Marketing pumps up car counts, ARO
Placentia, Calif.— Akio “Aki” Tsuchida, president and co-founder of Tokyo Automotive Repair, with locations in Buena Park and Placentia, is the epitome of the American Dream, said his son.
“Dad’s been working on Toyotas since high school where he attended Jidosha Seibikunrensha (which literally translated means school for the automotive trade), in his native Ishikawa, Japan,” said Tatsunori “Tatsu” Tsuchida, vice president of operations at the Placentia location.
Upon graduating, Aki Tsuchida went to work for Ishikawa Toyopet where his boss and mentor, Osamu Fujimura, sold him on the American Dream. Seven years later he had saved enough to move to Southern California.
Before opening his fist shop, Aki worked at Japan Auto for two years, then became a factory-trained technician at Carson Toyota and then worked at Long Beach Datsun, where he met his future partner, Mas Masuda.
The two men worked on friends’ cars in the evening until they saved enough to open the first Tokyo Automotive Repair in Buena Park in 1978.
“It was one of the first Japanese car specialists in Orange County, Tatsu Tsuchida. “I swear people lost their minds when they found out that a Japanese guy was working on their Japanese car. Nowadays, being Japanese isn’t so much a prerequisite, but Japan’s cultural code of ethics and precision certainly helps our image.”
By focusing on routine maintenance, particularly oil and fluid exchange, business grew steadily, and in 1987 Aki Tsuchida opened a small shop in Placentia and in the early 1990s moved to the current seven-bay facility on busy Orangethorpe Avenue.
Tatsu Tsuchida, who took over operations at the Placentia shop in 2008, said in his college days at Cal Poly Pomona, where he received a degree in business, he was sort of an aimless young adult.
“I knew I was eventually going to take over the shop, but in no way did I feel obligated. I loved my family’s business, but dad isn’t the most teacher-type of personality, so I knew I had to seek that education and experience outside the shop. So I also took a few automotive classes at Cypress College in the areas I was lacking. I currently have five ASE certifications.”
The shop now has six employees, including Tatsu, three technicians, a service writer, and “shop mom,” Kimiko Tsuchida.
Technicians take ASE classes, attend workshops and training quarterly offered by WORLDPAC and Automotive Training Group (ATG) classes.
“I want all of my technicians to get ASE certified,” Tatsu Tsuchida said. “And ATG provides excellent refresher and new content courses for technicians.”
He said the shop’s service writer, Jasper Taunt, has been doing well and car count is up to around 120 a month and the average RO is around $550-$600.
“But we’re turning down work, so we need another technician. And I’m always interviewing for additional staff.”
In addition to periodic maintenance, the shop does a lot of brake work, tires, hybrid repair, including battery reconditioning, and fluid exchanges, using BG Products’ equipment and fluids, which Taunt said is the lion’s share of the shop’s work.
“I have had the BG fluid exchanges done on my own car and measured the results — and I know they work.”
Tokyo Auto also offers two levels of oil service. The minor service and what they call a Tokyo Special, where they go through the whole car in “nit-pick” fashion, give it a test drive, and present a written report to the customer.
“The basic oil service doesn’t go into the car with as much detail and is around $80. With the Tokyo Special we look at everything and includes a complete vehicle inspection, a road test, and a written report to the customer. It costs $125. BG fluid exchanges are also doing well. They have certainly helped the longevity of our customers’ cars and also increased our average RO.”
The shop has recently purchased a Snap-on Modis scan tool, which Tsuchida said he uses every day, and in the near future plans on buying an on-car brake lathe, as required by every OEM for warranty work, and hybrid battery reconditioning equipment from Hybrid Automotive.
“We have a local shop that does our hybrid battery reconditioning now,” he said. “However, with a small investment in reconditioning and charging equipment, I can perform all of that work in-house and create a new profit center.”
Tsuchida said the shop’s biggest parts vendor is WORLDPAC, but also buys parts from One-Stop, Fast Undercar, IMC, Anaheim Wheel and Tire, and local dealerships.
To create new and repeat customers, Tsuchida uses several print and electronic services including postcards via Kukui to a very specific demographic: household income $100,000, within certain zip codes, usually within a five-mile radius, and it typically has a discount on the postcard, but it’s an introductory offer for new customers.
“I generally discourage discount marketing and I don’t offer discounts otherwise. I figure my guys do good work and we back it with a 3-year/36,000-mile warranty, so why discount it?”
Another other way the shop gets new customers is through Google AdWords, which Kukui manages, and search engine optimization (SEO).
Tsuchida said he recently joined ASCCA to get to know other shops in the area and take advantage of the many benefits of ASCCA membership, including discounts on training, credit card processing services, insurance, and uniform and towel service.