How does one go from playing trombone in Harlem to running three repair shops in Arizona? Well, let’s see: Frank Leutz grew up in Harlem and became a jazz salsa musician accomplished enough to play Carnegie Hall. He joined the Navy doing mine sweep operations in the Persian Gulf until he was transferred west. Then he drifted into auto repair after getting a job at a Chevy dealership, met and married his wife, who encouraged him to go independent, and opened the first of his Desert Car Care Service Centers in 2004. Whew.
“Before you leave an industry you can’t give up on the time (invested),” says Leutz of his last career move. “You’ve got to try it on your own, and that’s when I went into business. Eighteen hour days of doing everything wrong– not to say that we’re doing everything right now, but we are always growing.” To the point he recently opened his third store in the populous Chandler suburb of Phoenix.
Affable and gregarious, Leutz is not the least bit shy. Unlike other repair shop websites which run generic videos from a service, he produces and hosts a few of his own, giving practical and up to date advice on consumer topics such as preventing catalytic converter theft or buying cars online. And while nothing in his varied background includes a formal education in business, Leutz has developed a philosophy on the subject.
“Entrepreneurial spirit, with (an) attitude of gratitude and pride of our industry,” writes Leutz, led him “to successfully launch Desert Car Care Service Centers in 2004 by having a meaningful relationship with the staff and their families (through) the promotion of higher levels of communication for growth, attaining personal goals, and a balance to life that is rewarding.” He also cites his company’s “exceptional ability to tune in to a Team Culture and the strength of team, created by input from all levels of [the] staff. While adhering to the mantra of a value-driven company culture and providing higher levels of service experience for our clients, a top priority is placed on levels of higher standards and ethics. Core beliefs: adherence to Success is not Final, Failure not Fatal; it is the Courage that Counts.”
Heady stuff, especially when you consider its spread out over three stores. But Leutz has established a baseline of expertise through industry-sponsored training, augmented with nearly equal amounts of in-house training. “It would be very easy for me to bring in an outside expert regarding phone skills, for we’ll improve to a sort of plateau,” he gives by way of an example. “But once or twice a month, the service advisors will actually cross check phone calls, listening in on each other. My thought is when it comes to creating that higher skill set, we can learn a lot from each other.”
In return, the staff and their families are perked with company outings like weekend cabin getaways, boating excursions and concerts, affording team members time to bond. “The emphasis is on employees not working for me, but WITH me,” Leutz states, the caps his.
Some of this new age thinking reflects old-fashioned common sense. Charity work is a priority, like refurbishing cars for the needy. Leutz kills two birds by assigning this to a less experienced technician. “He may have less than three years,” he explains, but under the shop’s direction is tasked with overhauling the car. “It’s about giving back that skill set and time that’s huge.”
It’s all a part of Leutz’s “three legged stool”: message, media and market. “In identifying the type of clientele we are attracting,” he writes in a company profile, “our message and the medium of that message becomes clear.” Besides rewarding referrals with a complimentary oil change, one remarkably simple exit marketing tool, which Leutz says compliments their 75 percent repeat business, is giving away travel toothbrushes with the note ‘Maintain your teeth, and we will maintain your vehicle.’
“We understand that when somebody comes in they are not just here to check an oil leak,” Leutz says of his relationship with the clientele. “They are here because we are going to get caught up on what their Uncle John is doing, how the daughter is doing through her first year in college.”
A carefully maintained customer database with this kind of info provides the foundation upon which Desert Car Care builds their image, i.e. their authority, with events like car clinics and appearances on car talk radio shows. To that end the company has a publicist and a communications director, who are currently working with Leutz to create future promotional opportunities like a possible automotive merit badge for the Boy Scouts and high school speaking engagements before first time drivers.
“We also do a lot of work via the internet because we get a pretty good client base on the website,” Leutz reports. “Reputation management is very important to what we do; we invite any of our shortcomings to be put into a review because it is not only an opportunity to correct it but to be transparent. The internet consumer is very smart and they realize that the bulk of reviews might be massaged. When they see shortcomings blasted with a response, a productive response, that is also part of creating authority in your marketplace.
“I think what makes us unique is the promotion of our culture,” Leutz resolves. “We have to do all the right things regarding the health indicators of our business, having trained on key systems and procedures so we are consistent. But underlining that is the strong culture that we are trying to promote throughout the whole organization. You know the pied piper? If he is playing his tune right (i.e. creating a culture), he’s going to get a ton of folks to follow him. Our mantra and our culture are like that, and some of the things we do as an organization allows us to continue the promotion of that culture.”