Interstate Auto Care: A Midwest Success Story
Madison Heights is about 14 miles northwest of Detroit. Approximately 50% to 60% of Interstate Auto Care’s customer base is within a three-mile radius of Madison Heights, with the remainder within an hour’s drive.
At age 16, shop owner Bill Nalu purchased his first car, which broke down the day he bought it. Following his father’s advice, Bill followed the path of being self-sufficient and took an auto mechanics’ course in high school, learning skills that allowed him to pay for college.
After graduating from Wayne State University in 1990 with a degree in business, Bill worked as a tech support rep for VW/Audi of America. After realizing that he wasn’t cut out for the office politics aspect of corporate life, he jumped at the opportunity to manage a Shell service station, enjoying the chance to manage a business and to have a say in workday scheduling and operation.
Two years later, he partnered with brother Steve Nalu to purchase their own Shell gas station, which they operated successfully for the following six years.
In 2000, Shell decided to eliminate all of its service retailers, opting for a gas and convenience store format. At this point, Bill purchased a former tire store that his parts supplier had suggested, which was the start of Interstate Auto Care. As a result of his outstanding customer service reputation, 80% of his customers from the previous location travelled the several miles to new location, giving him the running start when the doors first opened in the fall of that year.
“The majority of these customers who have remained loyal are the ‘baby boomers’ who appreciate skilled service and honest dealings. Today, too many people seem armed with plenty of content but little context and apparently don’t take the time to understand what’s involved in diagnosing and servicing today’s vehicles. And who can hardly blame them? Every minute of the day and at every turn, they are being promised anything and everything for nothing down, and nothing a month.”
Does your shop offer general automotive repair, or do you tend to specialize in specific makes or types of repairs?
General service, but with some diesel fleet maintenance emphasis.
What is your business philosophy?
I believe that our success has been grounded in the decades-long commitment to provide high-tech/old-fashioned customer service.
What does that look like, you ask?
It means that we treat people with the respect that they deserve. This is accomplished by our employees who are “people-people” — highly skilled technicians who are servants at heart, and diligently strive to service and maintain today’s modern automobile, arguably the most complicated consumer product in history.
Where do you buy your parts?
My main supplier is Maxi Automotive Warehouse, a subsidiary of AutoWares Parts Distributor out of Grand Rapids.
What influences your parts buying decisions? Rank from 0 to 3, with 0 having no influence and 3 having the greatest influence?
Price ......................................................... 1
Brand name recognition ........................... 3
Promotion in racing .................................. 0
Perceived quality ..................................... 3
Availability/time ........................................ 3
Supplier (marketing program) support ... 3
Supplier support is my main determinant, hands down.
What do customers want/expect from your shop?
Many expect everything for nothing. They expect it done on time, every time. They expect nothing to go wrong along the way. My job is to set their expectations at a level where I can deliver on them the first time, every time. If and when I fail to do that, I have a customer who may not leave our shop a satisfied customer, which is way too prevalent in the overall retail service industry.
What is your approach to technician training?
As the owner of an ASE Blue Seal-certified facility, I am proud to say that I pay for my technicians to attend online and offline training, as well as paying when they pass certifications. Why do I do that, you ask? Because #1: Someone has to set the example that certification means something. If I don’t, then who does? #2: What better way is there when a customer at the counter asks why something costs what it does, than to point them to a wall filled with ASE credentials and set yourself apart from the average shop out there?
How does ASP benefit your business?
I really appreciate manufacturers, associations and publications that support our industry image. As a service professional, I encourage my employees to seek out information that makes them a better technician, and a better service advisor respectively, and Auto Service Professional is definitely a contributing factor. ?