant and has earned the ASE L1 ­Advanced Engine Performance certification.pictured is the bmw factory  diagnostic tool, the gt-1, which is a necessity in servicing today’s cars. it’s connected to a very rare bmw z-8.

“The goal is to develop good people,” he continues. “All of us are going to do something with our business — we’re either going to close it, we’re going to sell it or we’re going to give it away. None of us can go on forever.”

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MARKETING KNOW-HOW
One thing that has changed the way Louden does business is the Internet. From parts ordering to marketing, the medium has helped keep his shop busy and running efficiently. Louden says about 50 percent of new customers find the shop through pay-per-click search marketing and its website, www.loudenmotorcars.com.

“We do a lot of marketing, so we keep our shop full,” he says. “The Internet’s hot right now, especially search marketing — pay per click.

“Today, in my opinion, if you don’t have a website, it’s like not having a telephone,” he asserts. “I’ve known guys who thought they were so hot, they didn’t have a telephone — they were going to be real ­exclusive. That worked 30 years ago. Today the customer’s more fickle. They want instant gratification.

“Everybody likes to say all my business is word-of-mouth,” he adds. “Well if you’re trying to get two cars a day, that’s fine. When you’re trying to keep a shop full and feeding four productive technicians, it takes a lot of cars.”

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Another positive effect of the Internet has been ­increased efficiency when it comes to ordering parts. The shop now does 80 percent of it online. Louden says even if his main parts supplier WORLDPAC doesn’t have the part they need at one of its two warehouses in Dallas, they have it to them by 9 a.m. the following day.

“That just-in-time inventory is ­phenomenal,” he comments. “Thirty years ago, we had to stock a lot more parts because most of our parts came out of California. We were at least a day or two away.

“We also purchase lots of parts from franchised new car dealers,” Louden continues.

CUSTOMER SERVICE & RETENTION
That ability to fix cars faster has certainly helped maintain and grow the shop’s customer base. Louden also offers several “extras” that go a long way toward making the repair process a pleasant one, including free Internet access, free bottled water (with the shop’s logo, of course), free soft drinks and coffee, as well as a stock of Hot Wheel cars for children.

“We subsidize rental cars by paying $20 per day ­toward a daily rental,” he explains. “The customer actually rents the car of their choice, either Hertz or Enterprise, uses his or her insurance and credit card, and then we are billed the $20 per day with the ­customer paying the difference. It works very well, and the customer really appreciates it.” steve louden says “everything we do is geared toward making the vehicle repair experience as pleasant and trouble-free as possible,” evidenced in waiting room “extras,” such as internet service, free bottled water and more.

Louden Motorcars also has always given back to the community that has supported it for 30+ years, either through various charity events or cash donations. Among the various charities are: The American Cancer Association, The American Heart Association, The North Texas Food Bank, The Buckner Home for Children, Special Olympics and The Annual Salesmanship Club Charity Golf Tournament for Children. Over the years, Louden Motorcar Services has contributed to dozens of local charities. It’s a way that the company gives back to the ­community that has supported it. One philanthropic effort involved the company and employees purchasing toys for underprivileged children.

Perhaps what sums up the success story of Louden Motorcars best is a quote from long-time customer Ann Kahn, who is featured on the shop’s direct-mail postcard.

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“Louden Motorcar Services has kept my cars in great shape for over 29 years. They treat me like family and do business the old-fashioned way — honest, friendly and professional. As a business owner ­myself, I appreciate their attention to detail and the courtesy extended to me. I trust them completely and wouldn’t take my cars any place else.”

What more could a shop owner ask for?

 

AWARD-WINNING SERVICE

Along the way, Louden Motorcar Services has earned ­several recognitions for its
outstanding service:

• Recognized by “D” magazine as the “Best Specialty Auto Repair” in Dallas a record three different years.

• Received the “Top Image” award in Texas by The Automotive Wholesalers of Texas.

• Rated one of the Top 10 automotive repair shops in the country by the Independent Automotive Service Association.

• Rated the Best Bosch Authorized Service Center in the Western U.S. by the Robert Bosch Corp., LLC.

• Rated one of the Top Shops by ImportCar magazine in its feature article “Focus on Professionalism.”

• Plus, Louden Motorcars has appeared in numerous industry publications.

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