In the heart of the heartland
Fredericktown, Mo.—As shop manager, Ashley Starkey now has started taking over the reins of the family business in Federicktown, Mo., 80 miles south of St. Louis, juggling a variety of responsibilities while keeping it operating at a high level from day-to-day challenges to being “service-ready.”
“I wear many hats,” said Starkey, of Heartland Auto Repair, which her parents, Randall and Cindy Webb, started in 1998. “I handle the daily operations, accounting, marketing, and business analytics with help from my mom and Randall. When necessary, I also serve as a service adviser.”
Even with so much on her plate, Starkey also makes sure the technicians are equipped to diagnose and repair anything that comes through the door with help from Webb and Technician Jesse Miller, who also make a lot of decisions regarding what would be beneficial to the shop.
“Just recently, we were looking at the benefits of the OTC Encore and trying to see if it would be a good fit for what we do here,” she said, to complement the shop’s Autel MaxiSys, OTC Genysis Touch and a GM Tech 2. Starkey added that because of their location and customer base, almost 60 percent of what comes in the shop are GM vehicles.
The shop also has two computer workstations that can be used to upload vehicle analytics and research problem repairs through programs such as Identifix. “Identifix is really great because we can reach out to other technicians to learn about common problems other techs may be having and their solutions,” she said.
As a NAPA AutoCare Center, staff stays current with training through the area NAPA store, Auto Tire and Parts, in Fredericktown. “They go above and beyond when it comes to offering networking and training opportunities,” Starkey said. “They (Mike Cartee and Ed Shankle, along with Owner Greg Stroup), offer one or two classes a month in Cape Girardeau for just about every aspect of the automotive industry, especially diagnostics repair and technology.”
Heartland has also benefited from its affiliation with AAA. She added, “We are also the only AAA shop in a 30-mile radius. They offer special discounts to us and our customers and they are even helping myself and Meghan (Service Writer Meghan Swearengin) to obtain ASE certifications.” AAA provides the shop with classes, reviews, and research materials on new technologies in the diagnostic industry, as well.
Heartland’s technicians include Webb and Jesse Miller, who are ASE Certified. “Jesse is our diagnostic guy. He is very in tune with what is going on in today’s market,” Starkey said.
Heartland recently expanded their staff by hiring another tech, though there were challenges in finding someone due to the shop’s location.
“Being in a rural area puts us in a different situation than most shops. We have struggled in the past to find ASE technicians in our community. Most of them find it more prosperous to find work in St. Louis, even if it means driving further for work. The talent pool in this area is not lacking in numbers. There are some very good techs around, but it’s just a matter of talking them into staying in the area.”
Heartland compensates its techs with a flat hourly rate, which also includes incentive bonuses based on weekly goals and the team performance of each tech, Starkey said. “Our master techs receive a bonus based on the number of hours produced, without comebacks. We provide and pay for our techs to advance their knowledge and will continue to do so with technology growing. While vehicles are becoming more reliable, it is even more important for us to teach our customers the value of maintenance. People are also keeping their vehicles longer, giving value in keeping them running longer.”
With diagnostics comes the responsibility of being able to relay the importance of diagnosing vehicles to the customer base. “Meghan and I do the best we can to educate our customers as to ‘why’ it is so important to diagnosis a problem before we just throw parts at the problem. Paying our diagnosis fee saves them time, money and a headache. Generally speaking, our customers are OK with the diagnostic necessity and charges,” she said.
In the past, the shop had instances where a customers would have a code pulled for free at a parts store, brought Heartland the presumed failed part and had the shop perform the install. “We now have a company policy against this. Too many times, that code and/or part did not fix the actual problem the customer was having,” Starkey said.
“It’s the mission of Heartland Auto Repair to change the way people think about the automotive service and repair industry through our community.”