Mad Hatter Auto Service: A Progressive and Successful Shop in Cedar Falls, Iowa
Located in the southeast area of historic Cedar Falls and immediately northwest of neighboring Waterloo, Iowa, the Mad Hatter Auto Service shop’s market area encompasses the northeast section of the state.
Why is the shop named “the Mad Hatter”? As owner John Lappe explained, “That’s a long story. Back in the day when the shop was only an exhaust shop, my understanding is that it was part of a franchise called Mad Hatter Exhaust. While that franchise tie-in no longer applies to us, we simply decided to keep the name because it was so well recognized in our marketplace.”
Editor’s note: I think that the name is also a very cool choice. For those of you who might be interested in its origin, the phrase “as mad as a hatter” refers to the use of a mercury-based compound employed in the manufacturing of fine hats during the 1830’s early Victorian period. Because of the long-term exposure to the chemical, hatters would develop tremors and mood swings, making them appear “mad” to others. Also, the fictional character the “Mad Hatter” in the iconic Alice in Wonderland book by Lewis Carroll was admittedly a bit on the whacko side.
In stark contrast, the techs at the Cedar Falls shop are far from “mad.” The staff is highly recognized in their market for their (quite sane) professionalism, prompt and quality service, as the shop has gained quite a loyal following of repeat customers.
Does your shop offer general auto repair or do you tend to specialize?
John notes Mad Hatter performs all types of general repairs, diagnostics and vehicle maintenance. Originally, the shop offered only exhaust work, but since he assumed ownership he’s expanded into a full-service operation. However, they continue to offer a full range of exhaust system work, from direct replacement to full-custom in stainless steel systems.
What is your business philosophy?
First and foremost, John says they don’t hard-sell or use scare tactics. There’s plenty of work to be had by recommending and performing work that is actually needed, John says. “We strive to educate and inform our customers prior to and after the job. We emphasize that maintenance is key in order to avoid problems. We also take advantage of email and text messages to keep our customers informed.”
Where do you buy your parts?
The vast majority of our parts are purchased from U.S. AutoForce, IWI Motor Parts, Arnold Motor Supply and OE dealers, John notes. He also will buy from a local O’Reilly’s Auto Parts in those instances when his regular sources don’t happen to have what he needs in stock. “With our computerized order entry system, we can quickly check inventory at U.S. AutoForce and IWI without even picking up the phone, which saves us time and avoids incorrect parts ordering.”
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 1
Promotion in racing 0
Perceived quality 3
What do customers want/expect from your shop?
Our customers rely on us to provide accurate estimates, work performed in a timely manner, and above all, to provide quality work, John says. “Customers in our market know that they will be appreciated and treated like a person, not just a customer.”
What is your approach to training?
“We take advantage of most opportunities... supplier-sponsored training is always great. Our technicians are always on the lookout for enhanced training opportunities to keep them up-to-date on new vehicle technology, factory recalls, diagnostic upgrading, etc.”
How Auto Service Professional magazine benefits your business:
“Auto Service Professional is a great source to read about emerging trends and shop practices. We also find that it’s a great place to learn about new tools and equipment, which helps to keep us up-to-date.” ■
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