West Automotive Group capitalizes on branding
Escondido, Calif.—It’s 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning, and while many are enjoying their slumber or sipping their first cup of coffee to face the day, the radio airwaves crackle to life with the voice of Brian Bowersock. He hosts the hour-long “Auto Talk” on 760 KFMB AM Talk Radio along with co-host Dan Mulgrew, who owns Miramar 76 Service Center & Transmissions. It’s the No. 1 rated talk show in his time slot on the west coast, he said.
Bowersock’s advice on car care often nets phone calls and emails from across the country, thanks to the program’s popularity via podcasts. But his motivation isn’t fame. The talk show is part of a broad marketing campaign that’s helped push annual sales to nearly $5 million for his two San Diego-area shops, West Escondido Automotive & Transmission and the recently opened West El Cajon Automotive & Transmission, about 35 miles away. The two shops are collectively marketed as the West Automotive Group.
Bowersock also hosts a segment “The Auto Guy” on Channel 6 Saturday Morning News. The two gigs have helped establish him as a trusted local authority on car care and increase name recognition for him and the shops. “A lot of people will come in just to see me and say, ‘I know that you know what you’re talking about,’” he said. “‘You’re the Auto Guy, so we want to get your opinion.’”
Heading into his 24th year in business, Bowersock said he easily outspends any other car care shops in his area, with between 10 and 12 percent of his gross sales going to his marketing budget, which also includes radio and TV commercials and bus billboards. The only businesses remotely similar in terms of a marketing budget are new car dealers, he said.
“General automotive people tend to not understand or ‘get it’ when they look at what folks do or what they’re willing to spend money on, so they don’t tend to spend a lot on advertising,” Bowersock said.
Regardless of which medium, the marketing conveys a consistent message. “We don’t do any call-to-action,” he said. “All of our advertising is brand awareness and that we are the experts. We take care of people, and we never put money ahead of people. So we’re in the business of helping people, and we do that through fixing cars.”
Because the ability to get a vehicle repaired and out the door quickly is good for customers, Bowersock said he on occasion turns to remanufactured transmissions from the inventory of Certified Transmission’s San Diego warehouse. If a particular transmission is not in stock or his shops aren’t busy, Bowersock’s brother, Kevin, will rebuild a transmission for either shop. Transmission work is about 25 percent of the shops’ work, and that figure has remained fairly constant throughout the years, he said.
All technicians at the shops are ASE master-certified, which is something he looks for new hires to have or to get quickly. Including Kevin Bowersock, there are eight master technicians at the Escondido location and three at the El Cajon location. There are three service advisors, a parts manager, and two porters at the Escondido location, and one manager/service advisor and a porter rounding out the staff in El Cajon.
There are no R&R technicians for the transmission work; all technicians do such work at times, Bowersock said. The shops do “everything from A to Z,” including working on hybrids (more than 10 percent of his sales volume), alignments, and serving as STAR-certified smog test and repair stations for the California Bureau of Automotive Repair. Because customers with vehicles that have failed a smog test in another test facility often look for a second shop to repair what the first failed, they often turn to a STAR-certified station to diagnose and repair sometimes difficult problems.
The shops are AAA-Approved, and with both shops being NAPA AutoCare Centers, Bowersock is able to offer a nationwide 24-month, 24,000-mile warranty. He also offers a three-year, 100,000-mile nationwide warranty on all transmissions, whether they are Certified remans or are overhauled at the shop. In the rare event a failure would occur, he said the shop has agreements through the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association (ATRA) to receive a discounted rate on labor at ATRA-member shops, to which he can ship a complete unit for installation.
Bowersock serves on the Auto Care Association’s Car Care Professionals Network, a panel of 12 shop owners across the country that meets twice a year with all stakeholders in the parts manufacturing and supply chain to work together on issues that may spring up, such as discussing parts warranties and improving the rate of parts returns.
“We’re there to assist them,” he said, “so they know what’s going on in the field.”