When you have employees with a good work-life balance, things around the shop are easier. Dana TePoel discovered that and has made it his goal to train employees at his shop, Lake Arbor Automotive and Truck, in areas outside of automotive repair to ensure that balance is found.
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“Training used to always be about making the person more productive and flagging more hours. As time evolved, one thing I’ve learned is that happy people make good employees,” says the owner of the Westminster, Colo., NAPA AutoCare Center, who admits he used to leave before his children woke for the day and get home after they were back in bed. “I found that if you actually care about your employees and you teach them how to have that balance in their lives, how to be financially successful in their lives, how to manage their time, how to cope with stress, all the things that are typically saved for the management people…they show up well rested, they have happy families, they’re not driven by the need to survive.”
TePoel says that offering training beyond technical repair is just part of doing the right thing, which happens to be the shop’s mantra. “I tried lying when I was a very young child. I was never good at it; I always got caught,” he jokes. “If you just do the right thing, it’s the only way to go.”
Creating the simple bottom line of doing what is right for your customers makes the employees’ jobs easier. He notes that it relieves the tension of on-the-job decisions. Lake Arbor Auto’s policy creates an environment in which employees feel empowered to treat the customer well, without worrying about the impact on the company’s bottom line. Also, TePoel and company have a written work-flow process to increase productivity, with feedback forms that can be filled out and distributed either up or down the chain of command, they report.
“I’ve just held my guns about doing the right things and being a good person in the community,” TePoel says. “I’ve discovered how this works as a marketing tool. Customers recognize that you’ve passed up an opportunity to put money on the bottom line.”
But TePoel notes that it’s not a missed opportunity on the bottom line of today, but rather an investment in that of tomorrow. It also works on the employees, as they have added confidence and continue to look to be an effective leader. “If you’re looking to be an effective leader and manager, and you get people to be on your side and engage in the process you have going, having an entire system build on doing the right things for the right reasons and not cheating anybody, it’s much easier to get people on board. To do the right thing is listed on page one of everyone’s job description.”
Working With the Customers
Lake Arbor Auto incorporates the “do the right thing” attitude in a couple of programs for its customers — buying groups and its Wherever Warranty.
TePoel explains the groups came about as a way to draw in more customers after he realized he had a client base of men who brought in trucks for state diesel emissions tests, but not their spouse’s vehicles.
“As I began to think more about how it might work, I knew the first step needed to be (to) double the amount of cars I have on the customer,” he explains. So for a group of two, the customers get a 5 percent discount on labor. After that, the next designation is a group of six people, which receives a 10 percent discount on labor.
“I chose the number six because it had to be obtainable, but it had to move outside the boundaries of a person’s family. You’d probably have to move outside of your family and to a coworker,” TePoel notes.
At the next level, 25 customers, members receive a 15 percent discount on labor, an effort created to bring in companies. Overall, the programs are not meant to measure customer dollars, but rather drive customer behavior.
“Everyone has to play. It can’t be the same person twice, or three people twice,” TePoel says of the various visit requirements each group holds. “When a group has five different people in the group who have engaged in the process say in the month of October and they need one more person, you email the group and say, ‘If one more person in the group comes in, you get 10 percent rather than a 5 percent discount. So one more person comes in because they’re encouraged by the others in the group (to do so).
“It helps us build and keep that core in the center,” he continues. “You’ve always got new customers coming in and you have some attrition in customers always falling off the back. We try to control the people falling of the back.”
In addition to the groups, the Wherever Warranty offers that if a vehicle owner brings the vehicle to Lake Arbor Automotive with issues that should be covered under warranty, the shop will offer to take it to the nearest dealership and bring it back upon completion, at no additional cost.
“It’s again, an investment in tomorrow’s bottom line. This is the same thing as doing the right thing,” TePoel states. “Initially, I did it because it was the right thing to do. If I’m in a position of trust and a customer brings their car to me and they don’t know that they may be entitled to some kind of extended warranty, they may invest if they knew they could get the repairs for free.”
For example, TePoel experiences this a lot with diesel trucks. Many owners extend warranties unbeknownst to them based on past proven failures in the vehicle models. The shop lets them know about the repairs, building trust with them, as he can do other, and in his words, better service for the customers.
“Every time I did this for someone, they were flabbergasted,” he says. “They say, ‘I was ready to spend $1,800, and I never would have known, never could have known.
Moving Forward in Life
While TePoel is not ready to move out of the business just yet, he has his goals in place and will be ready to complete his succession plan in about five years. Down the line, he also has in place plans to sell the building to whomever buys the business. Staggering the timeline works well for him.
“I’ve got quite a bit of skin in the game,” he explains. “That’s kind of how, from a business perspective, I have chosen to sell (the business) in 2022, and then sell the building in 2032.”
The extra time will allow TePoel to continue grooming the technicians and service employees learn to understand the business like a business owner. Once the employee hits certain benchmarks, TePoel talks with him or her, outlining his plan for retirement and sharing his intention to sell to someone in the shop that will continue the “do the right thing” approach. The approach also pays dividends now, as these employees are more efficient, making more money for themselves and bettering the shop.
Then he can shift gears and become the shop’s consultant, keeping the community outreach going. His plan also will allow him to spend more time with his grandchildren, who will be 11 and 8 at the time of sale, in addition to any other grandchildren who will have come along. He plans on building on Friday Fun Days, during which he takes the children to the museum, zoo, parks and more. It’s part of being there more, like he wishes now he would’ve been when his children were young.
And ties back into training his employees outside of the bays so they can have a better work-life balance from the start.