Sweating the Details: How working on the business & treating customers right drive Colorado shop’s success
ASA-member shop owners always put a premium on taking good care of their customers. But probably not every owner sweats the type of toilet paper the shop uses in its restrooms. Darrin Barney does.
And that’s just one of the ways Barney, co-owner of Barney Brothers Off Road and Repair in Grand Junction, Colo., treat the people he calls his “good friends.”
“We recently hired a new counter person,” Barney says, “and as I was introducing him to a customer, I said, ‘This is one of my good friends.’ And the customer said, “I think every customer is one of your good friends!’ We had a good laugh, but it’s true.”
That sort of friendship means driving 28 hours to deliver a customer’s truck after the shop made a mistake on its repair, writing a standard-operating-procedures manual for each position in the shop and educating customers about how to research parts quality before having them installed at a dealership.
“It really bothers me to have a customer buy a new vehicle with a lift kit installed and then bring it to us because the vehicle drives poorly or wears out tires prematurely,” he explains. “Customers are never happy to have to pay for something twice. I would much rather do it right the first time and have the customer come back to do more things in the future.”
Barney, his wife and his younger brother, Chad, started the business 16 years ago with a background in fixing cars at home. Growing up, the rule in the Barney household was that when the boys earned their Eagle Scout rank, their parents would buy them a Jeep.
“They were early Jeep CJs,” Barney says. “And anyone who had an early CJ will tell you that if you drive it, you have to fix it. My parents’ home in high school was known as the place where you could learn how to fix it.”
Later, after Darrin and Chad worked briefly in another owner’s failing enterprise, they launched their own shop in Grand Junction.
“The first couple of years were brutal,” Barney recalls. “We barely made ends meet, and the lessons were hard. But we made it, and it helped us to fine-tune our customer skills and work habits.”
So much so that Barney estimates the business now performs about 60 repairs a week with an annual sales volume of $1.7 million.
Still, he recognizes the industry has changed in significant ways – for example, the competition from online pricing. “Price is something all of us are concerned with, so we strive to be competitive. But it’s difficult for a brick-and-mortar business to compete with a guy sitting in his underwear with no overhead.”
Which is where attentive customer service comes in handy. “Thankfully,” Barney says, “we have customers who like the experience of dealing with us and like to support a local business. A customer can sense if you like them, or if you see them only as money. That’s why if you make a mistake, own up to it and do what it takes to make it right.”
Education and training also play a major role in the Barney Brothers’ business. Barney recently earned an Accredited Master Automotive Management designation from the Automotive Management Institute (AMi) and serves as a board member on ASA-Colorado’s education committee, which recently held its first training event in Grand Junction.
“If you’re struggling with your business,” Barney advises, “reach out to those around you, especially the great people at ASA. I can guarantee that someone out there has gone through what you’re going through and can help you on your journey.”
Barney takes daily walks around the parking lot and through the shop looking for areas that need improvement. He also makes lists of tasks that he “attacks” every day. Some of his more-frequent to-dos include:
Add value to employees and never take it away
Improve the conversion rate from incoming calls
Count all incoming calls and walk-in customers
B+, a reminder to “Be Positive”
“Now that I’m working on the business,” he says, “it’s really enjoyable for me to ‘play’ with it and try to make it better. It’s a never-ending job.”
NAME OF SHOP: Barney Brothers Off Road and Repair
LOCATION: Grand Junction, Colo.
SQUARE FOOTAGE OF BUSINESS: 2,500; showroom, 6,000
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 16
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 11
NUMBER OF REPAIRS WEEKLY: 60
PROJECTED ANNUAL SALES: $1.7 million
WHY BARNEY BROTHERS IS A MEMBER OF ASA: “The main reason I joined was for the education and information. By joining, we were able to come up with a plan to help shop owners like myself succeed in business. After our first class in customer service, my team was on fire! If you want to succeed, you have to continue to grow, and ASA is great at helping you grow.”