Cunningham’s Automotive Repair is located one mile north of the historic town of Ottsville, Pa., in picturesque northern Bucks County, 50 miles north of Philadelphia and 24 miles southeast of Allentown.
While the town of Ottsville, founded around 1738 and one of the oldest villages in upper Bucks County, is relatively quiet and retains much of its historic flavor, the outlying areas have grown both significantly and tastefully, providing a mix of residential, commercial and tourist traffic and subsequent automotive repair opportunities.
The shop is located in a spacious country setting, adjacent to other commercial business, with ample space separating each. The shop is set back from the two-lane road, with a large manicured front lawn, a welcoming appearance, with 15 parking spaces up front and a large parking area in the rear.
Mark Cunningham decided to open his own shop after years of working as a technician for Toyota, Ford and GM dealerships. He noted that “I served as a Ford Master Technician, a GM Master Technician and as a Toyota Master Diagnostic Tech, and was actually awarded as a Toyota Master Tech of the Year at one point.”
Why did he open his own shop? As Mark explained, “I basically got sick and tired of the politics involved in working for dealerships. I was pretty much at the top of my game at that point, but was faced with all of the ‘hard stuff’ that nobody else would touch, accompanied by plenty of empty promises in terms of advancement or compensation. I had a difficult time adapting to the hard-sell tactics that dealerships routinely pushed, often involving selling customers services or parts they didn’t really need. It soured me in terms of how the customers were treated, and I finally reached the point where I wanted to open my own independent shop where I was in control and would be able to treat customers the way they should be treated.”
Mark and his wife, Tammy, initially rented a four-bay shop, and as word spread about his reputation, the quality of work and customer satisfaction, he quickly outgrew it. He and Tammy then rented a larger building. About four months later, the owner of the building unexpectedly died. His children had no interest in maintaining ownership, and Mark was able to purchase the facility.
“It felt great to be in total control. I finally had the opportunity not only to perform the type of detail-oriented work that I demand of myself, but to also gain close relationships with customers, advising them in terms of what their vehicle needs and what services could be delayed, with never being told to perform work that was unnecessary. It may sound corny, but I make a point to treat all of my customers as though they were family.
“Another thing that I’ve learned over the years is when to say no to a particular job. If I feel that a specific job requires a specialized skill that’s beyond our capability, I work with the customer to connect them with an appropriate shop. Our work and business ethic has paid off, as we’ve established a loyal customers base, and always feel good about each day’s work. Opening my own facility was the best move I’ve ever made.”
What do customers expect from you?
Customers expect their vehicles fixed right the first time, with good communication with them while their car is in the shop. We have been using a digital vehicle inspection for the last year and a half, which our customers love and we do as well. The digital inspection brings the customer’s trust up to a new level, which helps in solidifying our relationship with them. I tell our team members that we are in the relationship business and just happen to be good at fixing cars.
What is your business philosophy?
We’re the professionals and it’s up to us to give our customers a great experience by advising them properly about the needs of their vehicle. Treat everyone like mom is sitting by you watching.
Where do you buy your parts?
We are an AutoPlus Professional Service Center and buy 80% to 85% of our parts from them, but also use other local suppliers, such as Eastern Auto Parts, Worldpac, and local dealer wholesale parts.
What influences your parts buying decisions? Rank from 0 to 3, with 0 having no influence and 3 having the greatest influence.
Brand name recognition 3
Promotion in racing 0
Perceived quality 3
Other: We do research to stay informed regarding parts... we stay up on the latest parts bulletins from Dorman and Standard.
How has ASP benefited your business?
ASP is picked up and read by everyone in the shop. This is a business of rapidly changing technology and anything that allows you to have a competitive edge is worth reading. ■