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Corporate cosmetic pro brings branding savvy to shop

Lauralee Schmidt left her high-level business career to join her husband at Ohio’s Schmidt Auto Care to build brand and culture

Springboro, Ohio—It’s not often someone from the cosmetic world gets a hankering for a career change into the independent repair world. Lauralee Schmidt is one, however. She joined her husband at their shop after a corporate career in the cosmetics industry to grow the business. And she hasn’t looked back.

“I wanted to use my experience in planning and numbers to brand the shop and set it apart from the competition,” she said. “I had a bigger vision. I’m very aesthetically driven, and clear, consistent branding is important to me.”

From left: Service specialist Mike, Lead Tech Jon, and co-owner Erich Schmidt have a laugh. The Schmidts strive to keep their team motivated to moving toward their goals and dreams.

Lauralee came on board full time in 2016 to leverage her corporate business background in human resources and communications. She is now Schmidt Auto Care’s vice president of operations, marketing.

“I can’t talk to anyone about car care or sell service, but I excel behind the scenes doing all the social media and staging how the front of the shop looks — right down to the coffee pot and hooks on the doors. It was an easy transition. At the end of the day, business is business, and it’s about how you treat people and what appeals to them.”

Schmidt Auto Care has three company culture pillars: “Integrity,” “Excellence” and “Superior Service” that are prominent under its logo, on shop walls, documents and literature, and repeated at all staff meetings. “If you don’t ‘live’ by those pillars, then you don’t get to ‘play’ in our shop,” Lauralee said.

Hiring staff according to culture

Schmidt Auto Care’s interview process begins with a phone call for Lauralee to briefly assess a candidate. “It’s just a quick ‘touch-base’ call to hear if they speak intelligently, mannerly, respectfully and if they sound enthused.”

Promising candidates are invited to proceed with an in-shop interview with her, where she takes copious notes and scores each applicant. “We ask potential new hires untraditional, interpersonal questions and how they would handle certain situations with integrity. We want to know what drives people, where their moral compass is and what they want long term,” she said.

Afterward, Lauralee and Erich will review her findings together and decide whether or not the candidate meets with him, which is a technical interview that includes troubleshooting vehicle repairs dependent on the level of tech they are seeking to hire.

“It’s literally an audition,” Lauralee said.

The shop has nine employees, though Schmidt would like to bring that number up to 12 by the end of the year. She had two techs interview for one position last week, but she’s planning on hiring both. “They really hit our culture and what we’re looking for.”

In their interview process, the Schmidts spend a lot of time discussing applicants’ goals and how they might help them at this moment in their careers.

“Not everyone on my team wants to retire as a technician, so Erich and I want to keep them motivated to moving toward their goals and dreams.”

Since 2018, Schmidt Auto Care has been in Springboro, Ohio, in a 12,000-square-foot facility with nine bays and plans for an additional four.
Monthly car count in 2019 averaged 120-130 with expectations to grow to 160 in 2020, though Covid-19 has had its impact. However, business has picked up in the past three weeks.

Growing business with industry partners

Since 2009, the shop has moved to two different locations, each larger than the last. Since 2018, Schmidt Auto Care has been in Springboro, Ohio, in a 12,000-square-foot facility with nine bays and plans for an additional four. Monthly car count in 2019 averaged 120-130 with expectations to grow to 160 in 2020, though Covid-19 has had its impact.

“We’re a little off the mark, but we’ve picked up over the past three weeks, so we’re getting back on track,” said Lauralee, adding that this year’s annual revenue target is $1 million, which they nearly eclipsed last year.

Bolt On Technology and AppFueled’s custom downloadable app have been critical in customer communication and outreach. “I can’t say enough great things about either one of them. Digital inspections took us to a different level and makes it easier and smarter for our customers, who are tech-savvy.”

Clients are encouraged to download the shop’s AppFueled app with coupons, specials and contests, and their service specialist is incentivized to have customers sign up. Schmidt Auto Care also participates in a large, annual business community expo where the shop helps attendees download the app.

“It helps us with better customer retention,” Lauralee said. “People with the app visit us twice as much every year than those who don’t have it. They love it. Clients can communicate with us frequently without texting issues and also have their vehicle history on it for when they travel at their fingertips.  We have total customer buy-in.”

Schmidt’s labor rate has risen incrementally over the years and presently stands at $110. Average repair orders are $580, for which Schmidt credits their two service advisors and training from Elite Worldwide, which “transformed so many aspects of the business,” Lauralee said.

The shop has shifted the majority of its parts sourcing to KOI Auto Parts (Federated) and she anticipates it will become their top supplier. “They’ve been able to partner with us on a different level. They have speed. We can’t wait around for a part to be delivered, and they have a really good stock level for what we need.”

Mister Bear” is the shop’s mascot and a fan favorite among customers, who will often stop by just to throw him a tennis ball. “They won’t even have a repair or service appointment,” Lauralee Schmidt says. “They just come to see Mister Bear. He even has a plaque on our wall.”

A focus on customers and community

Schmidt Auto Care’s customer demographic is upper-middle class and the Honda Odyssey has been the shop’s No. 1 service vehicle for the past two years.

“There’s a lot of stay-at-home ‘soccer moms’ and they all come to our shop,” Lauralee said. “Our shop speaks to the female aesthetic which is so important to me — knowing what a mom needs and what they’re looking for when they come in. No girl wants to come into a dirty auto shop, and they certainly don’t want to take their kids into one.”

She added that their shop prides itself on education and has held hands-on classes in the past few years. This year, there’s a women’s class and a “Tiny Technicians” class for toddlers. “We like to find different ways to engage with the community that also include monthly programs and contests.”

As the pandemic began, Schmidt Auto Care — which was the Springboro Chamber of Commerce 2019 Business of the Year and U.S. News 2019 Best Auto Shop in Warren County — also began offering online, automotive-related STEM Fest videos for children out of school.

“We would make an announcement for a day and time, then go ‘live’ on Facebook for an hour and discuss a variety of subjects,” Lauralee said. “We had a lot of good participation and parents also started to pay attention to our shop — we received quite a bit more new-client traffic.

“We’re very active in our community and the community really supports us.”

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