Hybrid shop stays ahead of tech curve

Hybrid specialty shop owner builds repair management program and services hybrid fleet


San Francisco—Carolyn Coquillette, owner of Luscious Garage, affirms the motto of her stepfather, Bill O’Neill: “Do it right, the first time — every time.”

After six years building her hybrid repair business, “I try to apply his motto to everything we do,” Coquillette said. “It’s how we improve and stay competitive.”

Hybrids aren’t the only part of Coquillette’s future focus. Her latest project, Hyspace, “is a repair management program that takes customer communication, interaction, and transparency to a new level,” she said. “When we opened, I knew we had to do something different, something that would engage the customer outside the limitations of a phone call.”

Hyspace links the customer and the technician via the Internet. “We developed the program for our own use, to appeal to tech-savvy hybrid owners.” Now in its second generation, Coquillette hopes to offer it to other shops. “Everyone is tech-savvy these days.

With Hyspace, customers have their own cloud-based account and can access repair orders online. The format is the same as a normal account setup: name, address, e-mail, phone, year, make, and model. The customer requests service and describes symptoms of their issue. Hyspace does the calculations and provides an on-screen estimate. They sign electronically and off they go.

“One of the beauties of Hyspace is showcasing what our techs can do,” she explained. Customer communication is tech direct, building a bond between the customer and their technician as if they were in the shop. As an example, a customer has a brake issue: the ABS light is on, and braking is erratic. Everything gets documented on the work order, and the technician checks the system, saving diagnostic data and taking photos of the problems they find. Notified via e-mail, the customer can review results along with the suggested repair, approve the repair electronically, or the shop can follow up to answer questions.

“You don’t have to pick up the phone and to try to convince someone of a problem,” Coquillette said. “Customers are busy; either they can’t fix their own cars, or they don’t want to. With Hyspace, the customer has a photo of what is wrong and a direct link to the technician if they have questions. Hyspace builds customer satisfaction because they can interpret the problem, the fix, and come to their own decision.”

She said diagnostic time is always tricky to justify, but Hyspace saves PDFs of test reports and forwards them to the customer. “Consumers see the same information as the tech and can follow the trail as much as they wish,” she said. “We build value, sharing our expertise and technical savvy.”

When the customer picks up their car, their technician goes over the information, photos, and test results, answers any questions and offers future service suggestions. A completed work order is sent to them via e-mail.

When Coquillette opened her shop, San Francisco’s Clean and Green certification was a baseline for their environmental efforts. “After five years we reviewed where we were and decided to pursue B Corporation certification. Changes included an employee manual and a more transparent time and pay recording, standardizing shop practices.

“B Corp challenged us to do right in all aspects of the business, not just green. We’re taking a holistic approach to provide customers and employees a clean, healthy, positive environment,” she said.

Coquillette’s environmental efforts are both obvious and abundant. Hundreds of plants throughout the shop are used to filter the air, while solar panels line the roof to charge the all-electric shop tools. A 3,000-gallon tank collects rainwater to keep San Francisco’s famous Hetch Hetchy tap water for drinking, not filling toilets. Items missing from the work area would be solvents, brake cleaners, and aerosol cans. In their place are reusable dispensers for Simple Green, hydrogen peroxide, and acetone, she said. And in the waiting room an engine block serves as a planter box and is surrounded by a second-hand sofa and chairs. “It makes for a comfortable human environment, there’s no big screen blasting. Customers are free to work, read, or even take a quick nap.”

Luscious has specialized in hybrid vehicles since opening six years ago. Toyota Prius dominates the business, making up 75 percent of the cars they work on. “The Prius is the VW Beetle of our day,” she said. “It allows us to be very efficient and straight forward. There is no stigma attached to hybrids here, they’re what we do.”

Hybrid systems touch almost every part of the car, Coquillette said. “It’s hard to separate what is hybrid and what is not.” Front brakes only require pads every 150,000 miles, but other items need more frequent repairs, like cooling systems, tires, light bulbs. “To us, it is all standard service. We’re no different than any other shop that specializes in a particular brand,” she said.

Luscious Garage clientele changes overnight, with a second shift focusing on keeping hundreds of San Francisco’s hybrid taxicabs on the road. “By the time one of our customers has the problem, we’ve seen it umpteen times on a taxi,” Coquillette said. “A taxi will do 100,000 miles a year, and the experience we gain translates to retail customers over time. We’re already doing head gaskets on Prius V. I’ve found mechanics learn by doing. The taxi fleet provides our technicians a tremendous amount of experience.”

The team’s experience is backed by the proper parts and equipment to get the job done, she said. Her technicians use the Toyota Techstream, as well as the Toyota Information System (TIS) for most of their diagnostic work. Additional information comes from iATN, with training support from Jack Rosebro’s Perfect Sky.  Not everything is OEM, said Coquillette, “We’re not too proud to check Google; if our customer can find it, so should we.”

“It has been a great relationship,” she said of Toyota of San Francisco. “Our shop answers a lot of first-time hybrid buyers’ concerns. And it is exciting to see Prius topping Camry and Accord for sales in California. The electric car is a graceful solution. Parts and service have both been supportive of us and our customers. When an issue falls under warranty, we communicate with them and they put the welcome mat out for our customers.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.