Wrenching with some flower power
San Francisco—The hair might be gone, but the passion is still there.
Hans Art, the owner at Hans Art Automotive has seen the industry change in several dramatic ways since he opened his doors in 1970, but this “old hippy” said many of the most important things are still the same.
By staying on top of things such as diagnostics, training and prioritizing his customers’ repairs, Art, 70, said that he has been able to thrive in San Francisco’s Mission District, even though he encounters problems he didn’t have to worry about 48 years ago.
With eight employees operating out of a 5,000-square-foot facility with an additional 2,500 square feet of parking, Hans Art Automotive’s workload consists roughly of 40 percent Asian brands, 40 percent European and 20 percent domestic.
Now fixing cars for third-generation customers, Art said that his approach to client service is based on his personality, which is genial and easy-going.
“I’m a former hippie and enjoy the social aspect of this business. I tell people that I’m here for social reasons at least half of the time, and I enjoy that part of it.”
Art said that his career in automotive repair started back in the late 1960s, when he fixed a 1955 Pontiac for a fellow hippie who ran a dessert delivery business.
“At first, I was just looking for a part-time job, but pretty soon I could see that it was going to be a lot more than that. My father was very mechanically adept and could fix anything from household appliances to cars, so I got that from him. After a while, I saw I could make some decent money in this industry and I liked the work, so that’s how it started.”
It’s a little more difficult to make a profit today, but Art said that he is hitting his numbers by staying ahead of the curve.
“The cars change all the time, so the focus now is more on knowledge and educating the customer. The data we have today is invaluable, but it can be obsolete tomorrow, so we need to always be pursuing the latest training and having the right equipment and tools.”
Art said that diagnostics training is available through a wide range of different sources, including I-CAR, his parts vendors and websites such as Facebook and YouTube.
“We have several ways to get the information and sometimes we need it now, so we will access the Internet in a pinch,” he said. “I have one particular technician who knows what he’s doing when it comes to diagnostics, and that’s all we really need. WORLDPAC has some fabulous training and some of the OEs offer it too, and we’ve learned a lot from NAPA, for example.”
In addition to the right diagnostics training, Art said he knows that he needs the right tools to succeed. “We have an array of scanners here, because each one has a different application. To stay on top of it, we need to continually invest in them. Snap-on has a few really good ones and we’ve had a lot of success with our Autologic scanner, because it comes with excellent customer support through a subscription. We also like the Ross-Tech scanner, because it has special software to diagnose Volkswagens and we get our fair share of them here in San Francisco.”
The diagnostics process begins with a half-hour charge and in many cases they can identify the issue within that window of time. “For $82, we pull the codes, but if something is more complex, it may require a full hour. In some cases, we end up spending more time than we anticipate and then we have to decide how much to charge. Sometimes it comes down to a faulty part and if it’s under warranty we can run that down. With more complex issues, we can’t always bill for some of the time, but in the end, if the customer is happy, that’s always the goal.”
To help his customers and keep them coming back, Art will often sit down with them and advise them on budgeting their repairs and maintenance.
“We encourage them to take a certain amount of money and put it in the bank, so that they’re prepared when something goes wrong, especially with people whose cars are 10-15 years old,” he said. “In many cases, the investment is equal to a monthly bus pass and if they can do that, they can avoid trouble in the future. Many people get a few repair bills and want to bail on their vehicles, but we show them that it doesn’t make sense to do it that way. It’s their money and their decision, but if we can give them good advice, we always will.”