A 40-hour workweek is one thing. Eighty hours of training a year can seem like a lot more.
But it’s one of the practices that sets Pellman’s Automotive Service Inc. in Boulder, Colo, apart from other shops. Owners Brad and Lisa Pellman require the 80 hours of training a year, and are committed to taking the employees nearly wherever they need to go to get the training in an effort to show their dedication to keep them from burning out.
“We continually talk about the importance of training. Our industry and the cars we work on are changing so rapidly that if we don’t continue our training, we’re basically just scheduling the date we’re going out of business,” Brad Pellman says. “You have to be up to date on these new vehicles and new vehicle technologies as they come out. I think I have a smart group of technicians. They understand that concept. When I hire them I let them know this is part of it so they’re prepared for it.”
The training helps the employees achieve the shop’s objective of solving customers’ problems. Pellman is quick to point out that they strive to complete honest evaluations with clear distinctions between “needed” and “recommended” services and help prioritize the repairs. Employing three full-time service advisors helps with the education process.
And keeping lines of communication open also is key. The shop recently implemented Google Talk to streamline processes. While the front office employees use it most, staff around the shop have cameras on their computers – or laptops in the case of the technicians – to communicate with one another.
“We’re just trying to use technology in our shop as much as possible. Anything that helps us be more efficient,” Pellman notes.
The program also utilizes texting, where a technician can send a text message to a service advisor while they are on the phone with customers.
“If they’re on the phone, they can still respond to the question we might have for them,” Pellman says.
Another advantage is that technicians can show the dedicated parts manager the type of parts they are looking for while staying with the vehicle. It cuts down on time and streamlines the parts ordering process, making it more accurate.
What Customers Want
Making service more timely for customers is just one benefit of the quality operation the Pellmans have been building since opening their first shop just the two of them in April 1995. Giving the customers what they want for service extends to the sidewalks, too.
Pellman’s Automotive Service has an extensive loaner bicycle program, an idea that Lisa Pellman created and has grown.
“Boulder is extremely eco-friendly. We’re like the green team over here,” Brad Pellman explains. “Our community is very rich in people that care about the planet. To ignore that in our area would be a mistake.”
The city has an extensive bicycle path system throughout town, and the couple’s shop sits at the hub of the multiple paths. Implementing the two-wheeled offerings in addition to the standard shuttle service seemed like a no-brainer.
“We decided loaner bikes would be good for two reasons. One, customers would see we’re being green and trying to protect our environment,” Brad Pellman states. “But also, so many of our customers were hauling their bikes here and hopping on them and riding them, we thought this would make it so they wouldn’t have to load up a bike; they could just take one from here.”
The service has exploded, and the shop is looking into adding more bicycles.
In addition to recognizing the desire for eco-friendly transportation of the two-wheel variety, Pellman’s Automotive has adjusted its training recently to focus more on reprogramming and hybrids. Pellman says he bases the training on what they see coming in their doors.
For example, the shop has undergone a lot of training on Priuses, because their clientele is driving more of them. He has gone beyond basic service to find trainers who will come into the shop with the vehicles and explain the vehicles on a more in-depth level. For example, the last training course focused on taking apart the batteries and learning how they’re designed and built.
“That takes away a lot of fear the technicians have working on these cars, just having that knowledge. Now they’ve touched it, they’ve seen it, they understand it. There’s a huge benefit to that,” Pellman offers. “(Hands-on training is) the way technicians learn the best. Books are one thing, but when we get to actually do it and compare it to other things we’ve done in the past and understand it, that’s gold compared to going to a class and sitting there.”
The shop owner and technician uses his knowledge and experience not only in finding the training, but also in finding the equipment that’s going to cover the majority of vehicles they service.
Involvement in the aftermarket helps Pellman stay on top of these training and equipment offerings and what will help his employees most. He serves on CARQUEST’s Tech-Net national advisory council and is educational director for ASA Colorado and starting a stint as national delegate for the state.
“What I get from CARQUEST’s national advisory council is the feeling that we’re not out here on our own trying to slug through problems,” he explains. “It’s the feeling of a major company being behind you, and they’ve proven that with so many programs that go along with the Tech-Net label.”
He says the involvement with the program group has allowed him to offer national assistance for customers and input to the group.
“I think that CARQUEST would tell you a different side of the story. I think they would say they learn a lot from us. When we go to these council meetings, they’re really there to listen to us and the things we suggest,” Pellman says. “They bounce ideas off of us and what we think of them, what problems there might be. They really truly listen.”
He also hopes his involvement in ASA will benefit not only his shop, but others in the industry.
“ASA is out there doing something, but a lot of shops don’t know what that is. For me, to understand that and I’m a person that likes to give a lot of input. I feel that by becoming involved, I can maybe direct ASA with ideas more that would help our industry, help the individual shops, but in turn would create a situation where people would more of a need to be an ASA member,” Pellman states.
Taking all of the efforts both Brad and Lisa Pellman work hard to implement in the shop and making sure the right message is conveyed is the other side of the business. The couple has worked hard to create a solid marketing plan, of which word-of-mouth still is the No. 1 source.
But is also has evolved to focus more on Facebook and Twitter, the next generation’s word of mouth. It’s a great way for the shop to promote their green offerings, specials and focus on training.
And getting the message out about their focus and dedication to learning new technologies to better serve customers will keep that shop closing date far off in the future.