Disaster struck Levon Arnold’s shop Long Arm Mechanics, in Garden City, Idaho, late last year when all three of his technicians and his entire front counter staff tested positive with COVID-19. Yet, instead of panicking, Levon just leaned into the processes he had put in place with The Digital Shop®.
“Thankfully, we’re able to keep the boat afloat, and I think that the biggest thing that’s allowed us to get through - and with only a small hit on our numbers - is really falling back on the processes and procedures that we have in place,” he told Tom Dorsey, host of The Digital Shop® Talk Radio, and Uwe Kleinschmidt, founder of AutoVitals, in a recent episode. “I’m fortunate that I wasn’t positive, and I’m fortunate that I have that second nature over the last few years of running The Digital Shop® that I’ve been able to fall back on.”
Uwe was blown away by Levon but had a few questions.
“What have you learned in the last week? Where did you pat yourself on the back and say, ‘Wow, that was good that we had that in place,’ and what else did you learn which might make you change stuff around?” he asked.
First and foremost, Levon said he was trying to take care of himself and not burn himself out. From there, he said it boiled down to mastering the processes. Once you know what needs to happen during every single workflow step, what needs to wait until the next one, and what needs to be there to answer the customer’s questions before they ask them, you can significantly cut your time down, Levon said.
“Being able to reach that level of mastery has been the biggest thing,” he told Uwe. “Seeing what that can achieve this week has really set a cornerstone of how we work through this and where we need to work towards getting all of my team up to speed and on that same level of mastery so they can run with me.”
Tom jokingly asked Levon if he would recommend to listeners that they send their crew home for a week so they can work through their processes too, but unsurprisingly, Levon doesn’t recommend it.
“You know, it’s definitely been an immersive process, and I won’t say do that willingly,” Levon joked. “But it has helped and allowed me to really embrace and understand how effective all of this implementation can be.”
While Levon had been working throughout COVID to try and create a plan for the worst-case scenario, he shared with Tom and Uwe that it was difficult with everything constantly changing.
“I think the biggest challenge has been getting something documented in ‘This is how we will handle this with the COVID pandemic,’” Levon shared. “It’s been impossible because we’ve had week by week changes. So we’ve had a very general outline on what happens in a worst-case scenario like this.”
There’s no denying that those few weeks in 2020 were incredibly challenging for Levon and his shop, but one upside is that it eliminates excuses.
“I was looking at your metrics, and your motorist research time is actually trending up,” Tom noted. “You’re actually beating the techs and the writers in some magic areas, and so that says, ‘Hey, you know what? I didn’t have anybody else helping me, and I was able to get those inspections edited; I was able to get them out the door. I was able to let the process work and keep the sales rate up. What’s your excuse?’”
That’s a great point, Levon said.
“You either want to rely upon the excuses that present themselves, or want to be bigger than the circumstances, and I think that’s the mentality that we try and cultivate, or at least I try and lead with,” Levon shared. “I think that they are picking up that we make the choice to be bigger than the circumstances, mentality. We’ll see what they say when they come back and how strong our numbers are. I think that’ll be good motivation.”
Owning a shop has been something that Levon has dreamed about for a long time.
A view of Long Arm Mechanics.
“Uniquely, I’ve always wanted to be a shop owner,” Levon told Tom and Uwe. “At eight years old, I was talking about it, I was planning for it.”
They recently celebrated five years at the shop, but he’s been in business for nearly nine years.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I love working with people. I think that’s one of our biggest advantages, and in new customer acquisition, that’s where I take the lead.”
Levon and his shop have been using AutoVitals since August 2017, and he believes The Digital ShopⓇ has made all the difference.
“We had so many manual processes in place before we jumped on board with AutoVitals that I look back at it, and I’m just like, ‘Oh my gosh, no wonder it was so cumbersome and hard to get everybody to follow it.’ There were a million more steps than we have, and [The Digital ShopⓇ] has really allowed me to create the shop that I want.”
In addition, he doesn’t see how shops can be successful without running and managing workflow steps as scientifically as digital shops can.
“The Digital ShopⓇ and being able to look at every car that’s in the shop, knowing where every workflow step is from my tablet when I’m out in a meeting up the street and being able to have my service advisors send me an estimate before we send it to the customer; the lifestyle it’s been able to create for me is probably five years earlier than I expected to be in some of the positions I’m in,” he shared.
Levon is pleased with where his shop is coming into the five-year mark; good milestones, numbers on a great trajectory, and an excellent team. So, even when he hits unprecedented challenges as he did in 2020, he’s happy with the progress Long Arm Mechanics has made.
“I think that just the last week, week-and-a-half, is reinforcing and cementing our positions, processes, procedures, and how well they can deliver our customer experience has been tremendous,” he said. “You know, I can’t be happier with where we’re at.
There is always room to improve and build, and Levon is focused on increasing his numbers so his shop can continue to grow.
“We have a four lift shop,” Levon told The Digital ShopⓇ Talk Radio crew. “We have two detail bays, and we really max out in the busy season, and we miss a lot of calls and customers.”
The solution to that may be a bigger shop to start, and then perhaps a second shop after that.
He plans to grow by continuing to do what has worked in the past.
“Generally, what I see with people with European manufacturers is they want to keep the car going,” Levon said. “My biggest target demographic is customers that want to keep their car in good shape. That’s why we started a detailing shop.”
Levon says he’s seen a correlation between customers who want to polish their vehicles and those who want to keep their cars in good shape. Those are the customers he looks for.
“I want to offer a partnership,” he told Tom and Uwe. “Making sure your car is in as good of shape as you’re willing to keep it in. There’s nothing we can’t do here to maintain the car in brand-new condition.”
But in order to get there, Levon and Tom discussed how important it is to have that initial conversation about vehicle expectations, so the repair shop and the motorist are on the same page.
“Once we send them the digital vehicle inspection, they have such a clear idea on where they’re at with everything,” Levon shared. “If they go somewhere else, they don’t feel the value in the experience and the partnership that they do when they’re here. You can’t run through the old paper carbon copy process and compare it to a digital vehicle inspection.”
Building that relationship on managed expectations, trust, and transparency means that Levon doesn’t have to spend too much on advertising.
“It’s nice after five years, we’re really getting the recognition in the word-of-mouth, that that’s the type of shop that we are,” he said. “It can’t be argued through the pictures and the transparency and the honesty that is just inherent with it. It’s just an amazing thing, you know, that we have never, in five years, put any serious money into advertising.”