Working With the Customer
To expand this customer relationship, Curry’s Auto Service has a dedicated customer advocate whose only job is to follow up with customers. Matt Curry says the advocate, who started as a customer of the shop, plays a key role in making sure each customer gets the level of service they expect and want. Judy Curry says this is just an extension of how they had been interacting with their customers.
“We’re trying to capture our customers opinions, ideas for improvement, staying in touch with them. We have our online testimonials and our online surveys, but it really wasn’t enough,” she states. “We wanted to make sure we developed more of a relationship with our customers and really got a feel for what they need and what they want and where we need to improve. And the feedback we got from the people we talked to was great. ‘Wow, this is great. You called me up and wanted to hear what I had to say.’ We thought this is fantastic and we need to continue to do this as much as we can. We realize it’s a very important tool.”
They currently call about a 30 percent sampling of customers per location, which is about 40 customers per day. But Matt Curry says they are in the process of expanding that to every customer, because that’s the right thing to do. New point of sale software and customer management systems now give the owners the ability to watch all aspects of the stores, from inventory to sales, cash flow, marketing and more. They say this helps them better communicate with their customers and track customers’ histories.
Curry’s Auto Service also is the only shop in Northern Virginia to be certified Female Friendly by AskPatty.com. Judy Curry says this is important to her especially, because she knows so many women who are in charge of making all the decisions on their families’ vehicles, she wants them to know there’s a good place to turn.
Part of being Female Friendly is having simple things in line, like keeping restrooms clean, having a variety of proper magazines and free WiFi. But it goes beyond that to making sure staff knows how to communicate correctly, putting all customers — not just women — at ease about asking questions.
“They really appreciate having an honest discussion with an expert and not feeling like they’re going to be laughed at or made fun of for asking the wrong question or a stupid question or afraid that they’re going to get ripped off because they’re female,” she states. “That’s not what we’re all about. Whether you’re male or female, we’re going to be honest about what we find in your car and we’re going to communicate that to you in a way that you can make the best decision about your car.”
Matt Curry is quick to add that that is the whole nucleus of their program: inspecting every car and recommending what it needs and a plan that works best for you. Tying the inspections and Female Friendly certification together in marketing then is a logical step. He says he has heard many positive comments about radio commercials his wife cuts touting these facts.
“I’ve gotten people coming up to me saying, ‘Matt, I heard your wife on the radio and this female friendly thing is brilliant.’ We get positive comments from men as well as women about it who appreciate it,” he says. “I even had dads in our stores, saying, 'I really appreciate this. I feel comfortable with my daughter coming here.'”
To Market, To Market
Marketing is a key component of Curry’s Auto Service’s overall plan, focusing not just on being Female Friendly but on a variety of shop features. The shop utilizes radio, direct mail, customer e-mail service reminders, e-mail newsletters to more than 9,000 customer addresses and community events to market its services. It has jumped into the social medial realm on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and keeps its website current and interactive.
The site features not just basic shop information and online appointment features, but also online contests, surveys and other maintenance information. Customers who submit feedback or referrals online are entered in a monthly drawing for gift certificates, gas cards, Curry’s logo items and seasonal gifts.
“My whole goal with our website was to tell our goal and to offer discounts to entice new customers to come in and check us out,” Judy Curry explains. “But also I wanted it to be interactive. I didn’t want it to be a website where people just came for information. I wanted it to be another source for us to interact and get information from us. Or how are we doing? They can go and do a testimonial, do a survey, join our Facebook page, print out a friend referral coupon. I just try to put things on that engage our customers and have fun.”
Marketing at the shop also involves the customers. It is launching another calendar for 2011, this time featuring customers and their vehicles. They gave away prizes for submitting photos, and every car submitted is featured in the 2011 calendar.
“These are all customers of ours, and they got to brag about their cars,” Matt Curry says. “Then everybody could vote on them. We got people involved, we drove traffic to our website.”
Curry’s also helps its customer-base by hosting free maintenance clinics, car shows, open shop days and car club events. The shop hosted an event for women and another event for the area Porsche club featured former Washington Redskins Brian Mitchell, who according to Matt Curry is a big car guy and customer. He presented a clinic and speaking engagement, including stories about going fast, a hit among customers.
“It’s what our customers want. They appreciate it. They like to come out and learn about their vehicles,” Judy Curry notes.
The shop also participates in a teen driving school, including employees volunteering to be instructors, and hosting a Girl Scout DASHboard program.
These marketing and customer-focused programs that involve the community all are in addition to the community service opportunities everyone in the shop takes advantage of. The Currys and employees have worked with Food for Others, Autism Speaks, Loudoun County Area Agency on Aging and Jill’s House, among other youth and sporting activities. All of this work includes both time and money.
“We’re a family, locally owned repair shop and tire store. We’re not a big franchise,” Matt Curry says. “We want to serve the communities that we serve. It’s the right thing to do.”
While the shop might be a family, locally-owned business, the Currys have been able to align themselves with suppliers like larger companies would. The shop’s philosophy is to not tie up a lot of money in inventory and to get the part at the best price for customers. They don’t stock many parts, and because of their buying power, they have been able to negotiate rebates between 5 and 12 percent.
Matt Curry explains that part of this is because he has been in the automotive repair business for 29 years, working with many of these suppliers since before his first shop opened its doors nearly 13 years ago. But the relationships have changed, and he says they have been able to work out better agreements with their suppliers, because they’ve grown.
“For the most part, we were able to sit down and negotiate and say, ‘Hey, we’re not one store any more. We need to buy better than some of these other guys do. We deserve to, because we’re doing a million dollars a year with you instead of $50,000 a year with you,’” he says. “We expect to get better pricing than some of our competitors who maybe don’t do as much business.”
The shop also demands that the suppliers they deal with have the best people on staff from the top down.
“We also want to make sure that we’re dealing with the ones that have the best people, that have the highest quality parts, that stand behind their products, that are professional,” Matt Curry adds. “It’s amazing how some of these parts drivers, they come to our stores, they’re professional and we don’t have to worry about an image thing.”
The shop also has demanded more of its top 10 vendors this year, asking to see in writing their plans to go green. Matt Curry says this is important to them, as they make their shops greener. The shops use Toyota Priuses for their service and shuttle vehicles, have implemented an oil spill cleanup program ( and later using those mats as a secondary fuel source) and of course recycle all fluids, tires, parts and metal.
“We’ve done a lot of cool things ourselves. We’re going to continue to do the right thing, so we’ve gone to our vendors and we wanted to make sure they’re being responsible with the environment and they’re doing all the right things, or as much as possible, to work their way toward a going green program. We’re letting them know that’s important to us,” he says.
Involvement in the aftermarket industry also is important to the shop owners. Curry’s Auto Service is a Bosch Certified Repair Facility, AAA certified and participates in area National Car Care Month events. The Currys sit on the student advisory board at Chantilly High School’s Academy for Automotive Know How, and Judy Curry is on the board of AskPatty.com. In addition, to that Matt Curry in September was a keynote speaker on going green and what shops should do at the Tire Industry Association (TIA) Environmental Symposium.
And the Currys do know what works and they get it when it comes to running a successful shop. From training to technology, marketing to sales, they have developed and revamped plans that work to put them on the map as some of the best services in the country.
“We just really feel strongly that we have the best people in the industry. This is a people-oriented business. Everybody’s got to be on the right page of what the vision is from the top, what we expect, what we want,” Matt Curry says. “Obviously if it’s a good vision and it makes sense, then people will jump on that bandwagon. It’s a matter of having the right people to do the job. We want to put the right people in the right place to do the right thing all the time. That’s our deal.”
And it’s a deal that works.