Walking into the lobby at Rad Air Complete Car Care is like walking into a school for today’s customers. The staff has adopted a customer-centric approach that begins with educating them on repairs and ends with vehicle service.
“If you take the time to explain to the client exactly what we did for them, they walk away with a whole lot better understanding of what they spent their money on,” says Andy Fiffick, owner of the suburban Cleveland eight-location business. Its Parma Heights location — the original shop once known as a radiator and air-conditioning shop, hence its name — is among the top shops in this year’s listing. “We get so many comment cards that come back that say it was so nice that you took the time to explain things to us. So that’s been our foundation since day one.”
For 35 years, Rad Air has focused on being a partner with its customers, keeping their vehicles repaired the best way for their uses.
“It really is about customized service and forming a relationship that is not built on distrust or on all the fallacies out there that we’re trying to get these people and make as much money as we can,” Fiffick says. “It should be one of trust, just like what you have with your banker, your attorney, your doctor, your hairdresser or whoever it might be. You drop your car off, we’re going to treat you the best we can, fix your car the best way we think is right for you. It should be a relationship of trust and mutual respect. We strive to do that every single day.”
Each customer is called one week after service to make sure all is OK. They each receive in the mail at that time thank-you and postage-applied comment cards, including two 10 percent off client referral cards they or someone else can use.
This customer approach is fulfilled in multiple ways through training, education and marketing. All employees are paid on an hourly basis to prevent the urge to perform unnecessary repairs. This is combined with a two-year, 24,000-mile warranty that Fiffick recognizes as just a part of taking care of vehicles.
“If you’re one of our Car Care Club customers, you’re coming back into our shops two, three times a year. We get to put an eyeball on the car to see what’s gone bad, and then we can handle problems before they become catastrophic for the owner,” he explains. “When somebody has a problem, they don’t care what that paper says, it’s just what are you going to do for me. We normally cart blanche fix any problem any time, anywhere, any place.”
The Car Care Club and Fixed For Life warranty program allow customers to pre-pay for all annual vehicle maintenance at a 50 percent discount and receive a lifetime parts and labor warranty. With these tools, Fiffick says the service writers at his shops know how they need to take care of the customers.
They’ve learned this from the owner, who has kept his shops up-to-date with modern technology and training.
“If you don’t keep up with technology, you’re going to fall behind, bottom line. I go to the conventions looking at the latest, greatest stuff,” he says, adding he credits his technical and business training in helping him run the successful shop. He has a business marketing degree from Baldwin-Wallace College.
“I’m always constantly updating so we have the latest, the greatest and the best. And that helps me not only with the morale of the guys, but it helps with efficiency and productivity,” Fiffick says. “And it keeps me in tune with what’s changing in the industry. If I’ve got the newest equipment, I can work on the newest cars, I can fix those.”
Rad Air has been completely electronic in all aspects of the business since the early 1990s. Its in-house and Alldata management reports track and manage employees and shop productivity, failure rates, trends and performance. The shop also has become a go-to location for all cooling and HVAC system problems, including those other shops and dealerships cannot fix.
Fiffick promotes this experience in his marketing plans. Radio, TV, Facebook, Twitter and website marketing all is consistent, but he tailors individual plans to each location.
“We actually have a return on investment sheet for every marketing media we do. We track everything,” he notes. “When you see a coupon card come to your house, it has a code on it. When you bring that in, my girls in the office, we collect those on a monthly basis. Each ticket is marked with the invoice number and how much was spent.”
Catering to Customers
Customers also appreciate the loaner fleet for the shop, started more than 25 years ago. The program started when a number of 4-cylinder engine vehicles started to blow head gaskets, Fiffick explains.
“If there was a cold snap, they would be backed up out the door. People couldn’t leave their cars there for four or five days, and would leave to go somewhere else,” he says, adding his main location has 12 vehicles “My loaner fleet, almost every car has 100, 120, 130,000 miles. I have some with 180,000 miles and it’s a great sales tool, because people come in and say, ‘That car I’m driving, it’s got 142,000 miles on it. It drives like new.’ Yeah, if you take care of them, that’s how they’ll last. It makes your job telling that customer next time they need something that yeah, the cars will last if you take care of them.”
Taking care of the customers outside of the shop also is important to Fiffick. In addition to car care clinics, a Toy Box in each shop for customers’ kids, working with Toys for Tots and other church and athletic events, Rad Air is a key partner for a local food bank, paying for its rent each year.
“I think the more you give, the more you get. When you go plow a little old lady’s driveway out, she will tell everybody,” Fiffick explains. “Now the whole neighborhood thinks you’re nice guys, and we are. Is it worth me charging her 20 bucks over the thousands of dollars of good will I got out of it? No!”
Fiffick also gives back to the industry. He has been a member of the Mobile Air Conditioning Society Worldwide (MACS) since 1987, serving on the board of directors for more than seven years, including the last four years a chairman and CEO.
“It gives me a lot of insight into what’s going on in my whole industry. I get to talk to shop owners all over the country. At any one time I could pick up the phone and call a dozen different guys across the country and Canada and say, 'What’s going on, have you seen this problem before? What are you paying for refrigerant?'” he says. “If I need any help on anything, I can just call MACS and say, 'I’m having this type of problem,' and say, 'Who do we know that handles this problem the best?'”
He also shares that knowledge with the future generation of technicians and shop employees. He has held advisory positions with the Parma city schools vocation department, Ohio Technical College and Cuyahoga County Joint Vocational School. He also speaks to several high school and vocational schools in the area about the industry.
“Giving back, it’s like Christmas. It’s better to give than receive. It keeps me in the loop,” he states. “It’s amazing when you go into high schools, their perception of what they think the industry is. And their perception is so far skewed from reality it’s insane.”