Maintaining a mom-and-pop shop atmosphere at a 21st century business is tough enough. But maintaining a 1950s-style full-service gas station in 2012 is virtually unfathomable.
The concept, however, wasn’t beyond the creative entrepreneurial mind of Glenn Moak, who bought out Duxler Complete Auto Care in Evanston, Ill., in 1983. Four years ago, he instigated Duxler’s purchase and renovation of an old landmark gas station. Since operating that station – which not only pumps gas for customers but also checks tire pressure, adds washer fluid and checks other fluids, all while rejecting tips – Duxler has seen a six-fold increase in the existing tire and repair business’ gross numbers.
And the facility, still charging self-service prices, went from pumping 20,000 gallons of gas a month to 100,000 gallons to boot.
That’s the kind of free-thinking service-mindedness that has made Duxler Complete Auto Care, owned since 2004 by Glenn’s son Brian Moak, a 2012 Tire Review Top Shop Award Finalist – and a $12.5 million company.
“Competitors and other industry people thought we were crazy,” says the younger Moak, “but the idea worked, and created quite a repair business to be proud of.”
Taking a financial risk on the appeal of extraordinary customer service wasn’t easy. Yet it wasn’t beyond comprehension to Glenn, who, according to company legend, once single-handedly worked a three-month stretch in his garage after buying the chain, when money was too tight to afford a staff.
“Doing this required a massive investment in people and a new ideal that the expense of the full-service gas would subsidize the normal expense of marketing a new location,” Brian Moak says. “What other opportunity allows for face-to-face interaction with 400 to 500 people each and every day, where we can showcase our service and constantly exceed expectations? This created an instant buzz that spread like wildfire…This was a hit!”
Money can’t buy the kind of publicity that a genuine human-interest story naturally evokes. So, not only has Duxler’s distinctive customer service been demonstrated to customers through the gas station, but its name has been plastered all over the local media because of it.
“We were extremely lucky to have received these news features,” Moak says. “The fact that they were unbiased third-party reports helped to increase Duxler’s credibility. The mentions have helped showcase some of the most unique things about Duxler, and they have helped further our branding and spread our message. They helped demonstrate that Duxler puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to service.
“In other words, we’re going to clean your windshield, fill your washer fluid, check your oil and tire pressure, give you a piece of candy, and we’re not going to charge you a penny more for it.”
Spreading the Word
Duxler’s unusual foray into marketing, however, isn’t limited to its gas station experience. The four-location dealership has a long list of marketing and public relations routes by which it puts out the word about its business. Unsolicited news stories, not only about its gas station, but on various promotions of natural interest, have become a serendipitous staple in its public relations campaign.
Other routes include traditional advertising, direct mail, social media, Internet, promotions, event sponsorships, networking, board participation and “guerilla marketing” – a plethora of extra things it does to increase its public profile.
It’s not surprising that Duxler even has its own staff marketing director in Julie Yusim, who networks extensively and coordinates much of its full plate of public offerings.
As for its traditional advertising, Duxler Complete Auto Care once again created what Moak calls “a hit” in its cable television commercial. The spot highlights Duxler’s pre-Moak roots, dating back to 1926, and promotes the chain’s modern-day adherence to old-time values in customer service and quality.
“We felt that the tone of our commercial spot really captured our personality and was very recognizable, especially to people who already had an awareness of the company,” Moak says. “Several customers even said, ‘I had my back to the TV, but I heard the beginning of the commercial and I knew it was for Duxler.’”
Another benefit was that the actors were actual Duxler employees and customers. This meant that friends, neighbors and other customers recognized the faces in the spots and got a kick out of seeing their favorite service advisors on the tube. Many customers would say things like…“Here’s the TV star!”
Other modes of traditional advertising implemented by Duxler include direct mail coupons and ads in the Yellow Pages and newspapers – though the company again ventured beyond the typical by customizing some ads for the Chicago area’s large Russian-speaking population.
“We do a substantial amount of niche marketing,” Moak explains. “We have found that maintaining diverse messaging with a consistent message has really broadened our appeal and customer base. With an average household income of $87,500, the Russian-speaking community is among the wealthiest, most-educated groups in Chicagoland. Their lifestyle preferences and wealth make the Russian-speaking segment of Chicago an attractive target market.”
Duxler supplements its traditional advertising with direct-mail campaigns, including new-customer follow-up letters featuring discount offers, recommended repair and service reminder postcards also offering discounts, and variable-data postcards for customers with older cars.
Meanwhile, online and social media efforts feature e-mail blasts to customers, Groupon offerings sometimes selling as many as 800 certificates, an Angie’s List mention with an A rating, a Facebook page and Twitter handle, a YouTube channel and a smartphone-friendly mobile website.
The company is continuing to improve its technological presence by hiring an outside firm to manage and optimize it, just as the dealership has contracted with a public relations firm to supplement Yusim’s work with press releases and blogging.
“Technology in the shop has never been a hurdle, it’s been an expectation. Technology in the office and in the marketing department is another story,” Moak says. “Over the past five-or-so years, we have been on a techno-driven path that has taken our very primitive yet extremely efficient methods into the 21st century. That’s not to say that our old methods are wrong. As a matter of fact, they are not. They simply don’t offer the exploded benefits of what database and customer relationship marketing can do.”
Part of the key is offering quality products and service, Continental, General and Toyo tires, and a full array of vehicle repair and maintenance service by ASE-certified techs.
Keeping the Balance
Technology only is progress, however, when it positively impacts human interaction. And that appears to be Duxler’s focus.
“Three years ago, we employed a consulting group that came in, studied our methods, observed our strengths and helped improve our marketing abilities by bypassing our weaknesses,” says Moak, who makes a point of spending time at each location every day.
“I had this group custom-create a bookkeeping back-end database that would offer marketing capabilities we could have only dreamed of. It requires that more information be collected, so that better historical information could be offered, and previous recommendations could be better capitalized on. From that start, we are now in the process of building this system into a front counter point-of-sale system that fits our operation, not a program we have to assimilate with.
“Our methods work,” he stresses. “They promote real conversation with our customer, not just some ‘fill-in-the-blank’ process. Under no circumstances was I willing to give that up. Between our four stores, we can process 200 cars a day; we work on the simple light bulb to the incredibly complex electrical short, and our system is built around us to handle it.
“We followed with a couple of phases, including the building of the original program, customer interaction, eventual customer management of their own records on our website, custom marketing solutions for each customer, and then our yearly data analytics that tell us whom to market to and what the customer with the 1999 Toyota Camry is going to respond to,” he says.
“Five years ago, this wasn’t even a dream,’ Moak adds. “We didn’t actually know this capability existed!”
With these new techniques and technology in the company’s proverbial back pocket, Duxler Tire forges ahead with its time-tested methods, maintaining a balance between “mom-and-pop” and “high-tech.”
Still present are the customer newsletters, sidewalk sales, safety and informational brochures, car care clinics, board memberships, event sponsorships and even Ladies’ Days and Duxler Days, at which the dealership donates to local not-for-profit charities including, on Ladies Day, breast cancer research.
The company continues to win local awards for its public involvement and service quality, and for upholding human standards that technology alone can’t create.
“I came into the business for several reasons,” Moak says. “I grew up in it, so it’s in my blood. I saw all the sacrifices my father had to endure and the hard work it took to grow a company. We have, as a company, gone from a one-man show to a company that experienced serious growth. We became a generational business, experienced even more serious growth, transitioned through generations and have continued to grow. All businesses have their problems and challenges, and ours usually stem from keeping up with our own ambitions.
“In five years,” he adds, “we will have cultivated more mechanics and service writers, opened a couple more stores, and actively contributed to all of the communities we are involved in.”
Making it Personal
In the end, no amount of savvy marketing, technological implementation or even full-service gas pumps could make Duxler Complete Auto Care a stand-out dealership in the tough Chicagoland market if it weren’t for the company’s great customer service.
Duxler’s 47 staffers are expected to greet every customer and cheerfully answer phones. Service advisors typically remember customers’ names. And employees are salaried rather than on commission, encouraging them to recommend only work that the customer needs and nothing more – except when preventative measures can be taken to avoid apparent future problems.
Some of Duxler’s customer service approaches developed as a result of Moak’s own negative experiences with other garages.
“I have a new certified used vehicle,” he says. “I bought the car and two days later, I had to go into the local car dealership because it was certified and covered. After my experience at the dealer, I walked away dumbfounded as to why we have such a hurdle getting newer vehicles to leave the car dealer and come to us for maintenance.
“To drop off my car took 35 minutes; I had to call for information since nobody bothered to call me first. My car was there for three days, while it would have been in my shop for three hours. They talked to me like I had no clue and, to top it off, the problem wasn’t even fixed when I picked it up! It took one of my technicians two hours to fix the problem the next day.
“‘Customer service’ is too much of a cliché to describe what we do,” he explains. “A person that walks into our stores is a priority, not just a customer. We take the time to learn about their family, their frustrations and their interests. It’s not just fixing cars. We get involved.”
This involvement means offering rides or loaner cars to customers; using part runners to expedite slower car dealership deliveries; and focusing on properly educating customers, among other things.
“My philosophy,” Moak says, “is that if the customer can’t go home and explain the work they had done to their significant other, then we have failed. By taking this approach and offering a complex plan of what needs to be done now, what to expect next time and maybe what to put into play for the time after that, we are helping to build a clientele that appreciates value and understands the importance of maintaining their vehicles.”
In addition, Moak says the shop’s waiting rooms are comfortable, magazines are current and diverse, and customers can make themselves at home at WiFi-equipped work stations with free Starbucks coffee and flat-screen TVs. Play areas are sanitized daily, and custom Duxy the Duck beanies – featuring the company’s cute, non-threatening cartoon duck mascot – are passed out to children who come through the stores.
“It’s unbelievable how many children throw temper tantrums when it’s time to leave,” he jokes. “And it’s not uncommon that we will have a customer wait for several hours for repairs to be done on his or her car.”
But attention to service is as closely paid in the bays as it is at the counter. The dealership has its own Duxler Certification, set at a standard it claims is higher than anything in the industry. It focuses on continuing education, paid for by the company; continuous improvement in daily production; and a focus on “doing the right thing.” Most of Duxler’s service techs start out in general service, but are groomed by mentors into specialized certification.
This year, the company also employed an organization called the Cycle of Success Institute to bring together team members and work on inefficiencies that might be obstacles to progress or profit. COSI coaches team members to identify the issues and then solve them within task forces.
Nevertheless, the service-oriented foundation of Duxler Complete Auto Care remains its Moak-family philosophies. Yusim says both Glenn and Brian “have a strong influence on the Duxler workplace and know how a business should be run. It’s clear that the customers are provided with a high level of satisfaction at Duxler, but the employees feel the same way.”
She adds that, “many of the employees have been with Duxler for up to 20 years. This loyalty stems from management. There is a strong sense of family and camaraderie, which radiates down to the employees and the customers. When the employees are comfortable, the customer is comfortable.”
“What has made this work so well,” Brian Moak says, “is that there was a father and a son who left their egos at the door and chose to do what was best for their family, their business and for each other.
“Our friendship and our respect for one another were what enabled a transition that was not easy, but a transition that left a family together and a company strong.”
To see more photos of Duxler Complete Auto Care – as well as this year’s other finalists and the Top Shop winner – click here.