Family-owned shop reaches out to community, online customers

July 27, 2016
V&F Auto began with a firm foundation. Vinny and Frank Palange, father and son, founded V&F in 1988 by taking the added step of buying an acre of land in Agawam, MA.

V&F Auto began with a firm foundation. Vinny and Frank Palange, father and son, founded V&F in 1988 by taking the added step of buying an acre of land in Agawam, MA. While most shops start off making do with rented property, the Palanges built a 4000 square foot facility, which they’ve expanded and refined over the years to the establishment it is now.  

At a glance:
V&F Auto
Agawam, Mass.
Location
Frank Palange
Owner
1
No. of shops
27
Years in business
9
No. of employees
7,500
Total square footage
12
No. of bays
$494
Average repair order w/o State Inspections
$284
Average repair order w/ State Inspections
108
No. of customer vehicles per week
$1.6 million
Annual gross revenue
www.vfauto.com
Website

“They were actually just going to do some detailing and sell some basic parts,” says Nicole Palange of her grandfather and father. “From there they started doing some oil changes, but my dad likes to tell the story of when a woman came in and asked if they did brakes. My dad said we didn’t, my grandpa kicked him behind the counter and said yes we did. ‘No we don’t.’ ‘Yes we do.’”

“My dad had become a licensed electrician when he was in school, so he didn’t quite have a complete automotive background,” she explains. “Finally they told her that they would figure out how to do it. (After that) service grew faster, so we ended up with many different additions.” Over the years it would grow to include retail and wholesale parts and eventually even an auto sales firm across the street in 2002. 

“I would say repair is roughly 50 percent of our business, if not a little bit more, with parts being about 30 percent and car sales about 20 percent,” Palange reports. However, it’s somewhat unusual to be both a parts supplier and consumer. “It’s difficult,” she admits. “With service being our dominate business, it took us a long time to build a reputation in the parts industry where people could trust us and not look at us as a competitor.”

However, V&F recently had occasion to physically separate the two businesses when they purchased a building next door to their auto sales and refurbished it as an independent Carquest store. “Over time we’ve proven ourselves to our parts customers that we’re not giving our service business any kinds of deals,” relates Palange. “It’s definitely challenging, but we’ve learned a lot through the years, and I believe we’re at a point now that we can feel confident about where we stand with our parts business.”

Honesty being the best policy, “be sure you that you’re being ethical,” offers Palange. “My dad was somebody who was always open with (other shops); if we ran a marketing campaign and they wanted to know how we did it, he would gladly sit down with them and let them know. He’s a very smart man, and he lets them know he wants them to grow. The reality of it is if they do well, they buy more parts, and we do better. In the end that helps all of us.”

Palange herself handles the company’s online marketing. “We tried farming it out, but that takes away the purpose of doing it,” she explains. “Instead of a generic presentation, we want to share who we are and reach our customers in a way that shows them we’re not just a business; we want them to learn more about who we are as people so they feel comfortable patronizing us.”

Frank Palange, owner

Part of that is through V&F’s extensive involvement in the community through various local and national programs: Hoof for Roof, a program for veterans where they donated a car in conjunction with Cars for Freedom; the ALS Strikeout; Keep Education Rolling; Paint the Town Purple as part of Relay for Life; Toys for Tots; the Festival of Trees just to name a few.

“It’s just something we enjoy doing,” Palange concedes. “It makes the work day more lively, more fun than just the typical nitty-gritty business. It’s an opportunity to meet more people after all the hard work we put into the business, an opportunity to share that with others. Being able to do that and having those different relationships you obtain from going to do these different events, it’s definitely rewarding.

“In my experience, Facebook is definitely the most successful avenue for businesses,” she declares. “Instagram is basically Facebook without posts, only pictures. It works to some degree, but we haven’t found it to be very successful in the automotive industry. Sometimes we do promotions, but we try to keep it a social media outlet, interacting with customers versus pushing marketing on them. A lot of it is branding who we are as people, so whenever we do community events, we’re putting those kinds of pictures up. Whenever we see something cool at the shop, we share that.”

Having hired a company which maintains their website and search engine optimization, Palange has also picked up a lot by working closely with them. “How do you learn all of that information?” she poses. “It’s just about reaching out and asking questions. They host webinars all the time, so I might end up calling our account rep and say, ‘I just saw that they did the penguin update in Google — what the heck does that mean?’ I’ll probably send them an email a week.”

Their recent expansion across the street opened up a lot of square footage, allowing V&F to renovate and dramatically increase the size of their waiting room and service writing area. “We also increased the size of our used car lot from a 21 car license to a 51 car license,” Palange reports. “And we tremendously amped up our parts inventory by about $250,000, so we’ve just done a huge overhaul. But we’re always growing, and every day we look to grow more, whether it’s through additional customers or sales goals.

“At this time there’s no plan for expansion, but whenever an opportunity opens up we don’t shy away from it,” beams Palange. “That’s the fun part about being in business and the way you’re going to be successful; you have to weigh out the risks and opportunities. Always keep your eyes and ears open.”

About the Author

Robert Bravender

Robert Bravender graduated from the University of Memphis (TN) with a bachelor's degree in film and video production. Now working at Masters TV, he produces Motorhead Garage with longtime how-to guys Sam Memmolo and Dave Bowman. Bravender has edited a magazine for the National Muscle Car Association, a member-based race organization, which in turn lead to producing TV shows for ESPN, the Outdoor Life Network and Speedvision. He has produced shows ranging from the Mothers Polish Car Show Series to sport compact racing to Street Rodder TV.

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