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2007 Top Shop: Cannon's Automotive

Jack of All Trades
Saturday, September 1, 2007 - 00:00

Jack of All Trades

Looking back on your childhood, you might remember an institution known as a neighborhood shop. Out front, there usually were several gas pumps. Inside, the shop worked on everything. If you had a car and a problem, they had a solution. The people performing all these repairs were much more than just technicians. They were your friends, your neighbors. Because the shop had been around for decades, it had the trust of everyone.

Fortunately, some of these shops still exist — though usually minus the gas pumps. Take Cannon's Automotive of LaPorte, IN, which has been around for more than 30 years. The philosophy that sustains Cannon's is the same one that drove the old neighborhood shop: Do everything and strive to be the best always.

When owner John Cannon opened his business in 1971, he actually wanted a shop like no other. Neighborhood shops of the era did have some shortfalls: Typically, they couldn't afford or didn't have access to the same equipment and training as a dealer facility, leaving them to struggle with some repairs.

Cannon envisioned a fully modern facility featuring state-of-the-art diagnostics, highly trained ASE-certified technicians and a friendly staff. The neighborly atmosphere would remain (Cannon refers to the shop as "my house"), and in the years that followed, he built that shop.

Today, Cannon's employs three ASE-certified master technicians, three general service technicians, three part-time clean-up workers, three service "presenters" and a financial manager. Training for this group is intense and ongoing. The shop holds weekly business development meetings covering procedures, time management, new tools and methods of improvement. Another monthly meeting covers issues such as gross profit margins, goals and safety.

The staff even studies business improvement books together. Lately, they've turned their attention to The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.

When it comes to attracting business, the shop similarly uses as expansive and encompassing a plan as possible. Cannon advertises through radio, phone directories and newspapers, along with in-house brochures and direct mailing. He just started an e-newsletter dubbed "The Cannon Express," which contains automotive tips and service coupons. Regular customers are mailed oil change reminders, repair estimates and niceties such as birthday cards.

Once customers arrive at the shop, the overall service is structured to be as meticulous and complete as possible. Questions regarding any service are answered thoroughly. The shop takes digital photos of repairs to better explain them and shows a fluid tray of any needed flushes.

Cannon's also features extended hours. The shop is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Saturday, it opens at 7 a.m. and doesn't close until 5 p.m.

In addition, every customer who takes advantage of these marathon-like hours receives a follow-up call to ensure every expectation was met.

In the future, Cannon wants to raise his service to another level by concentrating even more on training and focusing on improvement, he says, "every day." This is where his shop departs from the old neighborhood model. With that approach, Cannon's doesn't look to fade into memory anytime soon.

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