What goals did your shop accomplish in the last year?
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Did you increase sales? Up your marketing budget and reach? How about try a new community service project. Exceed training goals, including beyond technical knowledge? Renovate and add on to your location?
Check, check, check, check and check.
The staff at George’s Sierra Shell collectively did all of that and more, as it climbed into the overall winner’s place in the 2014 Top Shops Contest.
“We are also very lucky to have an incredible tam of advisor and technicians at George’s Shell; therefore, all the goals we set are team-related,” says Doug Whiteman, owner of the Fontana, Calif., NAPA AutoCare Center, which illustrates how family, team and goals combine for a winning effort.
Over the last 42 years, Whiteman has maintained the presence his father, George, purchased in 1972. The elder Whiteman passed away in 1995, leaving Doug to move the business forward. After taking on an initial remodel, Whiteman joined the Automotive Training Institute in helping him realize his first set of goals, including moving sales above the $1 million mark for the first time in 2005. The goal setting never stopped, and Whiteman notes that the company will realize more than a 20 percent increase in sales in 2014 over 2013.
Calling out to Reach Goals
One big boost in realizing the goal of increased sales was implementing a phone room at the office. The management developed six calls (thank you, 3,000 mile service reminder, smog check reminder, warranty expiring, where have you been and a one-year we miss you call), and charged the call center personnel with making 100 calls per day. They work from new lists daily, and earn a $5 per appointment incentive beyond their regular pay.
“I got the idea from a 20 Group in Baltimore. We developed it a little more,” Whiteman explains. “We still do email and text reminders, but the phone call is more personal. We’ve build the relationship with these people, and have two female service writers who are great at building the relationships and drawing in customers. It’s a lot more personal for them.”
The shop then tied it to its direct mail program, making sure that tracking is in place for both marketing vehicles. “We’ve been here forever and tried every marketing piece,” Whiteman muses. “You still have to do marketing, but we wanted a higher retention rate.”
Tony Odom, general manager, adds that the staff drafted the scripts to make sure they are in the employees’ own voices and sound natural. Also, they set up timelines for each call type, ranging from 48 hours after a visit for the thank you call to two and a half months for the oil change and two years for smog checks.
“We’re calling customers at 20 months letting them know that their warranty is going to expire to make sure the vehicle looks great instead of disappointing the customer that they’ve just come out of warranty,” he says. “That has really seen a great response.”
In addition to the phone room, the shop teamed up with a firm to manage its website and help with phone conversion. Since March, George’s Shell’s phone conversion percentages jumped 15 percent, while the website traffic conversions also have climbed. “Review Us” calls to action on handouts at the end of service also help drive interaction with customers.
It’s not just the phone calls that helped build the increased sales. George’s Sierra Shell also this year focused on pictures, automotive articles and a “Fan of the Week” in its social media efforts. They utilize it as a way to build rapport.
“We recognized our strengths, and our strengths are customer service and auto repair. To us, it’s better to employ a service to manage that so we can take care of our customers,” Odom says. “It’s easy to dabble in all these things that are out there, but then I think it’s easy to take your eye off the ball.”
Training to Reach Goals
Whiteman instills in his employees that they keep their eye on the ball and reach their own goals. But he serves almost as a coach in making sure they hit their training and productivity marks.
“We’ve raised all of our employees through the ranks,” Whiteman says. “Each employee is in a different stage; we have some entry level people that if we go too deep, we’ll bury them and it’s boring. So we kind of just develop training for each person for where they are in their career and they can focus on their individual strengths.”
Shop management meets with employees individually at the start of each year to set individual goals. While most center around ASE and other technical training, the employees are incorporating other life training. The entire team attended Financial Peace University this year.
“It kind of goes back to family is more important than your job. It’s just a balance in all areas,” Whiteman states. “Financial training through Financial Peace has been really beneficial. If you don’t know how to spend your money and make a budget, you always want more money and are looking more places. It goes back to caring for all areas of their lives.”
In addition to the life-based training, mentors and teams conduct the technical training, which boosts how employees view the management. Both Odom and Whiteman quickly note that owners cannot be afraid of investing in their employees in this way, fearing the employees will leave once the investment in them is made.
“When they see you are helping them increase their values, their worth, their knowledge, that ties them closer to you,” Odom says. “This was the first year Doug asked where they wanted to be in a year, five years, 10 years. We looked at roadblocks and how we can get past them, and we’ve seen additional buy-in.”
“They see we care about them and that builds loyalty both ways,” Whiteman adds. “While some of these guys probably could go make more money somewhere else, it’s such a great work environment, a great place to be, they don’t want to go anywhere else.”
Some of the training takes place in the upstairs area of the two-story shop. The 1996 renovation featured the additional level, and the office space morphed into a training area with web and teleconference capabilities. It serves as a place to get away from ringing phones, vehicles coming in for repair and other shop duties to focus on meetings and training, says Whiteman.
Remodeling the Business
Touching back on the 1996 remodel, that was just one of two renovations Whiteman has overseen since taking over operations. New gas tanks were added then, because, yes, the location still is an operable gas station.
The last year has brought a new valet entrance and customer parking area to the location, and 2015 will feature two new bays being added.
“We need some space,” Whiteman says. “We spend some time moving cars around and we’re landlocked.”
Odom is looking beyond just the two new bays to expanding locations, which is on the table for the coming year. A lot of it starts with getting the right staff in place, though, and remodeling the business goes beyond the physical building. There are renovations to business plans, processes and programs that have been completed in efforts to reach goals.
Help in all of these areas, including remodeling, training and operations within the shop,comes from its NAPA AutoCare Center affiliation. The shop also is an AAA Approved Auto Repair shop, and are members of ATI’s Peak Performers and West Coast 20 Groups.
“I started here in (19)72 as a kid. When my dad passed away, I ran it for 10 years roughly and I didn’t have a clue how to run a business. I didn’t have any idea what made the business tick or work,” he says. “The coaching weekly, it is a very big part of (getting on track). If it’s with ATI or whomever, it benefits everyone…knowing that someone is going to call you and hold your feet to the fire and make you do it.”
“It’s just a matter of it’s easy to get lost in the minutia and be overwhelmed by the business itself,” he says. “It’s good to have someone there to redirect you weekly or whenever, to keep your eye on the ball and focused on all the KPIs and to take a step back and look at your business.”
The shop has reached so many of its goals that it now opens itself to other owners for visits, training and guidance. Whiteman says the program started more than two years ago, again, based on an idea heard in a 20 Group.
“(Guests) see that all the things they’re learning in class can work if they put them to use,” he notes. “Every shop is different and every area is different, but the core doesn’t change. We’ve had people from Oregon, Sacramento, San Diego come to visit; the core of taking care of people is the same.”
The Goal of Giving Back
And while yes, the ultimate shop goal is to take care of customers, one other to-do item that ranks high is giving back to the community. While there are many sponsorships and events the staff gives to, two stand out. The first is the shop’s “Christmas Truck,” which, like many other shops, it fixes up and gives to a family in need.
Truly unique to the shop is a partnership this year with a major home improvement retailer to provide goods to those in need. The shop takes possession of goods the retailer has written off of inventory and stores them on site. The items, which are new and range from sinks, showers, toils and tie to smaller maintenance items, are distributed through local churches and the organization Good360, Whiteman says.
“We get an email of what needs picked up, and we send trucks with employees to the store,” he says. “They’re happy to do it. It gets them away from work for an hour.”
And seeing the help they’re providing families doesn’t hurt, either. In fact, it’s that familial atmosphere that helps the shop hit one final goal that might not be written on paper – working together as a team.
“I think the big thing is we’re a family. We genuinely enjoy each other,” says Odom. “We do team building things, have fun together, are philanthropic as a family. … We really have a great time. Doug sets the tone for that. He always says we spend more time here than with our families, so we need to love it. You talk about loyalty, all of the buy-in here, we get that.”