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As the economic downturn of the last several years took a toll on several auto repair shops, CARS – California Auto Repair and Smog took the tough times as a chance to reinvent itself.
The shop, now completely women-owned and managed, started with its customers first, implementing a concierge service. Owner Barb White says the service arranges for vehicles to be brought in for service, leaving owners to never have to set foot in the shop.
“They just don’t have the time, so the concierge service we can actually pick up the vehicles so the customer never has to come in,” White says. “They can stay working and doing what they need to do. We can pick up the vehicle, bring it in, service it, wash it, detail it and return it, and they don’t have to do anything. We’re just trying to make things as easy as possible for our customers."
The shop will be one of the first to offer AAA's concierge service, as it meets all of its qualifications.
As for those customers who do choose to come in, White says they now are seeing a big difference in how they are treated.
“We take the time to educate the customer so they can make decisions as to what would be in their best interest. It’s their car, it’s their money, they need to make the decisions, but they need to be able to make informed decisions and how can they do that if we don’t take that time to educate them on it,” she says.
Part of that has to do with the shop being owned and run by women. White notes that women are not intimidated to come in and speak with another woman about their vehicle needs. They education they get is valuable, and the shop has been able to do all of this without alienating their male customers.
“They can’t work on cars anymore either and they’re not always so up front as to ask questions, so we take the time to explain it to them and they really are appreciative,” White notes.
To make the changes smoother, the shop has adapted a new electronic marketing focus. It is connecting with customers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media outlets, increasing its reach.
“I’m in my 18th year of business, so I’m not a new business, so it gives me a chance to interact with my customers. It’s easy, it’s not intimidating, it’s not a piece of junk mail that they get in the mail,” White says.
The shop educated its customers with a pair of Social Media Meet and Greets in its bays. Local guest speakers presented information on how to use Facebook, Twitter and social media in general to learn, share and connect with other people and businesses. It helped White, because she needs her customers to know how to receive the messages she’s sending through this new media.
“The other thing is I think I’m kind of pretty normal. I’m middle-aged so a lot of this is new to me. They didn’t have personal computers when I was in college, and a lot of my customers are in the same boat,” she notes. “A lot of them are very intimidated by learning about things like Facebook and LinkedIn. I thought, I’m going to put on this seminar. I’m going to invite them to the shop and give them an opportunity to see the shop. But more than that, I will give them something of benefit to themselves that will take the intimidation out of it. I will have experts here where they can just talk to them and ask instead of having to call somebody because they might be charged.”
In addition to social media, CARS has implemented the Internet in other ways. It uses Mitchell’s CRM program to offer free online services giving customers access to their complete vehicle history, as well as manufacturer recommendations, online scheduling and question forums, as well as videos explaining automotive repair.