John Bartlett and son, Robert, tell us about Bartlett’s Auto Service in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland which started as an Irving Station with a two-bay garage.
I repaired tires,” says John, “and had one technician. That was thirty-five years ago! Today we have 20 employees— four people on the counter, folks that drive and test-drive vehicles, a number of guys doing oil changes and tires. In 2007, we purchased the location from Irving Oil and expanded, building on more bays. We currently have 10!” Bartlett’s is really a one-stop shop as it does rust proofing, oil changes, tires, air conditioning, transmissions, exhaust and brake work, bearings, and has reflashing capabilities. John has a Bachelor of Commerce degree. Robert studied Mechanical Engineering and is a licensed technician. As to managing the business, they learned on the job, learning how people liked and didn’t like to be treated. They certainly appreciate their employees and their hard-working staff. “They represent us, and we are only as good as our shop,” John remarks. Ongoing training is important for the technicians at Bartlett’s. Robert says, “We’re listed on training programs and contacted monthly. Any of the nine techs plus myself go to programs to keep up with the changes of today’s vehicles. For information, we primarily work with ALLDATA and Identifix, and sometimes have to subscribe to dealer sites online. It’s becoming harder and harder—the OEMs don’t seem to want to share information. Sometimes it’s very difficult to get the needed information in order to fix the vehicle, and we’ve invested a lot in scan tools. We also use the services of a trainer and our scan tool and electrical technicians always attend these sessions. Training has to be an ongoing thing.”
There are jobbers quite close to them, and they’ve been with Brown’s (a Uni-Select affiliate) for some years and been serviced well by them. Robert states, “If we have any issues, they take care of it in a very timely manner, which allows us to better serve our customers, so everyone is happy at the end of the day. I like to keep a good relationship with all suppliers!”
“Some of the customers today have done their homework before they come to our shop. Some of it is good, but sometimes not, and they don’t understand the information they’ve been given. “We take photos of the needed repair and show them what’s happening or try to explain it as best we can, even over the phone. If we’re still not on the same page, I’ll take the customer into the shop, show him what’s wrong, tell him how we’re going to fix it and what parts are needed. That doesn’t happen too often. Just explaining usually works. We have a great relationship with most of our customers and they trust us to do what we say we will do.” “They trust us to fix their vehicle and be honest about it at a reasonable rate,” John adds. “Once they feel that way, that’s half the battle. It allows us to go ahead. They’re not in doubt, because they’ve had a good experience with us before! We’re now working on all the grandkids’ cars of our original customers.”
“Trust and service is very important, and ever since we began, if someone drives onto our lot and needs a set of wipers or has a tire going low, we fix it right away while they’re on the lot—quite a few of our customers came from that type of service. And we have enough people to be able to provide that service. If we can’t get the vehicle inside, we’ll remove the tire and bring it inside to repair. Even with our number of bays, we’re always fixing as many vehicles on the lot outside as we’re fixing inside the bays! We also have 10 to 12 loaner cars to loan clients while theirs is in the shop—another way we try to help out our customers,” John says.
Change for the better?
We asked the Bartletts what has changed for the better. “Cars are definitely getting more technologically advanced and, because of some tools that are now very necessary, it’s forcing a lot of the ‘backyard guys’ out. I think dealers are striving to make everything come to them. But we’re trying to stay current and look after our customers. It’s very frustrating when you have all the necessary equipment and sometimes don’t have the latest feature or function to do the job and you have to turn to the dealer,” Robert relates.
Asked where he thought his business was going in the future, Robert stated, “Hopefully no more bays! It’s hard enough now keeping track of what everyone is doing. I’m constantly striving to find things for employees to do. There have been down times because of the economy, and I don’t want to lay anyone off. I don’t want to downsize. I want to keep everything the way it is now. That’s my plan. I want to keep everyone employed and maintain our service size.
“As to the future of the aftermarket… because of technology, it may be difficult for it to keep up especially with the hybrids and electric vehicles. It’s going to be interesting!”