Refreshed Hunt’s Car Care thrives through customer loyalty
Kansas City, Mo. — It’s been a rebirth of sorts for Russell Hunt’s three Kansas City-metro-area Hunt’s Car Care Centers, in Kansas City, Kearney, and Liberty. After first selling all three locations in October 2010, a series of events later landed the properties back in his lap, beginning with the Kearney location in June 2012. The Kansas City and Liberty locations followed suit in late 2015.
Now with a fresh look and new Hunter alignment and tire mounting and balancing equipment purchased from Myers Brothers, car counts and customer loyalty have increased, said Brandon Ebert, store manager of the Kansas City location.
With this location starting over from nothing around last Thanksgiving — after the previous automotive service tenant set up shop across the street — car counts have gone from a handful to an average of 14 in a few months, he said.
The goal at Hunt’s, Ebert said, is to build customer loyalty, not to inflate each ticket and capture all of the recommended service work right now, unless it’s safety-related. So now, some of the recommendations made in January and February have started bearing fruit, as customers have budgeted for the repairs and brought their vehicles back, as recommended.
“If you need it, we’re going to tell you,” Ebert said. “But most of the time, we’ll tell you, ‘You need to plan for this.’ That’s how we approach business. ‘At the next oil change, you may want to do this,’ or, ‘In the next month, you’ll want to get this done.’ Because when you come in for something basic like an oil change, you’re not expecting to spend $200 or $500, or whatever it is.”
Word-of-mouth brings in customers, but Hunt and Ebert also collaborate on advertising ideas (mostly for direct mailers) that worked for Hunt in the past and for Ebert, who last worked as a district manager for a chain tire store before Hunt recruited him just as the store was set to open, he said.
“Our goal with advertising is not to make money,” Ebert said. “It’s to get people in the door and experience our service, experience our quality of work, enjoy it, and come back. So we do a lot of oil-change coupons. We do an oil change and rotation that is great. We use a synthetic blend oil, and with a tire rotation, it’s $29.95. You can’t beat that.”
The coupon offers on the mailers are easy to understand and have no fine print, he said.
“There’s no bait and switch,” Ebert said. “It is what we say it is. We get people calling and asking, ‘What’s the catch?’ There is no catch. We offer free alignment checks. We offer free brake checks. And they’re legitimately free. It’s not, ‘I’m going to charge you $30, and if you do the work, it’s free.”
Along with the free inspections are discount coupons, he said, such as $20 off an alignment or $20 off of a brake service if the inspection shows it’s needed.
Technology aids the shop in offering the free inspections, including the Hunter HawkEye Elite alignment system, which features reflector heads that quickly attach to a vehicle’s tires to provide an accurate assessment and printout to show the customer.
“Free alignment checks are something we do only at this location,” Ebert said. “We’re seeing how it works. Russell wasn’t doing them before, but they’ve worked out well. With the new HawkEye Elites, an alignment check takes hardly any time to set up. If you know what you’re doing, you can have a check done in three minutes — if that. It takes longer to pull it up on the rack and make sure to check the tire pressure is correct. A free alignment check is a great value to them, and it’s a great value to us, because we sell 60 to 70 percent of what we check.”
The rest of the new tire-service equipment, TPMS tools, and Snap-on scan tools are premium and not what Ebert was used to in the corporate world, he said.
For flushes and other preventive maintenance equipment, the shops rely on BG Products to provide chemicals and processes that may cost more, but they provide quality results, Hunt said, noting that cheaper chemicals are ineffective, even if an unscrupulous shop could make higher margins with them.
“Russell believes in buying the right equipment. It will pay for itself in the end,” he said.
The shop takes on any and all repair and service work, including engine and transmission replacement or engine rebuilds, if it’s feasible and the customer requests it, Ebert said.
Factory Motor Parts is the shop’s main parts supplier, and as a member of the FMP Partners Network, it offers a nationwide warranty on all parts and service, including free roadside assistance available to customers who first register for it and have had a recent repair or service done at the shop.
The shop also installs truck accessories, lift kits, and lowering kits, including for local new and used-car and truck dealers, Hunt said. The Liberty location is the specialist for those offerings, with about 60 percent of its sales volume coming from them.
All locations have developed a following as a “last-chance garage” of sorts as specialists in solving driveability issues, Hunt said, which presents its own challenges, Ebert said.
“Once you start to build that reputation, it’s kind of a double-edged sword,” he said. “People are like, ‘Let’s go to Hunt’s, because they can do all of the hard, complicated work that no one else can do.’ But at the same time, you’re a destination for that. But give people the estimate for a driveability repair, and they’ll usually do it, because nobody else will touch it; they’ve been turned away from four or five other places.”