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Haglin Automotive: An automotive repair shop ahead of the curve

A unique niche market is just one segment of clients this repeat winner serves.
Monday, December 1, 2014 - 08:00
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It was curious; lots of facts and figures are tabulated for these profiles, but in listing the number of customer vehicles they get per week, one shop had added a subcategory called “Interlock clients.” Are those cars that got stuck together? People who can’t get out of their vehicles? Two cars with the same key?

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“Colorado’s zero tolerance policy on DUIs requires an Interlock breathalyzer be installed on your car,” explains Judi Haglin, who with husband Dana runs Haglin Automotive in Boulder. “We have a contract with (manufacturer) LifeSafer, and these clients come in every 30 to 60 days to get them checked. Basically it provides a service, and we try to convert several of them into becoming customers.”

Ingenious, but … rife with potential awkwardness. The Interlock tests a driver’s sobriety before allowing the ignition to work. And since they aren’t clients by choice, how does Haglin convince a group of doubtlessly ill-tempered folk into becoming pleased patrons?

“You have to basically be their advocate,” she says. “When they get to us they’ve been through every part of the legal system; we’re the last step. So you have to be really compassionate, you have to want to help them get through it. We forward the phones on the weekends to either me or one of the service writers, and we take quite a few calls from people who have a temporary lockout and are freaking out. We tell them to wait 15 to 20 minutes, get something to eat, drink a lot of water, etc., to help them through this.”

Not everyone was on board when she first proposed this a few years ago. “Everybody just said, ‘but they’re all drunks,’” recalls Haglin. “I explained that they’re not, they’re just people who got caught. In all the time we’ve been doing this, I can honestly say we’ve only had two true alcoholics who shouldn’t ever drive till they’ve quit drinking. Otherwise they’re just regular people. You just have to be patient with them and explain the system: it’s not Haglin Automotive that’s against them; we’re here to help.”

During an Interlock check, Haglin’s goes through a courtesy checklist just like on any other customer’s car to make sure everything’s working: lights, fluids, etc. The Interlock install itself takes about 20 minutes to an hour on a basic car. “It’s not any longer than an oil change and a checklist,” she notes.

But that last item is getting quicker all the time with the shop’s recent adoption of a Bolt-On Technology program. A software/hardware system that ties lots of functions together—communications, scheduling, inspections -- it has greatly improved efficiency.

“We’ve got a very long shop at 7,000 square feet, six bays long,” Haglin points out. “For the guys at the far end, it’s a long walk to the office and back. One of the reasons we went with electronic inspection forms was that we could cut out the paper trail between the technicians and the office.”

Called Team Chat, all this information flows through tablets supplied to each of the technicians. “When we check a car in we can change the status to ‘in progress’ or ‘check CPL,’” Haglin says with relish. “The technician knows exactly what cars he’s working on, and can do the checklist right on the tablet. From there you can use canned Notes, Jobs and Recommendations,” the latter actually listing parts and labor.

“Then the technician sends the checklist up to the front desk, where they start right away on the estimate,” says Haglin. “Techs can write notes straight into the invoice that tells the front desk what the issues are, like someone came in with an overheat, etc., so all the info is right there and the technician doesn’t have to run back and forth with all the paperwork. It all magically just happens,” she laughs.

“For the customer, (the system) has electronic signature for the final invoice; we can email them that and any estimates and/or text; we can text message the customers right through the invoice. There are many issues it really helps with, and we’re still trying to get all the system’s facets put together.”

It’s clear the Haglins throw themselves into these ventures with great enthusiasm; one of their longest projects — and possibly longest lasting — has been a succession plan. “It all goes back to an ATI seminar,” relates Haglin. “Of course we thought they were talking about retirement and getting out of the business. But after listening some more, it became a paradigm shift for us; they were talking about a transition from working in the business to working on the business--basically being more efficient so we could get more time away.”

Right now the Haglins are working on listing all the jobs that each of them do and how to delegate them. “It sounds simple, but trust me, the list is long. It’s the little things that add up. Then you have to train someone else to do what you’ve done for years. Right now we’re working on a daily report that our service writers put together. This sums up sales, deposits — basic information--plus what worked, what didn’t.”

The succession planning has been going on for two years now; it’s not something to be taken lightly, Haglin explains. “The other part we’ve been working on for even longer is finding the right people. That has been the biggest challenge. Right now we’re real excited; we have a crew that we think is going to be ‘it.’ Now it’s a matter of fine tuning them to work really well as a team.”

It’s clear the Haglins pride themselves on not responding to the market, but anticipating it. Judi reports that research is ongoing into technologies that will likely impact, if not dominate the industry in the next decade.  Plus they’re currently overhauling their website to the “responsive” format. And they rescue dogs. By plane. What more do you need to know?

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