Having reached the pinnacle of success in the Arena Football League as a wide receiver and kick returner for the world-champion Chicago Rush, Brian Sump has again scored a game-changing goal upon retiring from the grid iron and returning home to Denver. As a Motor Age Top Shop, his award-winning Avalon Motorsports rivals dealership quality for its professionalism, customer service and overall excellence in keeping German-engineered vehicles on the road and running at peak performance.
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“Our No. 1 criterion in hiring is the desire to be great,” says Sump, who credits his employees for their ability to deliver the absolute best when conducting top-notch specialized repairs and custom aftermarket upgrades.
“I hire the highest-level technicians I can find.” During the recruiting process Sump searches for candidates who display “a passion for people and cars” along with an aptitude and attitude for seeking ongoing education and master-level certifications.
“They have to be able to take our training because it’s at such a high level. Our competition is of the dealership caliber,” he asserts, noting that his emphasis on master quality “was inspired by my lack of knowledge of cars.”
Sump says his continuing love for German nameplates dates back to his high school years when he souped-up a treasured Volkswagen. The tinkering was set aside as Sump spent four years studying civil engineering and business at the Colorado School of Mines. Football took precedence, however, as he tackled training camps with the San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams before moving on to a four-year arena football career.
When his playing days ended Sump sought a business opportunity. He purchased the Avalon name, website and limited assets from an owner who solely sold performance parts online. Initially working via the Internet out of a rented 10-foot by 10-foot office in the back of a small repair shop, Sump soon aspired to open his own bricks and mortar enterprise; the first location was a small industrial garage in an office park. In 2011 he moved to the current location, a steel-framed building that had previously served as a jet ski repair facility. “We did a pretty extensive remodel. We did not have an architect – I pretty much did it myself.”
Sump’s admitted paucity of professional auto repair experience turned out to be beneficial in that it presented “a lack of bad habits and pre-conceived expectations,” he says, resulting in an “out-of-the-box approach to differentiation.” These experiences evolved into his strategy of surrounding himself with the best technicians and the pursuit of never-ending education, augmented by a set of strong religious beliefs. (In his spare time Sump leads a youth ministry in Westminster, Colo.)
Embracing elite technicians
“Our mission is to transform the automotive industry by setting new standards. We will bless clients by meeting their needs and exceeding expectations with integrity, innovation and excellence,” he says. “The quality-of-work environment and shop reputation are the driving forces behind our approach to excellence.”
The shop’s repairers “are considered elite in their field,” according to Sump. “A unique quality of Avalon’s technicians is that three of the four each has specialized dealership training in one or two vehicle makes and are master certified by the manufacturers. Subsequently they are constantly seeking new training and further understanding of technical advancements while they also cross-train each other to become more experienced on other makes,” he says.
“Service advisors and managers train every other Tuesday evening while we discuss key elements of customer care and critique recorded phone calls. Our company mandates ongoing training for our technicians as well as our service consultants, and we provide open access” to an ever-increasing array of educational opportunities. The shop pays all of the costs.
To discourage “a self-focused attitude” and reduce disappointment during the slower off-season months, the primary technicians are guaranteed a monthly set of paid hours, which also aids in promoting their willingness to spend time with the clients. “The employees understand that ongoing training is an assumed responsibility, and their salary base includes time required to attend classes. Each primary technician is given an escalator, which is significant in sustaining high levels of individual productivity and proficiency,” Sump reports.
“Our service staff and managers both are paid a salary base. They work set hours each week and are incentivized as well based on performance. Service staff and managers also receive additional monthly gross sales bonuses as a percentage of total sales when adequate margins and total sales goals are met. They are taught that the more training events they attend, the more opportunity there is for increased revenues and, in turn, greater bonuses.”
Maintaining a ‘yes’ mentality
“In addition to providing superior repair and maintenance service on your Audi, BMW, Volkswagen, Porsche, or MINI,” says Sump, the shop’s personnel “are experts in performance upgrades such as engine tuning to increase horsepower, exhaust upgrades to enhance your vehicle’s sound, suspension to improve handling or other performance and styling upgrades you desire.”
Customizations account for 5 percent to 10 percent of the annual sales, which have gained substantial year-over-year growth in both revenues and profits ever since the shop opened.
Avalon’s targeted marketing radius is about eight miles amid a varied demographic pattern. East Colfax Avenue, where the shop is located, is billed as “The Longest Main Street in America.” A dense population pool resides in homes costing up to $2 million along with more modest abodes.
Aiming to attract patrons who have grown “tired of dealership drama,” a three-year/36,000-mile warranty is provided on parts and labor.
“It is vital that we supply only the highest quality parts. Our primary suppliers are WORLDPAC and local Audi, BMW, VW and Porsche dealerships,” Sump says. “We have been able to maintain great relationships with the dealership suppliers that allow us to obtain pricing at the deepest level. Our sublet relationships are also very important to us. We have specialists that perform window tint, alignment, body repair, tire mounting, towing, etc. at high levels.”
An in-house fleet of rental vehicles, which is also marketed to the general public, is available at no-charge and without any time limits for the customers. “It’s just a cost of doing business for us – it’s a marketing cost,” he says, adding that it is built-in to the fee structure.
“We know that the quality of technical work will speak for itself, and so we focus on unique ways to ‘wow’ our clients in very tangible ways,” Sump notes.
When repairs are completed the vehicles are washed and vacuumed prior to pick up; small gifts such as company-branded chap sticks, coffee mugs, mouse pads and other items are placed in the cabin. Hand-written thank you cards are also mailed out.
Three staff members are assigned to answer the telephone throughout the business day. “We utilize a series of phone scripts to ensure the best chance of getting clients in the door, including how to address phone estimate requests, diagnostic concerns, value building, etc. Our service staff each makes follow-up phone calls to their personal clients within one week of service, confirming everything was satisfactory and thanking them for their patronage,” he says.
“Vehicle flow management can make or break a client’s perception of our shop,” Sump points out. Attention is directed toward properly scheduling appointments as the job is dispatched to the appropriate technician. Parts are promptly ordered and consistent contact is maintained with the customer as the work ensues.
“Maintaining a ‘yes’ company mentality” is another mantra that also entails “asking ourselves what little things we can do to make our clients happy,” he says. “Management follow-up is vital and we also utilize an open-dialogue practice between staff members to build consistency in application. Establishing a proper chain-of-command is also important. When the staff knows who to report to for concerns, a system of autonomy is inherent and every staff member takes ownership.”
The shop is additionally licensed to market used vehicles. “We don’t sell a lot of cars,” says Sump, adding that the service is mainly utilized as yet another convenience for the clientele. “We’ll buy and sell vehicles for customers looking for something spec