Running a Shop

How I Did It: VIP Tires & Service

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SHOP STATS: VIP Tires & Service  Locations: 59 in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont Founder: John Quirk  Average Daily Car Count: 18  Average Staff Size: 9  Average Number of Bays: 7 Annual Revenue: $85 million  Ticket Average: $230

In a business, there’s always someone behind the scenes working on growing the brand day in and day out. While much work goes into putting good managers in place to run day-to-day business, it’s incumbent upon those at the top level to handle everything from the top-level view.

Just as the shop techs exercise their skills in auto service, big picture management requires its own specialized skill set. 

For VIP Tires & Services, one of those people is John Quirk. As the former CEO—now executive chairman—Quirk oversees all of VIP’s 59 locations that bring in over 30,000 vehicles to repair each month. How does he do it, exactly? By being in constant communication with his employees and customers, focusing on efficiency and training, and by lending a hand whenever needed.

“We are in the relationship business. People come to people because they trust them,” Quirk says. “We are trying to make the customer experience different and better.”

For this edition of How I Did It, Quirk shares—in his own words—what big picture management looks like at his company.

1) Before he’s out the door for the day, Quirk reviews daily sales reports.

I get up at 4:30 a.m. to review these sales reports by district and look for any signs of unusual activity. 

Once I’m out the door at 7 a.m., I’m usually on the phone for my 30-minute commute, talking with my district manager and marketing manager to go over the week ahead and the challenges to focus on.

When I get to the office, I’m looking through over 150 emails, focusing on planning, training, and business processes. Some days I’m in the field trying to meet with all of the department heads to go over strategic planning sessions, monthly business planning sessions. I usually spend about an hour-and-a-half in the office.

2) While he isn’t doing the hiring, he works on developing staff pathways.

I spend a lot of time recruiting. We were struggling recruiting talent with low unemployment and a huge shortage of qualified technicians. Two years ago, we tried to become the best at developing young people to become automotive professionals. We started with ASE, where we got young talent in a room who were thinking about becoming technicians and tried to figure out a way to help them through that. 

We ended up forming a seven-step career path program, where technicians can earn their own raises with accreditation. We’ve paired this with an ASE program, and the shop pays for all of the costs. So far, we’ve had 1,000 techs take the program. This program has really helped fill the pipeline and is giving a path to becoming a technician. It’s really helped differentiate themselves in the field. It’s a way for them to build a career versus flipping burgers. If you become a master technician and if you have good productivity, you can earn six figures nowadays. The highest-paid technician in the company started at $8 an hour and now earns over $100,000 per year.

This not only applies to technicians, but service advisors too. They focus on TPMS, inspection license, service consultation, parts consultation—we still pay to have them take all of these tests. The more accreditation you have, the more confidence you will have speaking with customers. 

3) It isn’t lonely at the top. Quirk stays tuned into his operation.

Culture is the most important thing I focus on throughout the day, keeping the pulse on feedback from customers and service personnel. Six years ago, we had an unpleasant experience. A customer went online and wrote a review saying VIP took advantage of his wife because she is a woman and that we tried to oversell to her. He went on to say that they took the car into another shop for a second opinion, as they were only looking to get a car alignment. We had one of our Ford master technicians in the shop taking a look at the customer’s Ford Explorer. 

The tech said he couldn’t line up the car because there were all of these things wrong with it and the customer became irate because they just had all of this work done. I got ahold of the customer and was letting him vent, telling him we don’t take advantage of our customers, going on to say that I spoke with the technician, who has a lot of integrity, and he said he wouldn’t let his own wife drive that car. I had the technician drive out to the shop the vehicle was currently at about an hour away. He spoke with that technician and pointed out all of the things wrong with the vehicle to that tech and the customer. The customer ended up apologizing, but by this time, his post got 10,000 hits and it was even on the news, when in reality, none of it was true. It was definitely a wake-up call for us.

From this point on, we decided to be the most transparent company in the automotive aftermarket. To do this, we set up a customer service portal for easier communication. Now if someone isn’t happy, they can write the problem on there and it goes to everyone in the shop. It also lets customers see a thread of emails. This really has opened up the pipeline of what makes customers unhappy so we can fix it. It’s all about fixing the problem as quickly as possible and making the customer happy. You have to make the customer feel important. Culture is the most important thing we work on throughout the entire business. The goal is to earn an automotive customer for life. We work on over 30,000 cars a month, so mistakes can happen. It’s all about how you deal with it.

4) Managing time means finding efficiencies in shop operations while finding more minutes in your own day.

A big project we are working on right now is being more efficient. To do this, we started out by taking nine to 12 months to put together a new point of sale system. It was a two- to three-year vetting process to make the right decision on the best system. It comes with digital inspections, an integrated CRM system—we even have tablets for all of the techs and service writers to access on the spot. We also just launched our brand new website—it’s only been up for a couple months—with a click-to-chat feature to have more communication with customers. And finally, we are working on remodeling our locations. So far, we’ve remodeled 22 of them and we hope to have them all remodeled within the next two years.

I try to utilize my time the best way I can. At the end of the day, I am constantly going through the calendar to see if I can squeeze in any last-minute things and am looking through my to-do list for the next several days, just to make sure I’m on top of things and can jump in when help is needed. The office runs like clockwork. The best time for me is when I’m out in the field meeting with customers, making sure I listen to what they need and having the right tools to be successful.

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