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Indiana shop aims to fix customers' primary auto concerns quickly

Tuesday, April 9, 2019 - 07:00
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Around the time diagnostic technology had taken hold in the independent market, a very sage shop owner once noted that a big swap had occurred in the way problems were investigated: what used to take minutes to diagnose and a couple hours to fix, now took hours to diagnose and minutes to fix. Of course knowing how to interpret the diagnostic data is what adds the hours to this adage.

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At a Glance:
Advanced Automotive Daiagnostics and Repair
Whiteland, Ind.
Rusty Flake
No. of shops
Years in business
No. of employees
Square footage of shop
No. of bays
No. of customer vehicles per week
Annual gross revenue

Rusty Flake wasn’t that particular shop owner, but he’s keenly aware of this crucial fact. “I don’t like ‘silver bullets’,” he proclaims. "That’s where generic scan tools have a database of previous fixes by other shops. Say a car has a cam code; it gives you quick fixes kind of like Google or You Tube searches. Although their not supposed to be used for that, a lot of folks do and I just refuse to do it. Pulling codes is one thing; that doesn’t tell you what’s wrong with the car.”

It’s like seeing a doctor who examines symptoms and writes a prescription without really looking into the patients themselves. “A lot of people tell me I’m wrong, but I don’t want to find absolutely everything wrong with every car that comes in,” states Flake. “We make sure there aren’t any safety issues of course, but we [primarily] look for things that concern the customers.”

A specialist in diagnostics, Flake has been in the industry for over 35 years, but it wasn’t till 2013 that he opened his own shop, Advanced Automotive Diagnostic and Repair. Located in rural Whiteland, IN, about 20 miles south of Indianapolis, he notes that “nit-picking every car would never work; the income here is not all that high. If you did, you’d put yourself out of business in a hurry.”

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But Flake wasn’t in a hurry to open either, as his long grey beard attests. “I would have liked to have done it earlier in my career,” he muses, “but I had worked at a couple of good places early on.” A decade earlier Flake had bought a small partnership in another business, just not big enough to make some of the changes he wanted. Eventually he sold off his share and went independent.

“Sink or swim, I took what few funds I had from my retirement accounts,” he explains, “and my wife took hers out and we went out on our own.”

Due to a two-year non-compete clause, he also started with nearly no customer base. “If they contacted me that was fine, but I couldn’t contact them,” he recalls. “And I had to move at least eight miles away from the other shop. Since I couldn’t find a [suitable] building anywhere, the first place we went to was in the back of an industrial park.”

This would prove a hindrance to drive-by traffic, and any budget for marketing initially went to fixing up the facility and paying rent. On the plus side Flake owned a huge inventory of scan and hand tools, “plus I had one lift at home,” he adds, as his previous employer had allowed him to do side work on vehicles which couldn’t find solutions at any other shops.

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