Smooth Operator

Illinois shop owner creates value for his customers with a service approach that he calls ‘anti-retail.’

Dave Becker is a man with a plan.

Becker, owner of Wheeling Auto Center in Arlington Heights, Ill., entered the auto service industry about 30 years ago when he bought a failing shop from a customer who was served by his towing firm.

Top row, left to right, Brian Walls, service manager; Dave Becker; Mike Hoffman, technician; Jason Schmitt, technician. Bottom row, left to right, Rodrigo Urbina, porter; Al Huizar, shop foreman; Danee Swagler, apprentice; Lisa Jaffe, office manager.

Since then, he has focused on building his professional future by following a business plan that takes it one day at a time. So far, he has grown from a 5,000 square-foot, five-bay shop to a 12,500 square-foot, 15-bay center that services an average of 86 customers per week, for an annual billing of more than $2.4 million.

He never started out to be a service shop owner, Dave says, but “I’ve always loved anything motorized. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, snowmobiles, etc. So I don’t know that I actually, consciously chose it. It’s more like it chose me.”

Dave believes that he’s been successful because “I didn’t do it by coming up through the bays, where successful technicians start their own business by being a technician first and then owning a shop. I didn’t take that route.

“So when I look at a problem or a need in the shop, I look at it from a business point of view, not a technician’s point of view. I’m more of an advocate for the technician because I don’t have a preconceived idea of how they should do their job. They have to tell me what they need, and I have to figure out how to afford it within the business plan.”

“Going smoothly” is Dave-speak for the heart of his business approach, which is business first. That means building long-term relationships with his customers by treating them well and reinforcing his value as a trusted service provider and counselor who offers great service at a fair price. The key word in that description is “fair” because he relies on quality work and service to create value for his customers, not pricing.

That’s why he uniquely describes his approach as “anti-retail.”

“I don’t feel that a business should be selected on price or even perceived need,” he says. “I want to cater to people who realize value lies in solid service and good craftsmanship. To be selected on the basis of quality. That’s why we don’t do any types of specials, offers or discounts.

“When customers make the decision to finally come here, it’s because they’re tired of being the expert in auto repair. They recognize the need for an expert who will guide them through the process, explain in simple terms their options and their order of importance. Someone who will stand behind the work and make it easy for them to do business.”

He also credits consumer convenience as a great way to reinforce the value of dealing with his shop. He believes it’s the primary reason that his business enjoys a high number of second- and third-generation customers.

Dave Becker and Jason Schmitt, technician, check a part.

“There are too many instances I see of businesses making their customers jump through hoops to do business with them. Advertising things like ‘we service most makes of cars,’ ‘get up to five quarts of oil,’ etc.,” he says. “We try to remove all hoops for customers when they’re doing business with us. We freely offer loaner vehicles; pick up and delivery; three-year, 36,000 mile warranties; and nationwide full warranty on our repairs. We’ll even take care of recall and manufacturer’s warranty work so that our customers never have to experience service anywhere else.”

“Fair” also applies to the way he manages his business. Everyone involved in the process has to receive fair treatment, he says, because “The most important thing I’ve learned in the business is that it’s a business, and it needs to be profitable to be healthy. As business owners, we need to educate ourselves on how to create and implement a proper business plan, which accounts for the purchase and maintenance of the facility, tooling and equipment needs and, most importantly, to compensate our people.”

A big part of Dave’s plan is to manage the future by intelligently managing today’s most immediate needs. Dave stays focused on managing his facility in ways that continue to meet the standards of quality service and customer convenience that make his shop one of the most successful in the ASA-Illinois Affiliate.

Keeping that status requires staying ahead of operating challenges, especially, he says, the new technologies that are emerging. “The average shop is quickly falling behind in the ability to service and, more importantly, to even understand new technology. We are constantly looking for and taking advantage of training. We also invest in proper tooling and equipment. We have factory scan tools for almost all makes we repair and have plans and budgets in place to purchase the ones we do not have yet.”

Dave stays conscious of plans and systems, but he never loses sight of the most important asset of his business. That’s why, when you ask him to list the best thing about being in the automotive service industry, he immediately answers, “The people I get to work with every day.”

Shop Stats

NAME OF SHOP: Wheeling Auto Center
LOCATION(S): Arlington Heights, Ill.
Square footage of business: 12,500
years in business: 30
WHY WHEELING IS A MEMBER OF ASA: “ASA offers a number of benefits through its local affiliate. I can access training and educational programs, and the opportunity to network with my colleagues is valuable to me. I also like the publications, like AutoInc., because the technical articles are a good supplement to the rest of my training activities, and I find the management articles very helpful.”