How to Form a Relationship with a Local Mechanical Shop
Terry Harris has worked in the auto industry for 51 years now. He could easily be retired, but his passion for his profession runs too deep.
“It’s a never-ending challenge. You learn something every day,” says Harris, the parts and service director at Hardy Family Ford in Dallas, Ga. “There’s always a problem to solve. It just keeps your mind busy.”
The biggest problem Harris had to solve in recent years involved keeping pace with a competitor that delivered parts to customers within the shadow of Hardy Ford. That competing dealership, located 15 miles away from Harris’ small town, was more than happy to make multiple deliveries each day to parts customers all around Hardy Ford.
Harris has observed leaders of parts departments sit back and be passive in the past, but that doesn’t fit his personality. Harris is both personable and competitive. And, he ultimately concluded that his parts department needed to strengthen a partnership with a nearby mechanical shop. Because the industry veteran learned long ago that parts departments need such partnerships if they hope to see consistent work come their way.
While Hardy Ford employs a pair of parts drivers and offers door-to-door delivery service, the competing Ford dealership located 15 miles outside of Dallas delivers to that small Georgia town three times each day. And, that competitor sells wholesale parts at a lower price point than Hardy Ford, Harris notes.
All that underlies the fact that Harris’ employer needs allies.
Making matters worse, a few years ago, Hardy Ford employed a parts manager who was more concerned with winning quarrels than he was securing new customers.
“It was a struggle,” Harris recalls of the former parts manager. “He was always wanting to argue.”
Over the course of the last couple years, Hardy Family Ford’s parts department has made a concerted effort to fortify its relationships with nearby mechanical shops. For example, the dealership’s relationship with Mechanical Services Unlimited—located roughly three miles from the dealership—is better than ever. Mechanical Services’ owner, Tim King, is friends with one of Hardy Family Ford’s owners, which helped spur a business partnership more than 20 years ago.
But, when Harris hired a new parts manager two years ago, the dealership’s business partnership with Mechanical Services became stronger than ever. The dealership’s new parts manager, Russell Wing, possesses an unwavering desire to keep customers happy, according to his superior.
Now, Harris explains, his parts department displays “a willingness to assist, instead of neglect. It’s, ‘What can we do? How can we help you?’ And that passes right on down to the customer.”
Of course, Harris chips in too, doing what he can to keep Mechanical Services’ owner happy. And, as a result, two rural businesses have formed a truly mutually beneficial partnership. Harris says the keys to keeping that valued customer content are:
Lending a sympathetic—and empathetic—ear to longtime customers with concerns over issues like pricing.
Offering prompt delivery of parts, in a manner on par with top dealerships.
Taking the rare loss on a parts transaction, if it means calming a loyal customer who’s upset
(Harris says this is a judgment call, and usually his facility would only be willing to sell a part for 5–10 percent under cost to keep a longtime client happy.).
“He’ll tell you what he needs; you just need to listen to him,” Harris says of his valued mechanical shop client. “A lot of times I’ll assist him with diagnoses on some of the lighter [work]. We talk a lot. He’ll call me if he’s got a problem with a vehicle. … And we’ll walk him through a repair.”
And, both Harris and the mechanical shop’s owner, King, consistently offer up referrals to the other’s business (Mechanical Services tends to work on larger trucks than Hardy Family Ford’s shop floor can easily accommodate).
“He’s one of our best advertisers out there,” Harris says, lightheartedly. “He’s always word-of-mouth for us.”
Now in his sixth decade in the auto industry, Harris, 71, has largely solved the customer service equation. It’s rather simple, really: attention to detail, plus positivity, equals happy clients.
Harris’ main business focus “has been, and always will be, customer satisfaction,” he says. “Take care of the customer, and they’ll take care of you. Now, you can buy parts on the Internet, and you can buy them from dealers that sell below wholesale price, but when you have a problem, they don’t [always] assist you.
“So, when you have a problem with a customer, whatever it takes, you just do it. It’s just the cost of doing business. ... They’ve got to have a resolution.”
As Harris embarks upon his 52nd year in the industry, he leads a rural parts department that’s on solid ground, with eight employees and an inventory approaching $400,000. He and his parts department have put a priority on keeping clients happy, and, as a result, have helped their dealership push its overall CSI score to 90.2.
“We just try to take care of it and do what they need: deliver the part when they need it, give them a good price, and take care of them when they have a problem,” he says. “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it, and how you take care of them.”