Shop Newsmaker Q&A: Andy Fiffick

Jan. 1, 2020
Andy Fiffick is the president and CEO of Rad Air Complete Car Care, which has seven service centers in the Cleveland, Ohio area.
Andy Fiffick is the president and CEO of Rad Air Compete Car Care. 

Andy Fiffick is the president and CEO of Rad Air Complete Car Care, which has seven service centers in the Cleveland, Ohio area. A life- long "gear-head," Fiffick's career started at the age of six, when he fell in love with cars after helping his father work in the backyard garage. Fiffick attended Lincoln Technical Institute in Indianapolis, Ind., after completing a Vocational Automotive program in high school. After a short stint as a diesel mechanic, Fiffick started a career at Ford Motor Co., in the Engine division. Fiffick remained at Ford for 10 years, while pursuing a business degree at Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. Dismayed by big business, Fiffick left Ford and purchased a small radiator shop in 1986 with one goal in mind — to be the best repair shop in town.

Fiffick has ASE L1 and Master Tech certifications and is continually updating his own and all of his employees' education. Rad Air Complete Car Care service centers are A/CDelco TSS and ASE Blue Seal shops, along with being AAA (Ohio Motorist) and Ohio E-check approved repair facilities. All technicians are MACS, Ohio E-check, and ASE certified. Fiffick believes that the aftermarket industry is changing at an accelerated pace; the need for education for both technicians and management has never been more important.

Fiffick is also the past host of "Auto Tech Connect," a weekly live automotive call-in talk show which aired every Wednesday evening on WERE 1300 AM "People Talk Radio" in Cleveland, Ohio from 2003 to 2006.

How has the rising cost of fuel affected drivers in your area of the country?

We have seven locations in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, and the fuel prices have definitely affected some of our markets. One location (in a neighborhood with modest household income levels) is experiencing a slight decline in sales due to rising food and fuel costs; however, all six of our other locations are experiencing high single and low double-digit percentages in growth. The fact that people are tightening their household budgets a bit and hanging on to the car they already have appears to be helping our business in the areas with higher than average household incomes.

Have you noticed more hybrids on the road or in your bays, or have you serviced more flex fuel vehicles?

I have embraced the hybrid technology and personally drive a 2005 Hybrid Escape. We also have a 2008 Hybrid Escape in use as a parts runner shop vehicle in our fleet. Even though we have trained and are prepared to service hybrids, the Cleveland market has relatively few hybrids on the road. We stock all of the oil, air and cabin filters and have trained our staff to properly service hybrids; nonetheless, we see very few in our bays. hybrid sales are up; however, it will be some time before we see them in our shops due to the long factory warranty periods. To us, flex fuel vehicles are just like any other vehicle we service; however, you cannot purchase ethanol anywhere near us so it is not an issue.

Have better-engineered and longer lasting parts affected your repair business? If so, how have you adjusted your business model to compensate for this trend?

There is no doubt that better built vehicles and better parts have affected our business. Vehicles are lasting longer and need less repairs in the short term; however, we have found that most vehicle owners neglect proper maintenance and it comes back to us with larger and more expensive repairs in the long run. The age of the vehicle fleet is increasing, and we are now constantly repairing vehicles that are in the five to 10-year-old range (and many 10 to 15 years of age); a short decade ago the average repair was on the three to six-year-old vehicle. We have adjusted our business plan to train the consumer on the benefits of properly servicing and maintaining their vehicle, and we have stocked more inventories for the older vehicles that are entering our bays.

Have the longer warranties now offered by most automakers affected your maintenance and repair business?

Yes, yes, and yes. Not only have the longer warranties negatively affected us, but the other new car customer loyalty programs, such as free car washes, free LOF for life and free tires for life have reduced our walk-in traffic. In our market just a short time ago, the customer only took their vehicle back to the dealer for warranty work and shops like ours did the maintenance and service work. That trend is changing, and now the new car dealer is keeping a vast majority of that work for the first three to five years of the vehicle's life with the loyalty programs in place. We have always built our business on personalized customer service and focused on building clients for life, and we have several customer retention programs in place to do just that. Nonetheless, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep a client once they purchase a new vehicle, and we have shifted our focus to the clients that purchase second hand or used vehicles because they have no loyalty to the higher priced new car dealers.

Are technicians at independent repair shops having trouble keeping up with all the advanced components and systems in today's cars?

We have no problem keeping up with the technology. In fact, I believe that our technicians are better trained and more well-rounded than the technicians in new car dealerships. Our technicians can fix any brand of vehicle, with any type of problem and at any time; the depth of skill, intuition and knowledge (both formally and through the school of hard knocks) better prepares them to service and repair vehicles. As part of the A/CDelco TSS program and the use of the top independent trainers for hire, we keep all 32 of our technicians up to date with timely and advanced training. Our technicians don't have a vehicle manufacturer or a buddy in the parts department feeding them information and trial and error free parts to repair one brand of vehicle. With all of the electronic repair and diagnostic information available to us, we repair vehicles the old fashion way with proper diagnostics and sound repair procedures.

Or, is the industry encouraging them to keep up through ongoing education?

This is all hype; our industry does talk the talk but does not walk the walk. Everything is voluntary, and it has to be an independent shop owner or individual's decision to require/get more training and certifications. Unfortunately, our federal and local governments and the industry are not doing anything about mandatory certifications and have not raised the bar for all technicians at all. In fact, our technicians are grossly underpaid and the industry is doing nothing to raise our place in society at all. We should be treated like any other professional in a consumer's life (your doctor, dentist, priest / pastor, butcher, accountant, or hair dresser / barber), but we are not because of all of the negative publicity and improper advertising and sales practices done within our own industry. We have several national and local (multi–location) companies that constantly advertise low cost oil changes, free everything, gifts with purchases and a 30-minute guarantee on some services. What they are doing is training the public to think that we are not worth anything, that all repairs can be done in a half hour, and that they should get a free gift with repairs are supposedly easy and fast. Last time I checked, there is nothing easy or free about servicing today's vehicles. This line of thinking does nothing but negatively impact our industry by raising false hopes in the consumer's minds and then coming back to reality with higher invoices and longer repair times. How many times do we have to hear "I took my car in for the $19.95 special and they come back with a $800.00 / $1,000.00 estimate. These guys are thieves and want to rip you off" before we as an industry get the message? Maybe all of those places should just practice truth in advertising and publicize the following: "Please come in for service, we have quotas to fill and special incentive plans in place to sell you services you don't need right now. RadAir never advertises loss leaders or make false promises in our advertising, and we are doing just fine.

As a follow up to the previous question — are technicians struggling to keep up with and learn the ins and outs of new hybrid technologies?

No, hybrid training is everywhere, and we have trained our entire staff with over 40 hours of training in the last three years. We have six technicians with over 80 hours of training on hybrids on staff.

Are the technicians getting enough hands-on practice between training and having a hybrid in the bay to keep their skills sharp?

No, we do not have enough hybrids entering the shop to keep our staff sharp, and that is why I require each technician to take two hybrid-training courses each year.

What is the one thing you wish all customers knew about the auto repair business? And, if they knew this secret, would it make repairing their cars easier?

Almost all independent shops like mine are owned by hard working family men with high morals, a burning desire to fix vehicles right the first time and make customers happy. It is more a matter of pride in our work and what we do, than making a buck to most of us. We live to service people, repair vehicles, keep clients happy and safe while driving and the satisfaction that comes with doing our jobs well. My suggestion is to find a good local independent repair shop that you can build a relationship with, and then entrust your vehicle to them. Once you have a personal relationship with the shop that is built on mutual trust and respect, your vehicle and investment will be better cared for because they will know you, your driving habits and how long you plan on keeping the vehicle. They will service your vehicle to maximize your investment, keep your family safe and minimize or eliminate breakdowns. This is a much better way to have your vehicle serviced than going for the weekly loss-leader special of the week, or dealing with the impersonal and costly flat rate and special incentive plan pay systems in place at most chain stores and new car franchise service departments. A good independent shop is built around servicing your vehicle right the first time, make you happy and keep you coming back; their survival depends on those factors. Most other systems only want to make as much on you as they can during every visit and that is how they all get paid. Common sense will tell you which system and service is better for the consumer and the industry in whole.

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