Working smarter, not harder at Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, Calif.—Nelson Vargues, owner of Boulevard Auto Repair, said his father, Casimiro Vargues, and Mario Pontes, both Portuguese immigrants, opened Boulevard Mercedes-Benz in Encino in 1975, and five years later moved to its present 10,000-square-foot location in Sherman Oaks.
A lot has changed since then, most recently with implementing digital vehicle inspections, YouTube shop video promotions and Google Ads.
“Both men had a Mercedes-Benz repair background and their vision was to provide a one-stop ‘yes shop,’ for their customers, including collision repair, meaning we never turn work away, and it’s been that way ever since.”
In 1981, the business had to change its name to Boulevard Auto Repair, because of the Mercedes Registered Trademark Name Protection Act, which Vargues said opened up repair opportunities for other European vehicles, including Audi, BMW, VW, and Smart Car.
“Our business has grown greatly over the years by repositioning the shop and advertising the brands we service,” he said. “The bulk of our work is still on German vehicles, but as we’re a ‘yes shop,’ we also service domestic and Asian makes when asked, but we don’t seek it.”
The shop handles 100-plus cars a month for mechanical work and more than 10 cars a month in the body shop.
“Our average RO for mechanical repair is now $800, and about $1,200 for collision work,” Vargues said. “Most of our new customers are referrals from prior customers or they find us on Yelp and Google.”
Boulevard is using Google Ads, Yelp, SEO advertising, and the shop’s YouTube channel, to attract new customers.
“We have 120 YouTube videos and we get calls from all over the country,” he said, “and we’ve gotten about $4,000 in work from those calls, which pays for the YouTube account.
To streamline the vehicle inspection and repair order processes, Vargues said he has invested in paperless shop technology from AutoTextMe for digital vehicle inspections (DVI) and work orders.
“We use our smart phones to access and use the program, and we all love it,” he said. “The DVI and work order features allow us to push DVI results back into our shop management system (SMS) after a DVI has been completed, eliminating all dual entry from service writers or technicians. And Craig O’Neill, of AutoTextMe, is great to work with.”
The shop is currently trying two different icloud-based SMS software systems: Shop-Ware and Tekmetric, which Vargues said both have certain strengths and weaknesses, but the biggest feature they offer is text message estimates and approvals via smart phone.
“We still have not decided which one suits our SMS needs just yet,” he said. “For collision estimating we have always used Audatex.”
Tool and equipment investments
Vargues since his father retired, in 2000, has also invested heavily in new equipment, including a Mercedes-Benz PC-based SCS scanner with Xentry, an Autologic Assist Plus Pro, and an Autel Maxisys Elite for the repair shop.
To create a new profit center, Vargues said he also recently purchased a new Corghi tire balancer and tire mounting machine, from Myer’s Tire Supply.
“We recommend tires based on their tread wear rating, and then price,” he said. “Hankook is good, and Nexen, which comes with a Total Coverage Warranty that includes a tread wear mileage warranty, a one-year limited road hazard warranty, and 36-month roadside assistance, is excellent. We buy our tires from American Tire Distributors (ATD) and Tires Warehouse.”
Vargues has also purchased new equipment for the collision shop, including a Garmat down draft spray booth from Pacific Coast Supply, a Car-O-liner in-ground frame machine and Car-O-Tronic Vision2 electronic measuring System from Pacific Collision Equipment (PCE).
“Since we opened, we’ve offered our customers a lifetime warranty and 100-percent satisfaction on our body and paintwork because we have I-CAR- and BASF-trained paint technicians and we spray waterborne BASF Glasurit paint products, which we buy from Annex Automotive and Modern Paint & Body.”
The shop has been a Bosch Service Center for nearly 20 years, he said, and he is a Bosch-trained master technician. All technicians are also ASE-certified and Vargues is also a member of Aaron Stokes Shop Fix Academy Mastermind group.
Boulevard is also a Demand Force Top Rated Auto Repair Shop, based on 180-plus customer satisfaction surveys with a 100-percent referral rate.
“We pay for our technicians to attend training classes from I-CAR, WORLDPAC, SSF, and we attend LMVIND.com training, which is an independent technical information system for vehicles manufactured by Mercedes Benz and BMW.”
Around the corner
The biggest trend Vargues sees in the next 10 to 15 years will be consumers buying more electric cars and the transformation of the electric car into being a more viable transportation alternative to gasoline cars.
“In five more years, most electric cars will have a 500-mile travel range,” he said. “I believe electric cars are the future, and that is where most shops will need to focus their energy, training, and retooling their business. Either keep up with the electric car technology now, or get left behind.”