Every shop wants to increase sales. That’s a given. But when it comes time to take actionable steps toward that goal, things can get cloudy. Where should you begin? What should you emphasize most? What will give you the biggest return on your investment of time and money?
These are some of the questions Jason Wong, CEO of CARSTAR Auto World in San Bruno, Calif., wrestled with when he decided to take his two-shop business on a faster track to greater revenue. His success provides valuable lessons for shops of all sizes.
Wong has been in the collision repair industry for three decades, and has owned his own shop for all but three of those years. When he decided that he wanted to increase revenue, he observed that one of the most pressing needs for improvement in his business was in the shop’s overall efficiency. To remedy that problem, he became a CARSTAR franchisee in 2018.
“I had spent my entire life trying to create the correct procedures for operations,” says Wong. “But with CARSTAR’s EDGE Performance platform, we were finally able to dial in the correct procedures, and the shop just took off without trial and error.”
With increased production efficiencies, Wong would have room in his shop for more work by completing repairs in less time. But he knew he’d still need to apply his own, unique marketing methods to bring more business in to take advantage of those gains.
To do so, a holistic approach was required, blending a number of subtle, organic business development processes into an effective means of increasing sales.
Learn what other shops are doing.
As part of the CARSTAR organization, Wong had access to a wealth of information from the chain’s hundreds of stores. This proved to be an invaluable source of ideas as he sought ways to build his business. He then applied these insights to formulate his own unique mix of marketing methods.
But, having run shops on his own for decades, he also knew what it’s like to be without these resources. In that position, he says managers need to seek other ways to get ideas and inspiration from peers. “
When you’re an independent, you don't have access to 600 stores,” he says. “There's no real playbook. So you have to look to sources like FenderBender. A person with the passion to do well in this industry can read the articles in it and learn, ‘Hey, this person's doing this. How is he doing it?’”
Look everywhere for opportunities.
Years earlier, Wong had learned that the amount of business you get in your shop depends mostly on the amount of effort you put into it.
“This business is very unforgiving,” he says. “You have to be able to go get work anywhere. That could be from Enterprise rental car, to U-Haul, to working with used car lots and car dealerships.”
Wong applied this diligent work ethic to every possible means of bringing in new business and increasing sales, gaining him a steady flow of customers to keep his more productive shop rolling.
Build relationships in the industry.
All business comes down to people, says Wong. So he focused on the give-and-take of his relationships with insurance companies and other partners, to find ways in which both parties can win.
“I have great relationships with my insurance partners because I understand them,” he says. “You have to remember that these people have responsibilities, and they need to do things so they can keep their lives going. When you do that, it’s much easier to keep those relationships.”
With this open-minded approach to forming relationships, Wong was able to onboard insurance companies and collaborate with other stakeholders in ways that benefitted his business and brought him closer to his goals.
Focus On Surveys
In Wong’s arsenal of sales improvement weapons, customer surveys are among his top picks. “Insurance carriers give customers maybe three or four shops to choose from, and they put the Google reviews on there,” he says. “So now there's no difference from customers buying something on Amazon. Same concept. Shops get rewarded now because they’re doing a great job.”
To that end, Wong’s shop has an impressive 4.8-star rating on Google Reviews, with more than 200 reviews. And beyond just being a powerful source of business, Wong’s emphasis on surveys allowed him to significantly reduce his advertising spending. He says he now spends about 1 percent of his shop’s revenue on advertising, compared to about 12 percent a decade ago.
He also found that customer surveys are one of the best means of improving his overall operations.
“You may get a customer that comes in and accepts the car, even though they’re not really happy,” he says. But they won't tell you that upfront. Then, when they’re home and they get that survey, they’ll tell you how they really feel. That's valuable, because you can take that and make changes.”
Invest In Your Staff
Ultimately, Wong knew that his most valuable resource was the people that surrounded him every day. Optimizing that was largely a matter of just following the Golden Rule, he says.
“The No. 1 thing is that you always want to treat people the way you want to be treated,” he says. “That’s the foundation.”
At the same time, he paid close attention to what his staff members were trying to achieve with their careers, and he facilitated those goals as much as possible. That built trust and loyalty, effectively making employees partners in his success.
“I give them a really clear career path for what they want to do and where the opportunities are,” he says.
Find Your Passion
In his quest to make his business more successful, Wong says he didn’t do it for material gain. It was about something deeper, more personal. And that clearly motivated him more than just the desire to inflate his bank account.
“I didn’t get into this business because I dreamed of making large amounts of money,” he says. “I love this industry and I love fixing cars. I still wake up at five o'clock in the morning to get here before six. I run my own production meetings, and I still do the hiring.”
By starting with a mindset of passion and personal satisfaction, Wong worked harder than many other shop owners, which over time inevitably opened doors and delivered the results he was seeking.
In one year-and-a-half period, Wong increased sales by 150 percent. Through a variety of methods, he brought considerably more work into his shop, while improving the throughput of his operation.
And although that period was a time of particularly intense growth, he hasn’t slowed down. He still applies the same methods to his business, even as it continues to reach bigger milestones year after year.
The numbers bear out the effectiveness of his approach. “Three-and-a-half years ago, we were doing about $1.8 million per year. We’re probably going to do $5.5 million to $6 million this year.”
Wong’s passion clearly drives much of what he does. It’s what got him into the business decades ago, and it’s what still fuels his desire for greater achievement. But most of his accomplishments have come from plain, old-fashioned hard work.
Wong says that if other shop owners apply this diligent work ethic, they could be every bit as successful as he is.
“As operators, we know what we need to do,” he says. “It's just a matter of us pulling the trigger on it. I think the big separation really comes for the operator who will go out there and actually look for the right partners, and really study, and put the focus on his people.
“We’re not building cars from scratch, we’re just fixing them. Anyone can do what I’ve done in my career.”