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Shop profile: Verve revival

Because you just need a little more than technical know-how to run a successful shop.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - 07:00
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Like any new business owner, Ron Haugen was all verve and vigor when he opened Westside Auto Pros in 1997. A repair shop on the outskirts of Des Moines, Iowa, he soon realized all his experience as a technician just wasn’t cutting it when it came to commerce.

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“I thought it was awesome I was making $100 on an air conditioning compressor, not realizing I was giving away the farm,” says Haugen. “That wasn’t anywhere near the markup it took to operate a business.”

To help achieve BBB — better business brains — Haugen looked into Bottom-Line Impact Groups and found a way. “That was life changing for me,” he relates, “not just in business, but literally life-changing, all in a positive manner. The whole key is implementation. They can show you things, tell you what to do, but unless you can go back and implement them nothing is going to change.”

Implementation involves a willingness to try everything, something that revived Haugen’s celebrated verve. One program he enacted were weekly coaching sessions for his service advisors from Buyosphere, a Des Moines-based company.

“I stumbled across it about eight years ago,” he explains. “I was the very first automotive shop that they ever worked with; now all they do is automotive repair shops, and they’re quickly catching on in the automotive industry.”

Meanwhile the technicians are presented with “every training opportunity that we have access to,” Haugen reports, “whether it be ASA, VISION, Bosch, NAPA, Carquest-CTI; we utilize all of those resources, and we pay for any (the techs) want to go to. They know they’re required to take at least 40 hours of training a year, but since our technicians are career driven, most will take close to 60 hours.”

Of course implementation requires finding out what works and doesn’t work; with referrals through Buyosphere, Haugen works with about eight other shops throughout the country for peer reviews. “I talk to them weekly and try to travel to each of those shops quarterly,” Haugen reports. “Of course they also go over internal stuff like pricing, financial, work load, benchmarking, etc. We share information and data; I’ve learned as much from them as they do from me — everybody has new ideas that they’re trying.”

Procedures like secret shoppers helps Haugen with input outside the industry. “It provides accountability,” he explains. “If I send a service advisor to a telephone skills class and they don’t do what they were taught, then that was a waste of my time and theirs.”

One thing to come out of this process of implementation and review has been that Haugen has increased his technicians’ involvement with time estimates. “Labor guides from Mitchell or ALLDATA are looking at average, real world scenarios,” he comments. “If a vehicle comes in from upstate New York where there’s salt on the roads nine months out of the year, there’s heavy rust and corrosion and all of a sudden we’ve got an issue with the brakes. The labor guide doesn’t take that into account; we didn’t create the issue, therefore we allow the technician to have input into what I would call extenuating circumstances.”

But where Haugen’s verve really shines is in branding and media-savviness; for one thing, he’s good on camera (and if you think that sounds easy, try it sometime). As “Ron the Car Guy,” he does a live segment on a morning TV show every Tuesday, as well fielding questions on his own website. This is augmented with TV commercials that run on the three local broadcast networks.

Then there’s Westside’s extensive Internet presence. “About eight years ago I got intrigued with Google’s search engine and Internet marketing,” relates Haugen. “At that time there weren’t a lot of options as far as Autoshop Solutions or DemandForce.”

So Haugen learned it from the ground up. Attending a seminar in Atlanta, he found himself about the only brick-and-mortar business in the room, “but a lot of the same principals applied,” he reports. “So I really got into it, and to this day I enjoy doing it, although now I’ve got outside companies to help me with some of that stuff because there are only so many hours in a day, plus there are now tools out there to better manage some of the social media stuff.

“If you look at our page, its something that people can engage in,” Haugen observes. “Humorous pictures, funny information and quotes; people want to see what we’re saying. And it has built up a huge following; our company Facebook page has over 6,000 followers, and that’s larger than almost any auto repair business I’ve ever seen.”

Take Westside’s “Bumper Sticker of the Day.” Once the meme message board of the 1970s and ’80s, Haugen posted these quirky quotes for about seven months, but dropped them since they seemed anachronistic. “How often do you see a bumper sticker anymore?” he notes. “Why not just do ‘payphone of the day?’” But within a week he started getting calls about their absence and soon put them back.

“All you’re trying to do with social media is create top-of-mind awareness,” Haugen explains. “If I put something like ’15 percent off any car repair’ on social media, that’s worthless to you if your car is fine. But if I keep myself in front of you on an ongoing basis, the day that car does need something, hopefully you’ll think of me first. That’s what branding is all about.”

For who can forget features like Haugen’s online stories, like the time a customer came in with an angry woodchuck under the hood. “Every time I turn to the right, it screams,” was the client’s sole complaint. Yet nothing the technicians did would dislodge the grumpy groundhog; eventually animal control had to be called, and they tranquilized the beast and peaceably removed it.

“We didn’t charge the customer of course,” Haugen notes, because try finding that in the labor guide.


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