Owner of Solano Way Auto Repair, Ken Fritzberg Sr. (l.) and his son, Ken Jr., started using ESi training and hired a coach, brought on Kukui as its shop management software, and implemented an advertising program through Yelp and Mudlick Mail that led to 36-precent growth last year.Lead Technician Mark Lopez uses a pry bar during an undercar repair. Lopez regularly attends training through Doug Mueller at TecHelp, a longterm training program in the Bay Area.

High year-end numbers promise bright 2016

Change in business philosophy and training leads Solano Way Auto Repair to 36-percent growth

Concord, Calif.—Ken Fritzberg, owner of Solano Way Auto Repair, recently attended a course taught by Maylan Newton, CEO of Educational Seminars Institute (ESi), about the proper way for a shop owner to “exit” his or her business. Having owned and operated his shop for 32 years, Fritzberg paid close attention.

“I know that my future here is limited,” he said. “My plan is to work for 10 more years and then pass this business on to my son. ESi advises that if you leave when your business is ‘burnt out and tired,’ you’ll have nothing to sell. My son and I have worked hard over the past couple years to change and adapt our business to succeed in today’s industry.”

The shop made the decision to join ESi last year, with Ray Kunz, senior automotive coach and operations specialist at ESi, assuming the role of Solano Way’s phone coach. Both Ken Sr. and his son, Service Manager Ken Jr., attribute much of the 36-percent increase the shop saw in its year-over-year gross profit 2015 to having a coach.

“Ray Kunz calls us once a week, not to chat, but to push us,” Fritzberg said. “I knew about coaches for a long time, but I never used one because I wasn’t willing to change myself. When Ken Jr. moved into a managerial role, we decided that it was time to start doing something different and we started by hiring a coach. It’s been great for our business.”

Ken Jr., who has managed the day-to-day operations for the past three years, said the shop has also seen gains from contracting with Kukui as its shop management program.

“Kukui’s analytics and online platform have helped us up our customer retention rate,” he said. “The system tracks all our numbers — car counts, new customer counts — and it records all of our phone calls, so we can go back and listen to ourselves and figure out what to do better with the next customer. It also tracks our lead-to-customer transactions, making it easier to learn which marketing tactics are working for us and which aren’t.”

Last year was the first year Solano Way budgeted for advertising, the elder Fritzberg said. “We started using Mudlick Mail for direct mailers on a monthly basis, and we’re also advertising through Yelp. Between those two channels alone we’ve brought in new customers. Yelp is now one of our strongest avenues for gaining new leads,” he said.

The shop has three bays and employs two full-time technicians, who annually attend training, primarily through Doug Mueller, CEO of TecHelp, which is a longterm training program focused on providing real-world education for technicians, he said.

Solano Way is also a Bumper-to-Bumper Certified Service Center, which Ken Jr. said it decided to go with mainly for the two-year/24,000 nationwide warranty.

“It helps instill confidence in our customers. Right on the top of their receipt is a description of the warranty, telling them, ‘Hey, you’re covered.’ We haven’t had to use the warranty yet, but some of the other shops I’ve talked to say the support from Bumper-to-Bumper when a problem does arise is excellent,” he said.

Superior Auto Parts and Fast Undercar are the shop’s main parts suppliers, both of which Ken Jr. said are its No. 1 call because of the service provided, not necessarily the price.

“I choose a parts supplier just like a customer chooses my shop — based on service. Remaining competitive is important, but price really doesn’t affect who I’ll buy a part from,” he said.

Subscribing to AllData, Identifix, and iATN as information resources, as well as keeping its multiple Snap-on scan tools updated, and limiting its service work to domestic and Asian makes and models, are ways in which Solano Way remains ahead of the widening information curve, he added.

“The customer now has information about how to repair their vehicles, and how much it should cost, right at their fingertips. I keep that in mind whenever someone walks in the door,” he said. “Our job has changed in the past 10 years — we now have to find ways of becoming a source of information that our customers can’t get themselves, which is why we’re so heavily involved in continuous training through ESi and the ASCCA.”

Solano Way has been a member of ASCCA for close to seven years, which Ken Sr. said he joined mainly for the camaraderie — through online chat rooms such as Team Talk and the association’s annual ASCCA Summer Conference — and for the training opportunities. “When I joined the ASCCA, it made me realize that I’m not in this battle by myself,” he said.

As the father-and son-team moves forward, they will continue to focus on training and ensuring the business is, by all accounts, healthy, Ken Sr. said. 

“I’m doing this work because I see real opportunity in the industry,” his son added. “It’s going to be challenging and different, and no one likes change, but this industry is changing and so are we. People will always need transportation, so I see growth. I see opportunity.”

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.