Faith, Community, Integrity Guide Shop OwnerPosted 2/10/2005
By Leona Dalavai Scott
Zaagman, a member of the Christian Reformed Church, was involved in a Christian community when as a young adult he began to repair the cars of its members. He had always dreamed of working on cars and soon he and others from the community moved the repair work from a backyard garage to its present location at 846 East Fulton St. in Grand Rapids, Mich. There, they also opened for business to serve the general public.
For many years, all who worked at Community Automotive - from technicians, bookkeepers, cleaning help, Zaagman and a mentor/business partner - were members of the Christian community, as well as the inner city neighborhood church of which the community was a part. They volunteered their services or worked for minimum wage so that profits in the business could be contributed to the ministry of the church.
Over the years, the church members went on to other lines of work, and the church and community eventually disbanded. But Zaagman, with the help of his wife, Joyce, stayed on. Now in its 30th year, Community Automotive Repair, under his leadership, continues to serve the Grand Rapids area. What began as a two-bay gas station is now an eight-bay service facility striving to offer its customers the best in comprehensive automotive service and repair with the latest methods and technology.
While Zaagman had learned an honest work ethic from his parents, he admits he didn't know much about how to run a business when he began Community Automotive. He learned a lot from the "school of hard knocks," he said, especially in the early days. He turned to Management Success! and R.L. O'Connor for management training and support when they began to offer continuing education geared specifically to automotive shop owners.
"I'd reached a point of frustration in my business," said Zaagman. "I was working hard and not getting very far ahead. I had a young family but was so tied to my business that I couldn't get away for even a short vacation. I wondered if I should continue."
One of the first things Zaagman learned was that he was overextending himself, as many shop owners do. In his management training, he found that he was taking on too much in his facility. He would repair cars, manage and be a service adviser, which stretched him in all different directions and caused inefficiency. Uncertain if he could afford the added overhead expense, he bit the bullet, followed the advice of his trainers and hired two service advisers. Within three years, sales went from $525,000 to more than $1 million. Zaagman now works on his business instead of in his business.
"I hire, fire, encourage, correct, market, watch and manage the numbers," he said. Because of the great people and systems he has in place, Zaagman now has the freedom to be gone from his business as needed without the business suffering. His family now takes regular vacations.
The renovations that Zaagman has made to his facility have been worth it, as well. During his last remodeling, he added a customer waiting area to provide a quiet and comfortable place separate from the busyness of the front counter. His customers often tell him how they appreciate the classical music playing in the background and the coffee machine that offers 12 gourmet flavors. On the wall, Zaagman displays pictures of all of the Community Automotive employees and their families.
The upgraded renovations to Community Automotive Repair have helped Zaagman attract a more upscale market. His shop services all makes and models of cars with a large concentration of European and other import automobiles. He appreciates attention to detail in automotive quality and service and seeks to offer that to others.
One of his most successful marketing pieces likened fine car service to fine dining. In it, Zaagman and his senior service adviser, Todd Vruggink, are standing in front of a pair of import cars amidst the freshly painted walls and floors of the bays. The men are dressed in tuxedos as waiters, standing beside a table and chairs with flowers and table linens, looking ready to serve a patron.
"There's a difference between a place like Burger King and a fine restaurant," Zaagman explained. In this postcard, he conveyed how his repair shop treats its customers like a fine restaurant - with class, professionalism and exceptional quality and care.
"Michigan is one of the leading states in lost jobs over the last few years," he said. "The shops that are staying alive and growing in west Michigan are - for the most part - ones that have an active marketing program."
Most of Community Automotive Repair's marketing is through direct mail. They reach existing customers eight to 12 times per year. They also do mailings to prospective customers. Postcards with pictures of the shop, customer testimonials and special offers have worked well to reach their targeted market.
Not only does Zaagman provide a great environment for his customers but his employees as well. Community Automotive has air conditioning throughout the entire facility. Zaagman holds weekly shop meetings where problems and successes can be discussed. He manages his personnel with fairness and consideration and follows the "Golden Rule" in how he treats others.
Zaagman has made it a hobby to keep his cars "looking and smelling as new as possible for as long as possible." He remembers his father working tirelessly to keep the cars of his family's funeral home business - now in its fifth generation - spotless and shiny. None of his automobiles is less than 10 years old but they don't look like it, he boasts. His 1995 Audi S6 Avant has been modified for performance, and he has enjoyed participating in driving events of the Audi Car Club of North America. His enjoyment of driving has blended well with his love of camping with his family. Zaagman has been married for 26 years and has four children, ranging in age from 13 to 21.
As Zaagman reflects on the past 30 years, he said he is grateful to God for his personal growth as a manager and the growth of his business. Community Automotive Repair provides him with the freedom and flexibility he needs as well as providing a good living for himself and his employees.
As he looks ahead to the future and anticipates growth, he will rely on his personal business philosophy to chart the course. "Honesty and integrity have always been our foundation," he said. "Do things right, even when no one is looking. In today's world, that can seem to be a lost value. Be honest and do what you say you're going to do. I'm thankful to have been raised that way."
Shop StatsName: Community Automotive Repair
No. of employees: 10
No. of repairs weekly: 60
Projected annual sales volume: $1.2 million
On Marketing and Keeping Customers: Marketing to your existing customers is essential. There is more competition than ever for the repair and service dollar. It is very important to service your customers well and keep your name in front of them. Providing a great work environment for your staff helps keep top-quality people and that translates into happy and satisfied customers. Marketing is the right blend of what you say and what you do.
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