by Debbie Briggs, contributing writer
Build it and they will come. Or, in the case of Tom and Cindi Potter, build it and then have to move again.
Tom and Cindi Potter have had quite the adventure when it comes to the location of their successful import shop, Japanese Auto Masters in Virginia Beach, VA. The husband-and-wife team opened the shop in 1982 at a time when few independent repair shops focused on Asian vehicles. Originally located in a small shop near the oceanfront in Virginia Beach, Japanese Auto Masters had outgrown its small beginnings, and, in 1996, the couple started operations in a new 7,000-square-foot facility next to Oceana Naval Air Station.
Things were going along smoothly until 2005 when Tom and Cindi received a letter from the military saying that they were not in compliance with deeded restrictions on the property.
“In December 2012, we sold that property and in January 2013 purchased an existing building,” Tom says. “We then had to reconstruct the interior of the building and added an additional 66 feet off the back. We now have a 10,000-square-foot building, with a total of eight working bays plus one alignment bay.”
The Potters recently held their grand opening, with refreshments available for customers, with a variety of service and parts specials throughout the month of November. Cindi says the first 100 customers to make an appointment also received a gift bag with a T-shirt, savings coupons, calendar and more. It’s just one more example of the Potters’ commitment to their patrons — no matter the location of the shop.
“We strive to build relationships that go above and beyond just being our customers’ service and repair shop,” she says. “We work hard to show our customers that we, too, are affected by the uncertain economy and share their concerns about financial decisions, especially where it involves service and repair of their vehicles and the associated cost.”
In fact, the Potters have thought of everything when it comes to customer convenience in their new location. They offer shuttle service, a comfortable waiting area with free Keurig coffee, free Wi-Fi, a children’s play area and clean, customer-only restrooms.
“We really wanted to make sure customers felt at home while they wait for their vehicles,” Cindi says. “The colorful and clean interior is anything but institutional and fits the bill nicely. We’re already getting compliments on it.”
Moving to a new facility has also allowed Tom and Cindi to consider ways to improve shop efficiency as well as profitability. Timely parts acquisition has helped improve repair times, but so has the installation of cameras throughout the shop floor.
“Setting up cameras around the shop area has allowed us to see the location of a vehicle at any given time during the repair process,” Tom explains. “It’s helping to minimize any road blocks during service and repair.”
The (ASE Blue Seal of Excellence) shop’s three ASE-certified Master Techs, two L-1 High-Performance Techs, P2-certified parts specialist and P2/C1-certified service consultant also appreciate the convenience new laptops have afforded, giving them the ability to quickly look up repair information right on the spot.
“We also use Skype to communicate with each other when parts have arrived,” Tom says, “and for other daily needs around the shop. That way, we can quickly take care of any safety items or necessary maintenance issues with equipment.”
In addition to new laptops, employees also enjoy many benefits at Japanese Auto Masters, including paid vacation, holidays and sick days, complimentary uniforms, after-hours access to the shop for personal
vehicle repairs, as well as health and dental insurance. Add paid training and testing to the list as well.
“We generally send our employees to off-site NAPA training through our association as a NAPA Auto Care Center,” Tom says. “We encourage each employee to participate when classes are offered.”
Tom says recycling efforts began many years ago, and they continue at their new location. They recycle all paper, cardboard, cans, plastic bottles and plastic bags — pretty much anything and everything.
“All scrap steel, aluminum and other metals, as well as catalytic converters, are turned in for recycle scrap,” he explains. “All good waste oil is used for our heating with an EPA-approved waste oil heater, and any spoiled or contaminated oil is hauled out for commercial recycling. All used antifreeze is recycled, and we’re in the process of purchasing an oil filter crusher.”
At the end of the day for both Tom and Cindi it comes down to perseverance, patience and persistence, as well as treating customers the way they would want to be treated.
“Our company was founded on this principle and that is the essential reason we are still growing today,” Cindi says. “There are as many differences in customers and how each one wants to be cared for as there are similarities. We work very hard to treat each customer according to his/her needs, but, above all, with respect. Only by offering respect can one expect the same in return.”
While customer service efforts are always evolving, the Potters will always come back to that philosophy — and stay put in their newest location for many years to come.
Article courtesy of SHOP OWNER.