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Repair shop revamps brand, services to treat customers, staff like royalty

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - 07:00
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Royalty Auto Service wasn’t always regal. For quite a while, this repair shop in St. Marys — “about as southeast as you can possibly get in Georgia without being in Florida” — was simply called Auto Care.

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“Which was boring,” comments Sherwood Cooke III, son of owner Sherwood Cooke, Jr., and the shop’s service advisor. “My dad bought it like that back in 1996 and kept that name for a long time.” But about five years ago ‘S3’ was moved from service work to management by ‘S2’—verbal shorthand to keep things straight in the office — and the Cookes began making many changes to the company.

At a Glance:
Royalty Auto Service
Saint Marys, GA
Sherwood Cooke Jr. and Sherwood Cooke III
No. of shops
Years in business
No. of technicians
Total no. of employees
No. of bays
Avg. weekly ticket
Annual gross revenue

Up first: the lackluster label. “We have a good reputation,” the younger Cooke notes. “We’ve been here a long time, but we had never really focused on the branding aspect and how important that is.”

After some negotiation they came up with the nobler name. “As cheesy as it might sound, we treat people like royalty,” he states. “We want to be the Ritz-Carlton of auto repair. To us fixing the car is a given; everybody brings their car in and expects it to be fixed right the first time. The way to really wow people is to go crazy with the service.”

Service which emphasizes being family-owned and oriented. “Our slogan is ‘let our family take care of yours,’” says Cooke. “When you go on our website, the first thing you see is our picture. The people who come here are joining our family, and it’s huge to develop that relationship with someone.”

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Next, they began transitioning to European brands. “Honestly, I feel that this is a huge market, growing very fast,” Cooke explains. “I haven’t done direct studies or research on it, but you can tell by looking in our parking lot that it’s growing. Obviously they’re more expensive to fix so they’re going to make you more money, plus we’re in a very unique spot in South Georgia: the only dealers here are GM, Ford and Chrysler. For anything else you’re driving 45 minutes. We are the dealer alternative, so getting into the European market was a no-brainer.”

Still, the Cookes eased their way into these cars; it took about two years before they got traction. “We didn’t go out and buy the BMW factory tool right away,” Cooke explains. “I don’t think that would be a wise decision for anybody. You’ve got to build clientele up before you invest in something that big. Once we consistently saw BMWs in our shop every week, then every day, it was worth making that investment.”

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