Keeping the rubber on the road
Oakland, Calif.—Torchio’s Auto Repair was established in 1924 when they repaired Cadillac Phaetons, Chevrolet Superiors and Chrysler Imperials, just to name a few. Now they work primarily on Asian and domestic vehicles with third- and second-generation customers who write glowing reviews for the crew and the shop’s owner Mike Bott.
“The Asian brands are very popular in this area, so they make up at least 70 percent of our overall workload,” Bott said. “They start showing up here after two years when their warranties expire. The Bay Area is really spread out, so people drive a lot, and scheduled maintenance is so important. We recently had a Honda Accord here with more than 300,000 miles on it, and the owner was so proud. We often see vehicles with more than 200,000 miles on their odometers, and if we can help their owners to keep those cars running, we always will. We also work on some European vehicles, but they're #3 on the list.”
A key piece to customer service revolves around prioritizing maintenance and repairs with each customer in order to build trust and keep their cars on the road. “If it’s anything safety related, such as brakes, we tell them to do it now,” Bott said. “If it is also something that might cause the vehicle to breakdown for whatever reason, like electrical for instance, we also want them to do those things right away. And then there are those repairs that can wait six or eight months, such as suspension, the heater or the A/C, for example.”
A technician for 35 years, Bott purchased the business in 1994 and has been a satisfied NAPA shop for the past several years. “Their inventory is extensive with the Balkamp line, which means we can get a wide selection of just about anything through our NAPA relationship,” he said. “The quality is excellent and we’ve had zero comebacks related to NAPA parts. It’s a reliable brand and that’s why 75 percent of all the parts we order come from NAPA.”
The company’s support is also significant for Bott, he said. “Their nationwide warranty is two years/24,000 miles, so if my customer’s car breaks down anywhere in the country, they can take it to a NAPA Repair Center and get it fixed without charge. Plus, if someone from Denver, for example, brings their car here because a NAPA part failed, I get my standard labor rate.”
Bott’s affiliation with NAPA began two years ago when an existing parts supplier was sold and became a NAPA store. “General Auto Parts here in Oakland has been around for 60 years and in 2016 the owner sold the business and it became a NAPA store,” Bott said. “They kept all of their great employees and it was an easy transition, because NAPA has gone out of their way to take care of us. We go through their online training and it’s exceptional, so we tap into that as often as we can. In fact, they gave us a new alignment machine and a wheel balancer and after five years we get to keep them as long as we maintain our volume with NAPA.”
In a part of downtown Oakland where there are a lot of automotive repair businesses clustered together in close proximity, shops often help each other.
“When a new shop comes into the area, I go over there and meet the owner and shake his hand,” Bott said. “I know from experience that we will likely need their help at some point in time and vice versa. I’ve gotten business from nearby mechanical and collision shops and I’ve referred work to them, so it’s a good situation and everyone wins.”
Bott also wins by retaining his employees, even though finding new ones is never easy. “I recently hired a young person and after a few days he was overwhelmed and quit,” he said. “It’s a generational thing to a degree. Plus, the cars are so complex now and they don’t teach auto tech in the high schools like they used to, so we’ve had real problems finding good young talent. All of the other shops around here have experienced the same. Because of that, we work hard to keep our people happy by paying them well, providing them with health insurance and encouraging them to do quality work.”