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  Special Feature

Cream of the Crop

Posted 1/14/2010
By Angie Kilbourne

One thing is certain: Shop owners are becoming more Web-savvy each year,
and judging their online efforts is becoming tougher as a result.

As usual, we were overwhelmed by the number of entries we received this year for AutoInc.'s 12th annual Top 10 Automotive Repair Web Sites awards. But our judges persevered, though we heard quite a few "This is a lot harder than I thought it would be" comments. It's apparent that today's automotive repair shop owners have embraced the marketing power of the Internet.

Using last year's judging model, our entrants were evaluated by a panel of judges from different disciplines and walks of life. Because of the number of nominations, each Web site was evaluated by three judges. Our judges used set guidelines and a scoring sheet to evaluate specific features of each site uniformly.

Judges evaluated sites using the following criteria:

  • First impression
  • Objective/purpose
  • Visual design
  • Innovation
  • Appearance
  • Credibility
  • Navigation
  • Interactivity
  • Consumer friendliness
  • Encouraging action
  • Technical
  •  

    So, without further ado, let's look at the 2010 Top 10 Automotive Repair Web Sites. (The sites are in no particular order.)

    Encinitas Foreign & Domestic Auto Repair, Encinitas, Calif.
    www.RunCarRun.com

    Encinitas Foreign & Domestic Auto Repair, Encinitas, Calif. An easy-to-remember URL (RunCarRun.com) is just one tactic Encinitas Foreign & Domestic Auto Repair employed to bring together an extremely well-designed Web site. Redesigned in September 2008, the Encinitas site was rebuilt from the ground up, and each staff member played a role in the project, according to Julie Macaluso, co-owner.

    "Our Web site combines innovative design with user ease, large iconic buttons, easy-to-understand graphics and all vital information at the customer's fingertips," said Macaluso. "We had a lot of fun with the redesign and are extremely happy with the results."

    She also told us that Encinitas is committed to keeping the site fresh: "Web design is an ongoing process, and we are committed to keeping it up-to-date."

    "Wow. I'd take my car here!" said one judge. "Love the photo gallery and interactive aspects of this site. It's really put together well."

    "Very unique-looking site," said another. "Nice use of color and design to reflect the surrounding community."


    Dynamic Diesel & Bear Alignment, Snohomish, Wash.
    www.dynamicdiesel.com

    Bold graphics and color work together beautifully on this site to showcase the diesel services Dynamic Diesel & Bear Alignment, Snohomish, Washprovided by Dynamic Diesel & Bear Alignment. Owners Lin and Lorene Hill told us that it's really three sites in one, reflecting the three types of diesel and alignment work they specialize in: cars and trucks, motor homes and fleet vehicles.

    "The great design does an efficient job of presenting information on three different service areas," commented one of our judges. "Plus, they sell you on each service right from the main page. Informative but concise. Excellent!"

    There's a lot going on, but Dynamic's site helps customers stay focused with effective and eye-catching navigation: "The site is very busy, but it's very well organized," said another judge.

    Marathon Automotive, Traverse City, Mich.
    www.marathonauto.com

    Redesigned just last August, Marathon Automotive puts the spotlight on the services and mission of the business, as well as how customers feel about them. Professionally produced flash graphics reinforce the business' value statements with accompanying graphics of the shop and staff up top, while scrolling testimonials illustrate what the shop's loyal customers say about their work.

    Marathon Automotive, Traverse City, Mich.The redesign had to meet three goals, according to Ross Schofield, owner: "Quality of design, clean code and fast navigation." The hard work pays off with a well-organized site that provides "a great mix of content and space" on the pages, said one of our judges.

    "A very nice, detailed site (even the coffee has its own page)," commented another judge. "A lot of time and thought was put into this site."

    And, they get high marks for the innovative Web page that encourages customers to leave testimonials and comments on other sites, such as Angie's List. They're obviously confident that customers are pleased with their work!


    World Wide Automotive, Bloomington, Ind.
    www.worldwideauto.net

    World Wide Automotive, Bloomington, Ind. Environmental responsibility is thename of the game at World Wide Automotive. It'sgone so far as to build a "green"facility, as well as an entire Web page devoted to its construction and use. In addition, says Don Seader, owner, "Our Web site really shows off our company policy of environmental responsibility and connects the local community to us. We have used it to blog about our new building and keep our customers up-to-date on our progress. It works very well for us!"

    As a matter of fact, the blog was noted by all of our judges as a great marketing piece for the business.

    "This site has done the best job of putting 'value' statements on its home page and elsewhere," commented one of our judges. "Visitors get a good impression of why they should consider doing business with them."

    Our judges also commented on the clean design, excellent color palette and effective use of white space on the pages.


    Evergreen Autoworks, Mill Creek, Wash.
    www.evergreenautoworks.com

    Evergreen Autoworks works double-duty to provide great customer service to both Evergreen Autoworks, Mill Creek, Wash. mechanical repair and auto bodycustomers, and its Web site supports those efforts bydelivering a consistent professionalmessage without clutter.

    Redesigned in October 2008, this site keeps customers coming back with its useful navigation and forms. "Our Web site does a great job of attracting both auto repair and body shop customers," said owner Jeff Odom. "Our customers really like our built-in night drop form, and we constantly get comments on how professional our site looks."

    Judges gave points to the site for its attractive color palette and easy-to-navigate layout. Specific navigation buttons for "Auto Repair," "Body Shop" and "Car Rental" on each page provide visitors the ability to find the information they need, all just one click away. Evergreen's content was also cited by our judges for its usefulness and quality.

    D&H Enterprises, Concord, Calif.
    www.dandhautorepair.com

    Taking to heart the idea that a Web site is like a garden and is always in a state of growth and change, Mary Kemnitz, co-owner of D&H Enterprises, describes the launch date of the D&H Web site's recent redesign as "in process."

    D&H Enterprises, Concord, Calif. Kemnitz related that they worked with a graphic designer and a Web designer to redesign their site, which they felt had become stale and boring. "The price to create [the site] became a bit prohibitive in this down economy," she told us. "We discovered the Web designer was a single mom with a Ford Explorer that was very much in need of maintenance. We ended up trading services with her, and it worked out very well for both of us."

    "Site is attractive ... good color choices," wrote one judge. "Draws the eye into the site."

    "Really like the detailed descriptions of the repairs," another judge told us. "Great way to build consumer confidence."

    Dowdy's Automotive Service, Boise, Idaho
    www.dowdysauto.com

    Dowdy's Automotive Service, Boise, Idaho With a redesign launched only seven months ago, it's clear that Dowdy's Automotive Service had a plan in place to create a site with great impact. Clear, professional photography spotlights a facility that is inviting to consumers.

    "Our new site really makes a great impact with new customers," said John Davis, president. "It's easy to navigate, and the information about the company is just a click away."

    Our judges gave high praise for the "My Car Tools" and "Make an Appointment" buttons prominently featured on each page. They also like its attractive, uncluttered design that made it easy to read.

    Dowdy's got extra points from our judges for ensuring each logo for its professional affiliations was properly linked to the organization. Judges also noted the use of Carnegie Mellon University's reCAPTCHA function on form submission pages to help reduce e-mail spam.

    University Chevron, Fairbanks, Alaska
    www.universitychevron.com

    This father-and-son operation's Web site was redesigned last year to provide a good mix of informational content and interactive features. The result: A very professional-looking site that "incorporates some of Alaska's best features," said Mike Thomas, co-owner.

    University Chevron, Fairbanks, AlaskaBuilt with the company's branded logos in mind, the site features University Chevron's community involvement and highlights its services and accomplishments.

    "Pictures of University Chevron's clean and professional place of business frame the bottom of each Web site page, giving potential clients a firsthand view of where they will be treated with courtesy and respect," added Thomas.

    Our judges praised the site's easy navigation, interactive maps, embedded video commercial and consumer-oriented content.


    Auto Pro to Call, Chapel Hill, N.C.
    www.autoprotocall.com

    The Auto Pro to Call Web site was redesigned in 2009 to meet specific goals, according to owner James Allen. Those goals include providing the business with a strong Auto Pro to Call, Chapel Hill, N.C. identification with the two communities it services: Chapel Hill and Durham, N.C. Allen told us the site is a hit with his customers, especially the online appointment scheduler.

    "Our online appointments work great, and our site is easy-to-navigate, eye-catching and rocks the search engines!" he added.

    Judges like Auto Pro to Call's site for the depth of good and helpful information available, "even to the casual observer," one judge noted.

    Another feature that gathered high marks is the large number of professional photos of the staff and facility that is interspersed with local stock shots of the community. It's really the key to identifying the business and its staff with the community - a main goal of Allen's marketing plan.

    Village Auto Works, Roseville, Minn.
    www.villageautoworks.com

    Village Auto Works, Roseville, Minn. Village Auto Works took home a Top 10 award last year, but owner Rich Fearing, not one to rest on his laurels, got back to work and launched an entirely redesigned Web site in early 2009. "It was good- looking, and we were happy to have the honor," said Fearing. "But the reality was, our Web site could not be found anywhere on the search engines. We replaced the site that won last year with a more appealing Web site that really gets us positioned on the search engines."

    On his entry form, Fearing told us the site helps him market to the different segments of business they serve, and the redesign focused heavily on creating a site that was extremely easy to navigate.

    Our judges agreed. "Great color combos, navigation and content," wrote one of our judges.

    "Love the 'services' navigation being front and center on every page," commented another.

    Meet our judges

    Each of our judges could be considered a potential new customer for the nominated repair shops. Only one has experience working in a repair shop, and some have experience with Web design and production. Let's take a minute to introduce them:

    Our first judge is a married woman with grown children whose job duties include providing the "public face" people meet and greet when they visit her employer's offices. She has no background in Web design, but knows a great deal about customer service.

    Our second judge is a married Gen-Xer with a photojournalism degree and Web design background. He hails from North Texas, and has a great eye for making graphics come alive on a page, regardless if it's printed or online.

    Judge No. 3 is a single Millenial with a B.S. in marketing. Currently working toward her master's degree, she is a heavy user of Internet and mobile services, including the social media sites Twitter and Facebook.

    Our next judge is a former mechanic and freelance automotive journalist who writes for the mechanical sector for B2B and consumer publications, as well as for an automotive repair manual publishing company.

    Our fifth judge is a freelance automotive journalist who has written for both the mechanical and collision sectors for both print and online publications.

    Our last judge is a print and online editor working within the automotive industry. She also has experience in Web design and digital publishing.

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