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Shop profile: How the garden grows

A literal and figurative garden offers Revolution, a Georgia shop, organic ways to reach customers.
Friday, February 27, 2015 - 08:00
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For at least four generations, members of Matt Purselle’s family have been entrepreneurs in various endeavors, from manufacturing to retail. So it was only natural that Purselle bought a struggling three-bay import repair shop in Decatur, Ga., and turned it into one of the area’s leading Mercedes-Benz facilities.

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“While attending Georgia Tech as a mechanical engineering major looking to design cars,” Purselle relates, “I made a friend whose father owned the oldest independent Mercedes-Benz repair shop in Atlanta. After my junior year, I took a summer job working for him, fell in love with the Mercedes-Benz marquee and never returned to engineering school.”

It was 1999 when he bought Classic Repairs; only five years later he had to purchase and renovate a five-bay shop a mile down the road because he had outgrown it. In the process he changed the shop’s name to Revolution. “Moving into a nice new facility, it was time to change in a lot of ways, and the name fits with that,” Purselle reports.

Eight years later, they had again outgrown the facility. But instead of moving, Purselle opted to expand, adding four more bays, a dedicated parts room, a break room, a detail bay and more employees.

“We also replaced the roof with an energy efficient reflective membrane and added 62 solar panels which create about 1/3 or our electricity on a summer day,” he points out.

 “It was really just a desire to use less energy. I had this flat roof that was doing nothing except stopping rain and sun. I had access to wholesale solar prices because my brother is an electrician. In 10 years, the solar is going to pay for itself.”

Things were progressing for the company, but Purselle signed up with Automotive Training Institute (ATI) because he saw room for improvement in his own management and leadership skills. “I’m good at managing time and figuring out the best ways to do things,” he assesses, “but to (motivate) other people to do things my way for the business, that was always hard.”

Some of those things included building a database from customer inspections. “We’ve always had a paper filing system,” says Purselle. “We converted to save on paper.” After scanning in all of their old files, Purselle also created an inspection checklist to counter a problem he had run into as Revolution grew.

“I was getting different answers on the same car from different technicians,” he notes. “We were previously doing it with just service visits; now we use them every time a customer comes in for their first time in or if we haven’t seen them in three months.”

To standardize responses, he came up with a more thorough inspection form on the company’s computer system.

“It slowed everybody down at first because they have to answer a lot of questions that they didn’t have to before,” Purselle reports. “Where we used to just write down what was wrong, now we can see what’s wrong, what’s right, and track them. For instance, we might see that a transmission front pump leaks, and the next time that customer comes in its dripping; we can see that it’s gotten worse. So when you answer the questions you have your ‘OK’/’Not OK’ and ‘Holy crap, call the customer!’” 

“(Actually) the way we’ve built it, when you say ‘Not OK’ with a lot of stuff, it opens up another question that you have to answer. When you answer those questions it may open up another question. I’d like to find a programmer to get it work the way I really want it to,” comments Purselle, “but I haven’t had the time or energy to do that yet.”

In the meantime, they can use this info to build a maintenance schedule for the customer, which gives the latter more time to visit the most unusual feature of Purselle’s shop: his “pseudo organic” garden.

“My mom grew up on a farm, my wife’s family owns a farm; we always had a garden in our side yard growing up,” he offers. “We don’t have room at home for one and the shop is on an acre of land, so I have about eight garden beds out front.”

Purselle explains that some of his plant seed came from commercial sources, hence the “pseudo,” but most are heirloom vegetables, and he doesn’t use chemicals or pesticides to enhance them, hence the “organic.”

Excess produce is often offered to customers; some even request it. “And I’ll go pick it for them. I’m a little too much of a perfectionist to allow people to work in my garden,” he admits. “(Although) I’ve got one guy who comes in and walks through the hot pepper patch popping those things in his mouth because he’s crazy.

“I did it for myself, but people really do like the garden,” Purselle comments. “It’s kind of an interesting selling point. It creates buzz with customers, a way to connect with people, something to talk about other than their cars when they come in. Most people have never even seen asparagus growing.”

But you can, if you take Revolution’s virtual tour on its website, perhaps one of the coolest features ever. Supplementing Google Earth’s street view, it allows you to look around the building and actually go inside their facility. After being solicited by a customer, Purselle explains that they came in and “set up a camera in like eight different places in the shop and took 360 degree views. Then their software put it all together.”

And there, to the right of Revolution’s front door, is the garden in all its glory. Still don’t know what the asparagus looks like, though.

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