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Why belong to a trade association and other secret sauces to successful repair shop ownership

It doesn’t cost to belong to a trade association — it can pay you big dividends

Editor’s note: Paul E. Grech owned the former San Franciso shop, Allied Engine & Auto Repair, before retiring. In this column series, Grech shares his experiences as a shop owner.

I was in the city yesterday running some errands and I stopped by a fellow garage owner’s place to chew the rag. I asked how business was and he said it was OK, then asked him about one of our ASCCA members who had just shut down his business last year.

Paul Grech

They talk to one another and he mentioned that he sends him quite a lot of work from his former customers, and it has really helped him with all that is going on right now. I told him that was another benefit of being a member of a trade association. I did the same thing when I closed down. I didn’t sell my customer list — deciding to keep it and direct my customers to ASCCA members who did old cars like I did. 

It helped them get through these turbulent times. My customers were taken care of, also. I was able to find my own tenant by being a member of ASCCA, and I saved a lot of money that I would have had to pay to a realtor. It just goes to show you that it doesn’t cost to belong to a trade association, it can pay you big dividends.

I attended many an ASCCA seminar about how to handle customers and run my business. I was able to compare how to do things the way they recommend and the way I did it. I also found that my way in many cases mine worked better for me.

For example, I found that getting humor involved in the transaction worked real well for me. I also found out through a health incident in my life that endorphins flowing in your brain is what makes you feel good. So getting endorphins to flow is the best way to win over new customers.

I did this through my advertisements in the yellow pages when they were popular. I put in sayings like “We love old cars,” “Even my mother-in-law likes me.” The best one was “Open Saturdays when the wife let’s me.” 

I got a lot woman customers with those ads. I also made sure that whoever has the last contact with the customer when they pickup the car has the sweetest personality. This helps cement their future relationship with my business. They leave feeling confident about doing business with us. They  didn’t feel over sold on recommended repairs.

In other words, when they left not only did the car feel good, but so did they. I go to a lot of cars shows with my old cars — I have a 1957 Ford Thunderbird, a 1936 Ford pickup truck. I always bring four big papermache chickens to put around the vehicles. And, so naturally, I always get asked what is the story about the chickens? Get your attention and get the endorphins flowing. Many a time they would say “well it worked.” You always want to have the customer leave feeling glad that they got to meet you and your business. This is the secret to repeat referral business, as well as ASCCA membership.

Worked for me for 43 years. 

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