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Tennessee repair shop has the prescription for service perfection

Friday, February 24, 2017 - 08:00
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The good ‘doctor’—otherwise known as Frank Chamberlain, founder of Auto Physicians in Maryville, TN—was recently up in Michigan touring a Ford plant. “We use quality parts,” he proudly reported from Dearborn, “and we order a lot of Motorcraft.” So much so that he won a contest set up by his parts wholesaler.

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At a Glance:
Auto Physicians, Inc.
Frank & Cheryl Chamberlain
Owners
1
No. of shops
9
Years in business
5
No. of techs
9
Total no. of employees
5,000
Square footage of shop
7
No. of bays
60
No. of customer vehicels per week
$350
Average weekly ticket
$1 million
Annual gross revenue

Of course quality is implicit with Chamberlain, whether it’s Ford or any other brand; as he asserts, they’ve been the only ASE Blue Seal certified shop in Blount County for the last 5 years. “ASE means a lot,” he stated. “Because of where the industry is going right now as far as the complexity, our techs have to be certified so people feel confident to bring their cars to us. We just put a Ford Fusion back together, a little 4-cylinder hybrid that’s a whole different (technology)--so we go to a lot of the schools to make sure we stay trained.”

Owners Frank and Cheryl Chamberlain

Chamberlain went to work for a dealership after a stint in the army, however with the economic downturn in 2008 the dealer shut the doors, compelling Chamberlain to open his own. Along with some partners, equipment bought off the now-defunct dealer, and some rented space, he only needed a name. “We didn’t want to be ‘Frank’s Auto Repair,’” he related. “I wanted something that would stand out, that I could build a logo with and people would remember.”

Starting from scratch, at first friends and family came in to help keep the business going, but eventually Auto Physicians achieved critical mass. “Our base is solid enough that we stay busy even though they may come in only two times a year for major work, oil changes, things like that,” said Chamberlain. “We found out if you can give good service, quality parts, and a good warranty, you get the trust of your customers; that customer base will grow—and we’ve been growing like weeds.”

When they branched into other brands, “we did some TV and community service stuff, just to get the word out,” recalled Chamberlain. “Naturally if they brought their Ford in, they would ask if we could work on their Honda too. It wasn’t a tough transition because each company has their own ways of doing it as far as sensors, injection, etc., but they’re basically all internal combustion engines.”

But diagnostics was another matter, so Chamberlain bought this equipment in phases. “We started with the IDS from Ford of course,” he related, “then we got the VERUS from Snap-On, which covered a lot of different brands. That was okay, but we wanted something that did more, so we went and got some Bosch with the VCI. Since a lot of diagnostic tools from GM are by Bosch now, with VCI we can pay subscriptions to GM, Ford, Toyota, whatever, and just have the one machine.”

Auto Physicians has ventured into other markets as well. “We do tires as a convenience to our customers,” Chamberlain noted. “They’ll bring their car in for a tune up and ask, ‘do you do tires?’ I put it on our website and things like that, but we concentrate more on the repair service. That’s why we became a NAPA Auto Car Center.” To help fill those extra demands they’ve acquired a Hunter alignment machine, a wheel balancer and a brake lathe.

Eventually Chamberlain bought out his partners and purchased his own facility. “My perception of a repair shop is a very clean environment,” something he could better control if he owned the property. “There are seven bays, a real nice waiting room with a children’s area and comfortable recliners. There’s a lot to being a repair facility nowadays; people don’t want to bring a quality car to a dump. So we keep it clean, we’ve got flowers outside; we provide things to the customer to help them feel at home.”

This also extends to being upfront with the client. “Now they know a repair is going to cost them money, so the less emotionally difficult you make it the better,” reasoned Chamberlain. “We believe in informing our customers about everything that goes on with their car, taking them out in the shop, showing them what’s going on, or we can email them videos of what we’re doing to their car; just to keep the customer informed so their experience is the least painful.”

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