The November 2017 issue of Under Car Digest
Auto Safety Center has evolved dramatically since it opened in 1956 as a muffler and undercar shop, and current owner Joe Valind admits there was a lot of heartache and struggle to make the shop a success since he purchased it in 2005. The changes that were implemented are phenomenal, to say the least.
Joe has a long history with the business. He worked at the original location as a co-op student in high school in 1995 and stayed on until 1998 before moving to a job that allowed him to advance into engine diagnostics and other high-tech repairs. After that shop closed, he returned, making an agreement that he would buy the shop within a year or two.
Joe learned quickly that running a business was just as important as being a good tech. Over the years he has joined the International Automotive Technician’s Network (IATN), Tom Ham’s Automotive Management Network and is a member of a 20 Group where he shares ideas with other business operators.
Most important, Joe noted that he spends as much time as possible reading books.
“I average probably seven to 10 books a year – business, marketing and financial books – books that can improve my business and my thought processes,” he said. “The fact is, that as a business owner you’re responsible for more than just you. You are responsible for your employees, your family, the customers and the service they receive. That realization is the motivating factor.”
“The shop was small and the parking was very limited. It was holding our business back. I added general repair but we just couldn’t grow anymore.”
Although business thrived, at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008 it began to falter by 2010 and was really sinking by 2011.
“Looking at our facility I decided we needed to find a location that would suit the needs of our customers today,” he said. “We needed to have a nice waiting area and have room for longer and bigger vehicles. And I also had an idea of running my business with a weekly meeting. I wanted to have a spot where we could get around the numbers and get everybody pulling the rope with the same amount of strength and distance in the same direction.”
During the interim, Joe started advertising that the shop specialized in Honda/Acura and Toyota/Lexus.
West Bend didn’t have a Honda dealership so it was easy to bring in import customers. In addition, his technicians soon found that specializing made it easier to diagnose some of the tougher problems. The shop continued to repair all makes and models and then added VW/Audi to its specialization mix.
“I like the idea of specializing because if we can see some of the same cars, we can target pattern-failure items and be more efficient.” Tires followed.
Joe’s search for a better site lasted two years. He stumbled across an 8,200 square-foot building attached to a strip mall that had been vacant for four years.
With 6,000 square feet of shop space, it now has nine bays – five with lifts. It has 1,800 square-feet for office space with the rest going to storage space, a large customer-waiting area, a lunch room and even a playroom for kids. And it has extra room for expansion. The shop offers free snacks, beverages, Wi-Fi and TV.
“Our secret sauce, so to speak, is making sure our employees are happy, making sure they are appreciated and having a drama-free team centric culture,” he said. “We address issues as they come up. We address issues as a team. We want to provide a good customer-service experience. Getting everyone on same path ¬– that’s our mantra,” he said.
“Our team culture is important. We’re transparent. I share the numbers every week, I share our gross profits and I share production percentages of our technicians, our average repair orders from our service advisers.”
Tuesday morning meetings provide a great opportunity for the staff to share concerns and share opinions.
“When we hit shop goals we provide a lunch on Friday,” Joe said. “Generally the team has the ability to choose where they want to go. We’re not talking McDonalds – instead it may be subs, a nice restaurant or we bring in lunch.
“My techs are paid an hourly rate, plus a production bonus or incentive, so it’s a hybrid. I also go one step further. Some will get a bonus on top of the production incentive. If they bill 40 hours and they are here 40 hours, being 100% productive they will get a bonus on top of that.” Everything is explained in the employee handbook.
Auto Safety Center pays for all customer training. Technicians and service advisers all have ASE certification. But Joe notes that the automotive culture in his area makes it difficult to participate at times. A technical school about 45 minutes north of his shop offers a variety of automotive evening classes, but very few others sign up.
“I signed my B tech up all the time for scan tool and electronics, but the school is constantly cancelling them because they don’t have enough interest. It is so frustrating because I think training is so important to the industry and holding a lot of shops back. It got to the point that on the third time, they put it on for my one tech – two nights of one-on-one training on scan-tool usage. It was a once-in- a lifetime opportunity for him.
Technicians are allowed to work on their vehicles and the vehicles of their immediate family after work hours and on weekends.
Auto Safety Center provides a visual inspection on all vehicles to provide the customer with an idea of the vehicle’s complete health – and it’s all paperless. The technician follows an inspection form on a tablet, photos are taken of problems and the service adviser reviews them with the customer and/or emails them to him.
“The last thing I want to do is sell a customer on a four-wheel brake job that is $1,000 and then have him come back two days later with an engine knock because their oil level was five quarts low. We want to give a big picture of the vehicle to the customer. It’s a must if they are going to invest $1,000, $2,000 or $3,000. We want them to know what they are investing in. I hear too many horror stories – ‘I just stuck $800 bucks into this thing and I found out my frame is rotted and the car is junk.’”
The shop has five loaner cars that are free when repairs are extensive.
“The loaner cars have produced way more income than they have cost us,” Joe said. “It’s a huge benefit for the shop. “How many incidents do we get into where a repair goes haywire and now instead of scrambling at the end of the day you give them a free loaner and it relieves stress on both sides.”
Maybe that’s why the shop has a 4.8 google rating with 38 reviews.
Active in Community
From May through October the shop offers a “Cars & Coffee” car show from 8-11 a.m. on Sundays. Joe describes it as a laid-back social gathering for car enthusiasts. A local coffee vendor comes as does a food truck.
Auto Safety Center also supports a non-profit that provides transportation for the handicapped and elderly for medical visits. The shop services its vehicles and Joe and one of his service advisers work as celebrity waiters during its fund-raising dinner.
Seed of Hope is a life-based group that provides crisis pregnancy counseling. The shop donates repair services valued at $3,000 each year for the group’s clients who need auto repairs. Joe also gets suppliers to donate parts, so the repairs have a value closer to $3,500 or $4,000.