STANDING OUT IN THE RIGHT WAY

Auto repair and service shops can be a little intimidating and overwhelming to the average customer. Carl and Maureen Hutchinson, owners of Complete Automotive in Springfield, Missouri, want to be known for operating differently, and that’s a good thing. After 35 years in the automotive industry, Carl believes in leading with honesty and building lasting relationships. He explains the importance of creating trust with customers, employees and vendors.

Talk a little bit about Complete Automotive.

We are a full-service auto shop, focusing on preventive maintenance, repairs and breakdowns. We handle everything from tires to transmissions; everything short of replacing body panels and painting them. We have a staff of 10, and we’ll be celebrating our 10 year anniversary in June 2018.

How do you market your business to attract and retain customers?

Attraction is a tricky thing because it’s the unknown. We do a lot of direct mail, which seems to be working. We have a huge presence on the internet to attract new customers. We work hard to be found locally on all the search engines. For retention, we do a lot of things for our loyal, longtime customers. We have Carl’s Cash, which is a rewards program for doing business with us. Those dollars can be spent here on future service.

One of the things we’ve focused on in the last year is what we call lost customers, those who haven’t been back to see us in seven to nine months. We’re reaching out to them and asking if they’ve moved away or if they’ve bought a new car. We want to know the reasons behind them not returning.

Maureen has an important role in the customer relationship too. She is the moral support to all of us. And honestly, her biggest role is bringing the female aspect to our business. She keeps all of us males in line and says, “This is what women are looking for. This is what women appreciate and want to see when they come into our facility. This is what it should feel like.” We do a lot of things that are different in the automotive space. Our waiting room is more like a family living room. We display local art on our walls. We want our business to be something different so that when a customer comes in, they say, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!”

Explain the importance of building trust with potential customers, especially in your industry.

In our minds, that’s one of the things that sets us apart in the industry. Once we got the business up and running, we asked ourselves, “What sets us apart?”And I think it’s our customer relationships. We know you can take your vehicle to probably 200 different places here in our market and get something done. But how are you treated? Do they care about you and not just the vehicle? We’re more focused on the customer rather than the vehicle. Are we telling them what they need to know or are we telling them want they want to hear? There’s a huge difference. We build a trusting relationship. We explain upfront that we are going to be inspecting their vehicle and telling them what we see. Sometimes those things aren’t pleasant. They may not want to hear those things, but it’s our professional duty to tell them. That way, we can help them make educated decisions as to how to maintain and repair their vehicles. You can’t have those conversations without trust.

We start by building that trust factor. Each individual here, especially in the front office, builds that rapport with each customer as they come through the door.

Do you have longtime customers?

Absolutely. I think every business has a few customers who are the 15 to 20 year relationships. We have customers who have followed technicians and myself from place to place. We have several customers who are loyal, which is not common these days. Those customers understand the ups and downs of business and understand that we’re all humans. We like to be judged on how we correct our mistakes not on the mistakes themselves.

Switching gears to your team … how do you attract quality employees?

Ongoing training is a must in our industry. We actually have a training schedule set up for our staff. They know what’s required of them throughout the year. We try to pick different subjects depending on the personnel and what their level of experience is. It’s very important for us to stay ahead of the trends. We’re trying to do all the things a potential employee would want to see – we focus on the stability of the company and look to the future. We look at growing our staff and not just growing the individual but their entire family. We look at it a little differently; we hire the employee but we actually hire the whole family. We want the whole family’s input. That’s part of our culture. How do we support the family and things that are going on in their lives? How do we reward them for going above and beyond?  

What initially sold you on AmeriPride as a service vendor?

We’ve been customers of AmeriPride for five years now. We were servicing the AmeriPride vehicles. We felt like the thing to do was support the people who are supporting us.

What keeps you with AmeriPride?

Customer service. We’ve worked through issues in the past. And hopefully we’ve made the relationship better by communicating what’s going on with us as a customer. We have a great customer relationship. Over the years, your team has always responded. 

You’ve rolled with us through everything we’ve asked you to do. We realize you’re in a service industry just as much as we are. You’ve been very receptive of our input as opposed to just saying “No, this is how it works.” I think that’s what we ought to be doing as business leaders – help each other succeed.

How convenient is it to have one vendor for uniforms and facility care?

The more things I can take off my plate and focus on one contact, the easier it is for our business to run. We don’t have to chase things down at multiple vendors and keep track of who is responsible for what. Having a vendor check those things on a weekly basis and supply them as needed takes a lot off our plate. I don’t have to be concerned with “Are we out of soap?” or “Are we out of fender covers?” It’s a huge benefit to having those things with one vendor.

What type of uniforms do your technicians wear?

We have the black Diamond Plate Shop Shirts, and they’ve worked really well for us. We do work in a dirty industry and these shirts are easier to keep looking nice. They wash up really well and aren’t fading. We’re very impressed with the shirts. Most of the guys also have cargo pants, which is a huge plus. We’re carrying more stuff on us now so those cargo pants with multiple pockets are great.

As a small business, explain your partnership with the local community.

We’ve been involved in several different community avenues. We’ve been supporting Rare Breed Youth Outreach Center and Bridges for Youth through our local churches. We also help with the Freeway Ministries holiday program for children. We’ve been involved with Convoy of Hope and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. We’re a member of the local rotary group. We also set aside a day each year to help those in need make repairs to their vehicles, services such as oil changes and light maintenance.

What’s your favorite part about your job?

In the last year or so we’ve realized that we have the opportunity to change people’s lives. And that’s the best part of our job. Whether it’s watching our staff grow or giving them the opportunity to succeed. Yes, we’re a service-based industry but when we can help customers through something like helping them get to school or work, that makes a difference. The whole idea of being able to change people’s lives for the better is what gets us up in the morning. 


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