Clovis Auto Shop owner turns one-man smog shop into $1 million full-service repair center
Clovis, Calif.—Rob Porcella, owner of Clovis Auto Shop, which he opened in 2003 as a one-man smog shop, has transformed it into a full-service repair center that surpassed $1 million in annual sales two years ago.
Porcella, an ASE master technician with L1, L6, and L8 certification, said six years after graduating from high school he enrolled at Wyoming Technical Institute, in Fremont, Calif., earning a diploma in Automotive Technology, ASE Master certification and an Advanced Emission Specialist license.
“In 2014 my shop did over $1 million in sales for the first time,” he said. “In 2015 we experienced 30-percent growth over 2014, and our goal for 2016 is to be up another 30 percent from 2015.”
The shop now has 13 employees, about 7,500 square feet of shop space, nine lifts, 12 bays, a chassis dyno, a Worldwide Environmental Products (WEP) wireless DAD, a Drew Technologies IMclean DAD, and near-term plans to add an alignment rack.
Porcella said he built his business – and his reputation – on smog tests and repair, and 60 percent of his business is still smog inspections.
“Smog, routine maintenance, A/C, electrical repair, brakes, steering, suspension (KYB and Monroe are the most popular), and diagnostics are all doing well,” he said. “Diagnostics represents about 15 percent of our total business.”
Porcella said the shop has a 4-channel Pico Labscope, a GTC ST05 Oxygen Sensor Tester and Simulator, a Snap-on Modis and Solus, an OTC Genisys, a Matco Maximus 2.0, and a Drew Technologies carDAQ-M with computer reflashing capability.
“We are very profitable when it comes to diagnosis. It’s what our reputation is built on and the challenges are getting fewer and fewer,” he said. “We use the most difficult diagnosis to build our experience and confidence. Having the right people, tools, and information is a critical component.”
Porcella said he has eliminated a lot of the grief that comes with diagnosing drivability or smog failures, noting the most challenging part is taking the time to build a system and having technicians and service advisors apply it.
“The only time we have trouble is when we don’t stick to the system or we miss one of the steps,” he said.
Because smog inspections still represent the lion’s share of his business, Porcella said he is using in-house promotions and advertising to try to maintain and grow the repair and maintenance side of the business with those customers who are already walking through the doors.
“Word of mouth is more powerful than social media, newspapers, and commercials,” Porcella said. “That’s why our customers are encouraged to spread the word about our great service.”
As an incentive, the shop has a referral program for existing customers that Porcella said is producing favorable results.
“We ask every customer who comes in how they heard about us or what brought them to us,” he said. “If it’s a customer referral, the person who referred them will receive 10-percent off on their next auto repair. A simple downloadable form is provided on our website to claim the discount.”
Porcella, who believes a good customer experience begins at the door, has staffed the front office with knowledgeable and friendly people, including two ASE-certified service writers, a skilled customer service specialist, and a veteran service manager.
“Vincent Ceballos, my service manager, has more than 15 years’ experience as a service advisor and service manager,” he said. “He and his team work hard to guarantee our clients receive the best service, most thorough inspections, most accurate diagnoses, and the highest quality auto repair.”
Ceballos said Chris Brewer, assistant service manager and an eight-year U.S. Army veteran, has excelled, even though his career in the automotive industry began just over five years ago.
“In addition to being an ASE-certified service writer, he is certified by the state of California as an Advanced Emission Specialist and state-licensed to perform certified brake and lamp inspections,” Ceballos said. “He’s also a real people person.”
Of course the repair process is the most important component, Porcella said, so the shop has several ASE-certified master technicians, with A6, A8, and L1 certification, plus advanced engine, performance, diagnostics, and emissions certifications.
The shop earned ACDelco accreditation within the last year and technicians are currently training through on-site ACDelco classes every six to eight weeks with the same trainers and classes that are offered at GM dealerships, Porcella said.
“Technicians are also required to take a minimum of one online class every quarter, and regularly attend vendor training,” he said.
Clovis Auto Shop has also been an Auto Value member for more than three years, which Porcella said has helped business for several reasons.
“The nationwide warranty has been a great selling point for our customers,” he said. “It gives them the confidence that they will get the same warranty from us as they would from a large chain repair shop business.”
Last year the shop’s average repair order was $390. Now it’s $481. Average car count is 151 cars per week, down from 177 per week last year, which is actually a part of Porcella’s strategy to maintain quality repair.
“We were trying to accommodate too many customers at one point, so we cut back to keep the repair quality up, and it’s working,” he said. “About 84 percent of our business is from repeat customers, 16 percent from new customers, and 39 percent new vehicle count.”
Porcella is also a member of ASCCA, which he said has helped his business — and so has training from Chris Frederick at the Automotive Training Institute.
“I graduated from their two-and-a-half year program six months ago and they helped me build a successful and profitable business that should continue to grow and prosper for many years to come.
“Of course it really boils down to surrounding yourself with the highest level of professionals like the wonderful employees I have here at Clovis Auto Shop,” he said.