When David Storey and Geoff Harper joined forces nearly ten years ago they had no idea that their vision for a better way of working would extend to a chain of over 70 businesses, united by the strength of a single automotive brand.
Interviewing the trio running Auto Super Shoppes is a bit like walking into an energy bomb. But you don’t have to talk to them long to understand why they’re enthused. Kellie Tremayne’s only been on deck a month, and was attracted by the originality of the concept. “It’s a really good story, how David and Geoff had the concept, went out with fresh air and ran with it. This is now the biggest automotive repair chain in New Zealand.” David Storey and Geoff Harper are both heavily involved in the MTA – David is the National President – and though nominally competitors, with one in Albany and one in Birkenhead their client base didn’t overlap. So when they got talking at an MTA conference in 2006, it seemed natural to discuss the hurdles each small business faced, not least the cost of marketing. David says, “We thought we could combine our advertising dollars with one ad and both names, in the North Shore Times. From there we talked about creating a premium network of MTA members with a minimum workshop standard.
The pair drove round looking for workshops with at least four staff, that were tidy, with a pleasant reception area, “We sent invitations to a presentation in Takapuna, 40 turned up and only one person signed up on the night. There are now 34 in Auckland.” The first small group pooled their advertising spend, marketed to the north shore, and eventually launched the Auto Super Shoppe name. They then turned their sights further afield. “We toured NZ, every town, we’d send an invitation for a presentation, drive down and present the concept.” Today 74 businesses are involved, with another poised to sign. David and Geoff credit much of the rapid growth to Jayne Lawson who was at the helm of the organisation for seven years prior to Kellie Tremayne taking over as General Manager. David says “Jayne was instrumental in helping us build the organization into the position of strength that it is today”. Eventually key suppliers were identified and linked in, and the discount from bulk buying effectively pays for the marketing, so each small business no longer has to budget for a marketing spend. “We’ll be pushing half a million in marketing by the end of this year, all at the disposal of the members.” Individual members can advertise at a local level, support a rugby team, put an ad in the local paper – “but it has to give Auto Super Shoppe some real estate and be approved by us.” It’s a far cry from the early days, with an inflatable car on a trailer that could be parked outside any of business involved. Auto Super Shoppe now spans the country, but still only includes individually owned workshops with the Auto Super Shoppe branding. “I used to be David Storey Motors, now I’m Auto Super Shoppe Albany.” Geoff Harper reckons the concept is popular because most small workshops often lack some core business skills,, “most of them are great technicians, but they have no marketing experience.” Now they don’t have to think about it. For example, reception areas play a travel video to entertain customers awaiting a car, and scrolling across is information about Auto Super Shoppe, “That was an $8000 initiative to make the film, but it cost each shop only $500 to passive-ad their services. As an individual, that’s not something they would do.”
Geoff and David are assisted by a board of volunteer business owners within Auto Super Shoppe, that discusses growth, direction, and investment to help them all. And as GM, Kellie sorts the day-to-day running and ways to improve, add value and grow the brand. Members are incentivised to use core suppliers, and, “The suppliers now put in special training nights for us, the latest technology, individual workshops couldn’t keep sending technicians to upskill and this way it’s cheaper, or free.” They say membership should be cost neutral, the cost offset by the benefits. Those benefits include the network itself. “If someone gets work done here, and has a problem with it in Ranfurly, we send them to the nearest Auto Super Shoppe, they fix the problem, the customer isn’t charged, and the two workshops work it out.” Fleet Partners and Lease Plan already make the most of that. The numbers also work for the technicians, who can email the network for advice, “We have every brand of car out there and one of them will be a specialist, or will have come across it before. And it’s free advice.” Auto Super Shoppes is not a franchise.Kellie says, “It’s a buying, selling and marketing group. A co-op, with the ability to ensure the Auto Super Shoppe brand is preferable to others.” The trio are all enthused about further spreading the Auto Super Shoppe benefits, and there are gaps they want to fill – like the South Island’s west coast. Why do they keep at it? They’re fired up by the energy of being involved in a network of small businesses with high standards, and as David says, “It’s been a fantastic ride.” If any one is interested in joining this exciting network please contact Kellie on 09 600 0569.