Auto & Fleet Mechanic opened in 1999 in Modesto, CA as a full service vehicle repair shop under the business name of Fleet Mechanic. The vision of wife/husband co-owners Judi and Bob Harvey, the company was founded on the core principles of expert automotive repair and impeccable customer service, with a focus on earning a customer’s trust and building a long-term client-mechanic relationship. Their initial target audience was companies with commercial trucks or automobile fleets that required regular maintenance and periodic repair, and recognized the advantages of having a single repair shop to manage all services with monthly billing.
Despite an invisible-from-the-road shop location at their original address, Fleet Mechanic gradually gained a loyal following, attracting both commercial and individual customers throughout the Stanislaus County market. Customer testimonials regularly refer to them as a “trusted family mechanic,” and Fleet enjoyed a strong client retention rate over the years in an industry characterized by low client retention and satisfaction.
Business grew steadily until the Recession. Fleet Mechanic struggled to survive. Then, in 2013, CalTrans decided to initiate a long-delayed multi-year construction expansion project at the Highway 99-Kiernan interchange. Traffic congestion skyrocketed, access to businesses in the area – including Fleet’s – plummeted. Judi and Bob were facing the heartbreak of business failure. Judi had taken some business courses through the Alliance SBC, and turned to them for assistance. “It was do or die,” she says. “We decided that if we didn’t change how we ran the business, we would have to close.”
Working closely with SBDC consultant Claudia Newcorn, Judi conducted an in-depth analysis to develop profiles of her customers’ visits, service usage and seasonality patterns. She completed a per job cost analysis, as opposed to focusing on total revenue and profit, in an effort to identify financial issues and opportunities. She initiated the tracking of actual hours per job to ascertain on-the-job-performance, as well as refine her new job-costing system. She assessed historic marketing efforts and response rates to determine what worked and what didn’t, and developed a system to conduct a promotion-cost metric prior to executing a promotion to ensure that it would not cost Fleet money. She evaluated her website in context of the competition, and reframed the “story” and positioning of the business.
With coaching from Claudia, Judi initiated new marketing efforts to rejuvenate the business. She revised the website, developed new promotions, and developed value-driven themed promotional offers online. Business turned around, allowing Bob and Judi to hire a new mechanic and take on additional work, further fueling growth.
In Fall of 2014, Fleet had the opportunity to relocate. With coaching from Claudia, they made the decision to move, developed a relocation strategy, and in the month leading up to the move, implemented an aggressive outreach effort via email and online. Claudia also advised them to take advantage of the move to rename themselves as Auto & Fleet Mechanic, to eliminate any customer misperception that they only served fleets.
Since working with the SBDC, Auto & Fleet Mechanic has achieved an exceptional business turnaround. The larger facility, at 3,000 feet is nearly double their previous size and has room for future expansion. By year end, Judi reported an over 30% increase in revenues a 25% increase in customers, as well as virtually zero loss of the existing customer base. They hired an additional mechanic/service manager to respond to business growth, and have plans future hiring.
Says Judi, “We would not be in business today without the help, support, and people at SBDC. As a small business you can’t always afford the level of training we received when you are struggling to stay in business. The SBDC provided us with knowledge and support, and knowing we weren’t alone. The consultants and classes provided us with valuable tools to turn the business around. Having someone available whenever we needed them was what made the difference from those companies that “provide business management training” over the phone one hour a week. Each consultant we have worked with has become a friend and mentor, someone we could lean on and celebrate with. A year ago I hated coming into the office. Now I look forward with excitement to what 2015 will bring. We plan to continue implementing the tools we have learned from SBDC.”