To the casual observer passing by DeBoer’s Auto in Hamburg, N.J., the dealership might appear to be a small, rather unassuming-looking used car lot. To be sure, DeBoer’s isn’t a gigantic operation – they stock about 20 used vehicles at any given time – but the area in which the store truly excels is its fixed operations. In fact, about 60 percent of the store’s business comes from service. DeBoer’s Auto has been focusing intently on improving and expanding fixed ops since 1997 and today boasts a full-service repair facility with two full-time, ASE-certified technicians and a service advisor.
Bill DeBoer, Jr. spent a lot of summers and spring breaks working at the dealership as he grew up and said he had always known he wanted to work on either cars or computers. He was drawn to computer technology, but found that vehicle diagnostics and repair fit him better because while he was fascinated with technology, “I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk all day.” DeBoer pursued multiple ASE certifications and became a master technician. He later attended Penn State and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in business management with the intent of returning to the dealership upon his graduation. He now serves as the business’ vice president and general manager and has been recognized as an NIADA Certified Master Dealer.
Founded by Bill DeBoer, Sr. as a used car lot and body shop in Newton, N.J., in 1982, DeBoer’s Auto moved to its Hamburg location in 1985. At that time, the elder DeBoer opted to discontinue the body shop and run the business strictly as a used car store. Eventually a repair facility was added to the business, and when the younger DeBoer graduated from college and returned to the store in 1997, he set about the task of building the dealership’s service business while his father tended to the sales side of things.
At that time, the service department consisted of a single technician and one service bay. “We had very limited equipment. A lift, a tire machine, a tire balancer—that was pretty much the extent of the equipment,” he said. When customers came in with serious repair issues that required more attention, there was no other choice but to send them elsewhere, a situation DeBoer wanted to remedy. “Once I came into [the business], I focused on acquiring all the equipment we needed to do the repairs,” he said. “I just wanted to get to the point where we could do everything in-house and be able to meet all our customers’ needs without having to send them anywhere else.”
He started by taking a look at the kinds of equipment the service department would need in order to fix the most common problems. “One of the big profit centers that I went for right away was the air conditioning. At that time you had to be licensed for R12 [refrigerant] and have the proper equipment for it,” he said. “That was one of the first equipment acquisitions we made.”
The next big move he made was the acquisition of the equipment needed to perform state emissions inspections. DeBoer said shortly after he graduated from college and joined the dealership, the state of New Jersey moved to dynamometer testing for its emissions inspection program. “That was a pretty costly event. The setup was about $60,000, so to get through that, get it paid for and behind us was a pretty big milestone,” he said. “It’s hard to measure all the spin-off work that we get from it but just the inspections alone paid for the equipment.”
More recently, the dealership has become an inspection site for the CARCO Group in order to perform pre-insurance photo inspections on used vehicles, a fraud-prevention measure that is required by the state of New Jersey when a consumer purchases a used vehicle. At $4 per inspection, the practice is not directly responsible for much revenue. However, since DeBoer’s can perform inspections for any consumer in the area who has purchased a used car, even if they did not purchase from the dealership, it does generate some traffic. “It helps out in a number of ways,” said DeBoer. “It gets the customer in our store and also gives us a pulse of the used car market … because we see what people are buying and where they’re buying it from.” The dealership has been conducting between 30 and 40 photo inspections per month.
Another big boon to DeBoer’s service department was the decision to start performing computerized four-wheel alignments several years ago. “Prior to that, we were [subletting] our alignments out to the other guy that was in town, so I wanted to get that under my roof instead of his,” he said. The initial investment was about $25,000, which DeBoer said he recouped fairly quickly. Now they enjoy a steady stream of about 10 alignments per week. “We do quite a bit with that because we do all the local body shops. Any time a car is in a collision, they have to sub out the alignments. That’s a good source of revenue for us.”
Part of the challenge of expanding the service department was modifying the facility to accommodate new equipment. DeBoer said that instead of adding on to the building, he simply modified the way things were set up within the existing facility. With some help, he found a way to allow the small shop to accommodate multiple lifts, the dynamometer and the alignment rack. “We’re kind of challenged with the dyno as an above-ground set-up, and we needed more lift capacity and also [needed to be able] to get into the alignment rack,” he said. “One of the equipment suppliers that we deal with helped us set things up … We’re able to drive right onto the dyno through the alignment rack, so we’re able to use the bay for both the dyno inspections and the alignments, and we also added lift capacity for oil changes.”
About a year ago, DeBoer became a CARQUEST TECH-NET Professional Auto Service center, and the relationship has proved to be a beneficial one. Being a TECH-NET shop means that not only is he able to get all his parts through a CARQUEST supplier, but he is also able to back all repairs performed at his store with a nationwide 12-month/12,000-mile warranty. However, he said, he has not had any instances yet of his customers having to call him to use the warranty. “We fix them right the first time.”
His affiliation with CARQUEST led him to the discovery of some very useful resources for managing customer relationships and promoting his dealership. About a year or so ago, he became familiar with MechanicNet, a company that provides customer relationship management services designed for the automotive aftermarket. “They go in and mine my service department management software and grab the ROs every day,” he said. Once a week, MechanicNet takes care of sending out his service reminders, thank-you letters and CSI surveys. DeBoer said being able to log in and look at completed customer surveys is especially beneficial. “It helps me see what areas we are either strong or weak in. It’s a good feedback tool.” MechanicNet also allows DeBoer to offer his customers the added convenience of being able to schedule their service appointments through the dealership’s Web site, www.deboersauto.com. The site’s service appointment page links to a shop page customized for DeBoer’s by MechanicNet, www.deboers.mechanicnet.com. “It’s a pretty useful tool,” he stated.
His other discovery through CARQUEST was AutoNet TV. DeBoer said AutoNet TV provides him with a DVD containing service- and maintenance-related video content geared toward vehicle owners that he can show in his store each month. The company also provides DeBoer with a blog page for which they produce informative articles with related video content, covering topics like timing belt replacement and the importance of fuel system cleaning. “We supply them with key words and phrases that they in turn weave into the article so that it looks like it’s locally produced,” he explained. As content is posted on the blog site it automatically populates his dealership site, his Facebook page and his Twitter account. “It’s a really nice feature, I think, as a shop owner. It’s hands-off, it’s done and it’s just automatically out there.”
DeBoer said he’s satisfied with his service department, at least for now, and will focus on maintaining the status quo for a while. His next move will be to concentrate on increasing business on the sales side of the store. He recently obtained a license to lease and this year will start offering lease here pay here at DeBoer’s Auto in addition to regular retail sales. “Now that we’ve got the service department built up,” he said, “I’m looking to build up the sales department a little bit more and move some more cars.”
Vol. 7, Issue 4