In business since 1975 with a pattern of steady expansion throughout Northeast Ohio, Andy and Elissa Fiffick’s Rad Air Complete Car Care and Tire Centers has netted Motor Age Top Shop honors for five years in a row.
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And Andy Fiffick is quick to salute the other high-scoring Top Shops for being among industry’s best and most reputable. “Everybody on that list is awesome,” he observes, adding that too many repairers throughout the country are so intent on upselling and running up big tickets that they have lost sight of what should be the overriding goal: Providing trustworthy and reliable services at a fair price.
“That group gives us all a black eye,” says Fiffick, expressing his disdain for excessive sales pitches. Overreaching to reach financial quotas by tacking on unnecessary tasks or rushing to push certain repairs that can safely wait until a later date “is counter-productive to what the client actually needs and it sets up the staff to be dishonest,” he contends.
Most motorists have enough concerns over making mortgage payments, buying braces for the kids or meeting other household expenses that being socked with an inflated auto repair bill is simply the wrong way to conduct business. Rad Air’s position may seem radical to some, and while unsavory tactics may bring in short-term funds, over the long haul those customers are unlikely to return – and chances are they will share that unpleasant experience with their friends, neighbors and relatives, according to Fiffick.
“We wholeheartedly believe in what we are doing by taking care of our customers,” he declares. “Rad Air is known as the go-to shop for expert repairs and unparalleled customer service.” The company’s impressive growth pattern over nearly 40 years presents ample evidence that a “fix it right the first time” focus with no bill-padding is the right route to success.
Currently encompassing 12 locations, the company began as a single small radiator and air conditioning repair shop, hence the “Rad Air” name. “We quickly earned a reputation for offering car owners the best service in the area at an affordable price,” says Fiffick, who credits his father and grandfather for fostering in him a solid sense of ethics coupled with an exacting attention to detail.
“My Dad was a sergeant in the Army motor pool working on tanks and Jeeps. My grandfather was a cabinetmaker – talk about perfectionists! I started early,” he continues, recounting how he began working on cars alongside his father at the tender age of six.
“On evenings and weekends my Dad taught me to fix a vehicle correctly the first time, and I began striving to become an expert technician.” After high school Fiffick attended the Lincoln Technical Institute in Indiana and became a Master Technician, a certification he still holds today. He later earned an associate degree in business management.
Launching new locations
Joined by Fiffick’s wife Elissa and daughter Brittany Fiffick-Gumucio, who has developed a sophisticated and wide-ranging Internet and social media presence, Rad Air has been expansion-minded from the get-go. “Our goal is to open new stores each year for the foreseeable future,” he reports.
At this point there are five potential properties being considered for additional locations. “Three of them look promising,” Fiffick reveals, describing the intricacies of completing these types of transactions.
“You have to find the right property at the right deal,” he notes. Other analytical aspects include getting a handle on a neighborhood’s vehicle traffic patterns, economic and population demographics, and the average age of the cars being driven.
Keeping abreast of the latest in propulsion systems has proven to be another element. Although EVs do not yet comprise a huge market within the Cleveland-Akron axis, in March the Fifficks launched a new division called Cleveland Hybrid to provide hybrid and electric vehicle owners with replacement batteries, maintenance and repairs. Thus far sales have been electrifying.
“We’ve been getting hybrid people driving from up to 100 miles away to get their hybrids serviced,” says Fiffick. “I owned the first hybrid Ford Escape in the Cleveland market in 2005, and we’ve been training on hybrids since they came out.” The company also runs hybrids within its fleet of business vehicles.
“Hybrid and EV owners can face challenges when attempting to get their cars repaired or find replacement batteries,” he points out. As the region’s first aftermarket shop dedicated to hybrids, “the goal of Cleveland Hybrid is to offer an affordable alternative to the pricey services offered by traditional dealers,” says Fiffick.
“There is no doubt that these services are needed in our area,” he says. “There are literally thousands of hybrid cars on the streets in our area which are great for the environment and for gas usage, but getting them serviced has been a real hassle for car owners,” Fiffick explains. “The launching of Cleveland Hybrid provides these car owners a new source for affordable, expert repairs and replacement batteries that will save thousands of dollars.”
This new division promises the same “fast, friendly, community-based service” that has driven the shop’s reputation over the years. “Clients can expect honest advice, no pushy sales tactics, free loaner vehicles and an excellent warranty.” The specialized services are available at all the Rad Air locations.
“In addition to making sure our staff has the education they need to be the best, we also make sure we provide proper tools and equipment so they may provide superior service,” says Fiffick.
“Unique scanners -- such as those for BMW and Mercedes -- and unique tools are shared between shops and are hand-delivered by a Rad Air staff member on an as-needed basis. New tools are purchased when they are needed in the shop more than twice per month,” he says.
“Managers and senior technicians work together to identify new tools and equipment to improve the shop’s operations and service offerings. We allocate 3 percent to 5 percent of gross profit to purchase new equipment, update existing equipment and renew OEM and aftermarket software subscriptions,” says Fiffick.
“In addition to making sure our shops are supplied with the proper tools and equipment, we recognize that we must also provide our managers with clean, modern service counters and waiting areas.” This year five locations underwent renovations on the counters, offices and waiting rooms.
Along with factory-level training available as part of the A/CDelco TSS program, the company also contracts with respected consultants to conduct educational sessions for the staff. In addition to John Anello, “G” Truglia and Sam Bell, Rad Air has retained the services of pioneering hybrid guru Craig Van Battenburg and his Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC), which has provided 40 hours of instruction.
Tom Warmuth, vice president of operations and general manager, regularly schedules in-house education to ensure that all the technicians are kept current with the latest technologies. “Training is paid for by the company and allows our technicians to become the best technician they can be,” according to Fiffick.
“This training also allows Rad Air service centers to repair all makes, models and years. Employees receive incentive bonuses and recognition for updating their education and improving their skills,” he notes.
“Each Rad Air service manager is expected to run their shop as if it were their own business while adhering to Rad Air’s business philosophy and company values of honesty and integrity,” says Fiffick. “This allows them to take the responsibility and authority for improving employee productivity rates and client retention rates.”
The company’s “primary focus is building relationships with clients who will become our brand ambassadors in their own communities,” he emphasizes. “Therefore, we do not use sales or job quotas, productivity goals or SPIFF (Sales Promotion Incentive Fund) programs. Instead, we examine gross profit and employee productivity figures on a monthly basis. Each employee strives to reach a productivity rate of 85 percent.”
As part of the company’s succession plan Warmuth is slated to oversee the operation when Fiffick eventually steps down from his position as president.
Warmuth’s existing duties include examining staff productivity rates along with supervising the training programs. Additional aid is offered to branches and individual employees who need assistance reaching the company’s stated goals. “Most importantly,” says Fiffick, “maintaining a client retention rate of 82 percent or better is the greatest indicator of our ability to successfully manage each shop.”