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Subaru Specialty shop

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We are a general repair shop operating in a large mountain West city. The shop has been in business since 1964. Four bay shop soon to be six. We have a second small two-bay shop. Both locations have a high demographic of Subaru owners. We are in the process of moving towards becoming a 100% Subaru service and repair. I welcome all thoughts and ideas on the following questions and them some.


1. Has anyone attempted and or succeeded at converting from general repair to specialty?



2. Best practices in specialty marketing. I must launch this fast?



3. How to handle telling folks we will no longer be servicing their vehicle?



4. Specialty technician recruiting ideas. How do I get guys out of the dealer?



5. Any Subaru specialty shop owners out there willing to get together? I will come to you.



Thanks in advance.

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Alan, I recently read an article in Ratchet and Wrench about a shop owner that has done what you are thinking about. Specialization is a good idea, I also agree with xrac that you do not necessarily have to close the door on your current customers. You may want to give this article a read and possibly reach out to this shop owner. Just a thought! Good luck. Here is the link!!



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Why the move,


There is a large amount of registered Subarus in the city I'm in. There does not seem to be anyone focusing on the market in any real way. Great techs are very difficult to hire and keep. Better quality control, efficiency, cost control, and diagnoses. They are relatively simple vehicles. We can bring in solid B guys, which are easier to find and train them in-house. Our main Shop has six small bays the other one has two small bays, big vehicles don't work out well. I have worked some good part deals with Subaru suppliers, I can hold more margin on better parts. Tech efficiency is big. When my guys are on Subarus they run at about 110% on the general repair they are at about 75%. Marketing, I believe it's essential to have a very clear message on who we are and what we do. Is it possible to be to be clear that we do general repair and Subaru? I'm considering doing one marketing campaign for Subaru and one for General. I'm split between focusing on moving both areas forward at the same time. The other thought is to focus on Subaru marketing and development until we have enough volume and then switch. I don't really want to give up that general repair revenue.


Thanks for your amazing input.

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Hi Alan, hope you are doing well!


I would suggest that you keep working on all makes as you are doing now. If anything you can start to weed out the trouble clients and be more selective. At the same time create a marketing and branding plan to target subarus. You can absolutely be a "specialist" and work on other makes especially when there are no other strict specialists in your area.


As you know we are Euro specialists however we are in the process of possibly opening another shop focued on general repair. I think that the general repair market has the advantage of being more flexible and scalable. What if for some reason people stop buying subarus? Then you would have to change the whole shop once again to service other makes. You already have a core group of great clients and I am sure there are a bunch that don't drive subarus. If I were you I would not alienate them and still try to attract like customers even if they don't drive subarus.

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I would simply market yourself to Subaru drivers with your advertising but don't reject the general repair work. Once the scooby circle learns you can do head gaskets cheaper than the dealer your bays will be full forever. I've thought about hiring a guy to just do Subaru head gaskets and that's it. We don't do them because our business is based on 10 cars a day in and out, we don't have time to spend all day on one car.

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I have always hesitated to specialize because I have always served a large variety of customers. In my auto parts and machine shop business, we served everybody from do-it-to-yourselfers, racing, garages and service stations to large construction, trucking, industrial, quarry, and mining concerns. Plenty of times we would be align boring something like a Detroit V-12 block and 2 machines down the line an outboard block was being bored and honed. All the money from these jobs was deposited in the same bank account, so I did not want to turn any of them down.


With that said, each person thought that we specialized in the particular job that they needed done, and we DID SPECIALIZE in that job because we performed it with care and precision. I believe what Alfred said is true: Advertise that you service and repair Subarus and you will have plenty of them to do.

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Like an itch, this is one of those feelings that are not satisfied until you scratch it.


If you want to specialize in Suby's just add eye candy signs that you specialize in Subarus, declare yourself an expert and work hard at it until you are one.


I wouldn't cancel out of general repair just yet, because of the cash flow crunch that usually follows going into a niche market.


But like any experience, until you have worked out the numbers and set the expectations of what would be an acceptable return for your time and capital, you will not be happy until you are either out of business or comfortable profitable.

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Like others have already said, advertise that your a specialist, but don't turn away other work. I opened up as strictly a Lexus/Toyota shop. While that was fine and business was growing, I consistently heard from my customers that their husband/wife/son/daughter/friend drives something other than a Lexus/Toyota and wants to bring it to us. For the longest time, I would turn them away. Turns out, I was missing out on a lot of money. I still advertise/market us as a specialty shop that focuses on Asian vehicles, but I no longer turn work away unless it's something I just don't feel comfortable dealing with.

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I would proceed with caution. I started in 1989 as a Volvo specialist. It was great for many years for most of the reasons you stated, you can make more on parts because you can usually lower your purchase cost, you don't need to invest as much in equipment or information systems, less time is usually wasted on diagnostics, your techs can usually turn out a lot more hours doing the same jobs over and over again, and you can increase your turn around time. You also become know as the experts which can help reduce marketing costs and help with SEO. But for us, things started to change in the mid 2000's. Volvo's became more and more reliable and routine maintenance was reduced considerably. Volvo's popularity and sales also started to slow and the new class of Volvo owner's did not seem to understand the need for regular maintenance. They were buying Volvo's because they heard "Volvo's last forever" and were usually shocked when problems arose after driving for 70-100,000 miles without doing more than a few oil changes. When I say few oil changes, 15,000 intervals were not uncommon. By 2010, we were starting to lose money. Along with many other Volvo specialist, we then realized that we had to make the transition to a General Repair Facility or at least other vehicles if we wanted to survive. One guy was a Volvo/Saab specialist. On top of having to deal with the slowing Volvo business, he had to deal with the loss of Saab. Our business is still about 60% Volvo, the rest is General repair. It has taken us until last year to start making money again. Another fellow Volvo specialist went through a similar situation. He has a large operation, >10 technicians. He got into General Repair but one make in particular took off and is now about 60% of his business and probably responsible for most of his profits. He talks about how he would love to specialize in that one make but after what happened with Volvo, he said he would never put all his eggs in one basket again.


You say there are a lot of registered Subaru owners. As we first started our transition from Volvo Specialists, we thought it would be best to keep some focus so we chose Toyota/Lexus because there are so many around here and a lot of our customers were buying them as they could no longer afford them. This never got much traction. We did start bringing them in but soon realized Toyota was a very different class of car. Most Toyota owners are economy minded and are reluctant to spend a lot of money repairing them. Toyota's tend to require less repairs, and unlike Volvo's a most European cars, you can take a Toyota to just about any non-specialists.


If you are thinking to yourself that you can always get the customers back if you need to, you may find it harder than you think. Over the years we sent many non-Volvo's to other shops. I image like us, you would never refer a customers to another shop unless you believed they were going to get treated well. Once that customers starts going to the other shop and is treated well, given good service, and builds a relationship with them, why would they come back to you. To this day, we see a lot of our old customers in the parking lot when they take there car to the shop next door or the one across the parking lot that we recommended them to. These were long time customers that we built personal relationships with.


My suggestion would be to focus on growing the Subaru business and leave the other part alone. If the Subaru side starts doing well, stop promoting the General Repair side. If you get busy enough, you can stop taking on new non-Subaru customers. We now call ourselves Volvo Specialists and General Automotive Repair.



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