Industry vets take on shop ownership
Placentia, Calif.—Location, location, location.
When Buddy Dubois opened Placentia Super Service in 1978 it was a small shop in an older part of town. However, due to a major renovation project in that area some years later, the shop was able to relocate to its present 14,000-square-foot stand-alone building in South Placentia.
The business prospered at the new location and Dubois kept it running until he decided to retire and sold it to Bob Cornwall and Andrew “AJ” Bray in 2016, becoming their landlord.
“It was the best thing that could have happened to Buddy,” Cornwall said. “He moved to a great location — freeway close by, with frontage on busy Melrose Street.”
Cornwall and Bray met when they worked at another auto repair shop in Orange County and eventually decided it was time open their own shop, so they leased that portion of the building from Dubois. Two years later, they took over additional space in the building, knocked down a dividing wall and added two more lifts.
“I helped establish the California office of Jasper Engines & Transmissions and worked in outside sales with them for 10 years before becoming service manager at Bill’s Quality Auto Repair, in Simi Valley,” Cornwall said. “I have 10 years experience in service and running auto repair shops, but this is the first business I have owned, and I wanted to work in the front end.”
AJ Bray has worked in the automotive industry since he was 18. In high school he took all automotive repair classes his school and the Los Amigos ROP program had to offer.
“I started my automotive repair career at Pep Boys, but I quickly moved to independent shops where I spent years learning from great technicians, growing my automotive understanding, and earning my ASE Master certification. The last shop I worked at is where I met Bob.”
While Cornwall and Bray are both trained and experienced in auto repair, they each decided to focus on different areas in their own shop. Cornwall said he loves helping people, so he runs the front office. Bray loves working on cars, so he is shop foreman.
Revenues increase from $350K to $1 million-plus
The partners say things are working out well so far, as car count, average RO, and year-end sales are up.
“The previous owner typically averaged about 50 vehicles a month with about a $300-400 average repair order,” Cornwall said. “Now we are consistently averaging 200 vehicles a month and over $500 average repair order, and sales grew from $350,000 in 2016 to more than $1 million finishing 2018.”
Numerous factors have contributed to the increases, he said, including growing the shop’s online presence by using services such as ReachLocal for pay-per-click advertising, business training from ATI, and using Kukui for the shop’s new website development.
“Generating positive reviews by truly giving our guests the ‘Raving Fan’ experience, as Ken Blanchards’ book of the same name calls it, has really helped, and generated positive reviews online.”
The philosophy includes being super communicative with the customer both by text and phone to keep them well informed on what’s going on with their vehicle along with sending out digital inspections and pictures and videos of the inspection.
Cornwall also “resells” the service at the end of the process, which includes going over what was done, showing the old parts to the customer, going over the warranty, giving a customer an air freshener and a referral card at the exit, and walking the guest out to their vehicle.
The Placentia shop has also had a lot of growth lately by being directly involved in a local Facebook group called the Placentia Buzz, which has 13,000 members, Cornwall said. “It seems the local reviews carry a lot more weight then even Google or Yelp.”
The shop has also recently teamed up with RepairPal and receives up to four “very good” new customer referrals a week.
Bray added, “We also get new customers that come in with CarMax warranties directed to us from the RepairPal site. Bob and I have visited the local CarMax dealers and handed out our cards so that if they get overloaded they can send customers to us. It’s worked out great.”
Embracing all makes and models
The previous owner mainly worked on older vehicles with older technology, Bray said. Now, the shop takes in later-model domestic, Asian, and European vehicles, plus hybrids and diesels.
“Technicians are required to use lab scopes and multimeters and print wave forms because it gives our service writers tangible evidence of a failure, and helps build value in our diagnostic procedures,” Bray said. “We use our Snap-on Verus that has an integrated four-channel lab scope.”
The shop buys a lot of parts from Factory Motor Parts (FMP), as well as WORLDPAC and Cal State, and some OEM parts from local new car dealers.
“Through FMP, we are able to offer a 3-year/36,000-mile nationwide warranty that includes 12-month/12,000-mile roadside assistance,” Bray said.
The shop is a member of the Automotive Training Institute (ATI) and meets weekly with a coach to better improve the bottom line and discuss in more detail challenges and opportunities they are experiencing, Cornwall said.
“We see many opportunities ahead. We just have to make sure to build as much value as possible into what the customer is experiencing at our shop,” he said. “And we have addressed challenges, including establishing trust with every guest that comes into the shop. And, finding good technicians that can not only figure out the problems, but also repair them efficiently.”