Industry vet strikes out on his own
Parker, Colo.—When Philip Eickmann went to work for Gary Hansen at Parker Automotive, he secretly intended to purchase the shop someday. Two years later, Eickmann popped the question to Hansen and his wife, Karen, over dinner, and within 12 months, he found himself at the helm.
“It took some convincing because this shop was his baby,” said Eickmann, who secured a small business association (SBA) loan to purchase the business and its equipment from Hansen, who remains the landlord.
Since Eickmann’s tenure was shy of three years, he said he had to secure an SBA loan, opposed to a quicker conventional one, which prolonged the post-appraisal acquisition period. The federal government backs the SBA loan, working in tandem with the bank, he said, adding that during that process, they examine three years of the company’s historicals.
For others looking to buy a repair shop, Eickmann says, “During the buying process, be patient. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Potential for growth
The shop’s client base is deep, dating back to 1978 and spanning multiple generations. Having worked as a technician, independent repair shop manager, and zone manager for several petroleum companies, it was easy for Eickmann to see the potential in the nine-bay shop.
“We’re a $1 million-year shop,” he said, adding that it’s his intention to double sales, increasing by $250,000 a year for the next four years.
Attracting new customers
In order to achieve growth projections, Eichmann said it’s critical to see new faces walking in the front door. Approximately 20 percent of the cars in the shop are new customers.
Working alongside Eickmann when he was an employee is Manager Adam Civilla, who still holds that position. Recently, the pair focused on creating a steady stream of new customers through their digital presence with a fresh, new website, Facebook presence, and managing their reputation with Yelp and Google+. A local marketing firm, C1, assisted them with those items, including SEO.
Additionally, the shop markets itself through Valpak coupons, offering oil change package specials and tiered discounts for general service. The shop will also offer general maintenance classes the first Sunday of every month for women.
Fleet customers will also be an important part of the new customer mix, he added.
“We don’t sell you what you don’t need” has been the longstanding shop slogan that Hansen had used for years. Eickmann continues to use it in his company logo, business card, and on the shop personnel’s uniforms.
“With every car, we deal with the customer ‘complaint’ first, then other service recommendations after the initial service,” he said. “It’s a matter of making the customer happy.”
Interaction with the customer at the service counter is very important, Eickmann said, which involves educating motorists about their vehicles. Despite some prolonged manufacturer fluid drain intervals and recommendations, greater frequency is recommended for longevity.
“We use the right OE fluid for everything we do,” he said, from power steering, to transmission, and coolant. Ample stock is on hand to conduct the fluid exchanges on the spot and sourced through local dealers, such as Ed Bozarth Chevrolet, Groove dealerships, and John Elway Chevrolet and Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram stores.
When it comes to replacement parts, the application dictates the vendor and brand. Being a NAPA AutoCare Center, Eickmann is able to extend a two-year/24,000-mile nationwide warranty, regardless of where the parts are purchased.
For brakes, he prefers to install Power Stop, sourced through Western Automotive Warehouse Distributors (WAWD) in Denver. “I hired a tech who has had real good luck with Power Stop,” he said, adding they offer tremendous quality for the price. Additional parts suppliers include NAPA, Factory Motor Parts, O’Reilly Auto Parts, and WORLDPAC.
When a job calls for an engine or transmission replacement, Jasper Engines & Transmissions and Certified Transmissions are the preferred supplier, who both offer a three-year/100,000-mile warranty. “Customers find these warranties very appealing.”
Western Drivetrain in Aurora, Colo., provides expertise in differential parts needed for a job, he said, who will assemble custom rebuild kits with all necessary parts.
New owner challenges
As a longtime technician, Eickmann admits that it’s hard not to jump into a bay to give a helping hand, especially since all of his technicians are under 35 years old, including his son, Myles Eickmann, 25.
“I have a bunch of young guys, so I want to make sure they’re doing things they’re supposed to,” he said, but quickly added they they’re all very capable and able to tackle most jobs.
Eickmann plans to hone his management skills by attending Automotive Service Association of Colorado’s classes throughout the year and its annual Summit, held Jan. 27, at Lincoln College of Technology in Denver.