H Heaven soars in diversification
Huntington Beach, Calif.—The “H” in H Heaven, a Huntington Beach service and repair shop, once stood for Honda, though long ago the NAPA AutoCare Center expanded beyond its Honda-only work mix as its expertise in other makes and models accelerated.
“The business got started in 1979 as a Honda specialty store called ‘Honda Heaven,’” said Steve McNamara, who assumed ownership in the early 2000s. McNamara’s prior experience was with Japanese imports, primarily Toyota, Lexus, Honda and Acura, at an import shop for about 15 years doing everything from pushing a broom to writing service and overseeing the operation.
As owner of Honda Heaven, business increased and McNamara expanded the facility in 2007 from 2,500 square feet to 5,000, he said. “I hired some techs who specialized in different disciplines and we started working on all makes and models. We became a one-stop shop, doing everything from tires to alignments to service.”
So what does the “H” in H Heaven stand for now? “It stands for H,” said Josh McNamara, McNamara’s son and de facto shop manager. “The shop is still Honda Heaven to a lot of people, so the H stands.”
Gary Carroll, a spry Irishman who plays harmonica in a local blues band, was there to have his Honda Element serviced. “These guys are great,” he said, his enthusiasm bubbling over as he began playing his harmonica. “They run a good operation and really take excellent care of their customers.”
Carroll’s endorsement also reflects numerous high online ratings the shop receives from its many customers.
Fleet accounts provide H Heaven with a measure of insulation from the sometimes roller coaster nature of daily consumer business. “We work on a variety of fleet vehicles that are local in this area,” Steve McNamara said. “Mostly Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans. The fleets like to get all their vehicles serviced within the same week or two, and we help them stay on a schedule throughout the year. It’s nice when they come up for service.”
H Heaven is a family affair. Along with Josh McNamara running the front end, Steve McNamara’s wife, Jennifer, is the bookkeeper. The shop also employs two full-time technicians.
Because it’s a small operation efficiency is valued. “My guys are equipped with computers on their tool boxes with Mitchell 1, AllData and Identifix. A lot of times, you can get to the bottom of things and come up with a failure resolution quickly,” Steve McNamara said.
While they use a variety of scan tools, including some factory scan tools, Steve McNamara prefers aftermarket scan tools because “they’re more user-friendly.”
“We prefer Autel and Snap-on — both of those companies keep their software current, and they’re both wireless and so we can be doing updates right before we work on a car.” Josh McNamara adds that for pulling codes in the service drive he uses a small Launch Tech tool and also one made by Autel.
Proper diagnosis — not parts swapping — is key
Steve McNamara says parts stores pulling codes for their customers can get a customer in trouble all too quickly.
“They sell them a part and the customer puts the part on the car and it doesn’t fix the problem,” he said. “Or maybe the quality isn’t as good as an OE part and that might cause glitches. And, of course, you can’t return the part. Sometimes we’ve had to ask a customer for the original part to retrace their problem starting from there.”
Typical problems H Heaven sees include check engine lights on due to gas caps left off, TPMS sensor issues, and oil leaks on sensors. He also sees his share of turbo problems on the Sprinter vans he services, though he is quick to add that the Sprinters are generally “bullet proof.”
The technicians, as well the McNamaras, are all ASE-certified and get their training from a variety of sources. “WORLDPAC has training, NAPA has training. Somebody’s always putting on some kind of training,” Steve McNamara said. “One of the bigger local repair shops, Gustafson Brothers, has a room for about 40 people and they have training that we sometimes attend.”
H Heaven is a successful business but running a business didn’t come naturally Steve McNamara said, adding that he could handle the mechanics but management was a learning experience. For help in that area, he subscribes to Management Success! and takes advantage of their educational seminars and consulting services.
With his son deeply involved in the business, succession planning appears assured, he said. Yet McNamara has concerns about the direction he sees the industry going in. “We’re seeing OE service information and parts availability becoming proprietary more and more. We had a customer with a Tesla that needed brake work. We couldn’t even buy the parts. And as we get closer to self-driving cars, the OEs are going to become more protective of their technology. That’s going to hurt the independent repair shops like us.”