Reinvention Born out of a Recession

Jan. 1, 2020
CARS takes new approach to change with the changing times.
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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.

Smooth Operations
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.


“They’re almost like little YouTube videos and it explains in layman’s terms why you have to do certain maintenance and what it means to the customer,” White notes. “It’s all about explaining to the customer what benefit it is to them so they can understand it, so they can get it. We get it, but we explain it to the customers so they can get it as well.”

Cross Training
Once customers bring their vehicles to the shop, or utilize the concierge service, cross-trained employees greet them. White says this is important so customers know someone knowledgeable will take care of them. It also helps the employees take advantage of flexible schedules, paid vacations and holidays.

“They need to be able to go and rest and regenerate and come back. But I don’t want it to be at the customers’ expense,” she is quick to point out. “Even I went out and became ASE certified as a service writer so I can step in and have enough knowledge.”

This extends beyond the front desk to the bays. Technicians are able to step up and run the front desk should service advisors be out. Plus, the understanding it creates among employees is very valuable, White says.

“It helps each department have a little more compassion for the other, because you know how your work affects the next department,” she explains. “It’s really important. When we brought one of our techs up to start learning the service advising, he had no clue what she had to go through between dealing with the customers and ordering parts and making sure the workflow was going in an orderly manner. Now you know that when he goes in the back, his paperwork is going to be in better order, he’s going to do things in the order that she has requested it, because it affects everything else.”

The staff all responds to this, from the service advisor, Cindy Koser with more than 35 years of experience, to the new concierge, Victoria Curtiss and assistant Sebastian Davis, who were hired through The Smart Business Resource Center, a community program White participates in. The center grant-funding, non-profit group that helps put people back to work.

White and her staff also participate in numerous organizations like Relay for Lift and Boy Scouts, as well as industry organizations like the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and Women’s Board of the Car Care Council. Rotary, another group of which White is a part, offers a high school job shadowing program the shop has been a part of.

“The kids want to be able to go into a place of business and kind of follow the employees around to see if it’s something they might like to go into,” she says. It gives the shop a chance to put a good face on the industry and bring in more, talented technicians.

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