Changing minds AND tires

Terry Herald, Whetham's Auto Service

Terry Herald, Whetham's Tirecraft Auto

Terry Herald can’t be bought, but his services can.

And he sees every day as a new opportunity for him and his team of mechanics to do right by their customers.

Terry’s philosophy—when you have a business, use it to help someone every day—isn’t posted to any wall. It doesn’t need to be. It is what he lives and breathes.

And for him, it’s one of the top benefits of owning his own business.

Terry purchased Whetham’s Tirecraft Auto in July 2011, aided by business broker Rob Mitchell, owner of Sunbelt’s Guelph, Ontario, office.

“When it comes to business people and deals I’m a natural skeptic,” Terry admits. “So when I first met Rob, I assumed his allegiance was only to the seller. But throughout the process, I learned otherwise. Rob scores 100% on integrity. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend his services.”

“I pressed hard once I decided that this was the business I wanted.  Some three months later, it was mine. Without Rob’s overseeing —making sure everybody was looked after—it may not have happened at all. Rob helped me a lot.”

If a car only needs a dollar part…

Buying Whetham’s was a big step for Terry, but he and his wife felt good about the decision. In fact, it was his wife who prompted the search for a business in the first place.  After years of experience as a service manager—some 20 years at a car dealership followed by another 10 to 11 in heavy equipment—Terry had solid credentials and numerous awards. But he was missing the customer contact. And he had come to recognize that he was always making somebody else wealthy. His wife suggested they get their own shop. And so the search began.

Terry looked at franchises first. But their ongoing fees and constraints put him off. “I don’t like their sell, sell… if a car only needs a dollar part, then that’s what the customer should get.”

Then he found a listing for a privately owned business with Rob Mitchell as the contact. The outlay was considerably more than he had been anticipating, though. Could he do this? Rob started the ball rolling and the elements, including the financing, fell into place.

Terry was keen to get in there, Rob recalls. “My job was to keep both sides on track, to help when they ran into issues they weren’t sure how to handle.”

Dennis Whetham, the seller and original owner of the business for some 28 years, kept the building and his son still works in the business.

Listening to the customer

Terry pays more than lip service to customer needs.  “Customers are spending money, it’s important to give back in return,” he says.

The assortment of magazines in his waiting room speaks volumes. Current issues of Hello, Fashion, Cosmo, Canadian Living, Toronto Life, beckon alongside Rolling Stone, Men’s Health, Sportsnet and National Geographic, among others.  “Some of the women were saying there wasn’t anything for them to read,” he offers. “Not anymore!”

A WiFi password is handwritten immediately below the Welcome! notice that greets you when you first walk in.

Terry also listens to what customers aren’t saying. And he’s been coaching his employees to do the same.  He explains:

“Customers want to be able to rely on us. So we need to look beyond what’s on the work order. I want to know everything the car needs. If spending xx to get the bearings repacked will save a customer having to pay xxxx down the road, then that’s what they need us to tell them.

“And if they’re walking away from work that has to be done, I want to know why. If it comes down to the cost, then maybe we can find a solution, like spreading out the payments. In one case, we held onto a car to fix it on standby, saving the customer money and making productive use of our mechanics’ downtime.”

“If your actions can help someone, do it,” he believes. And “if you count the service, the money will flow.”

A clean operation

Something else is now flowing at Whetham’s.  As of April 2012, every car that is brought in for work gets washed, time permitting—a  little “extra” for customers that fits with the emphasis Terry places on a clean and tidy environment.

He describes the all-out effort to clean every bit of the space, fixtures and equipment when he took over nine months ago. “I don’t want to put my hand on a door knob and feel grease.”

“People judge your work by how you present yourself,” he continues. “Being neat and tidy reflects the professionals we are.”

A brand new operating system also went live in April.

“Your customers have to leave happy,” says Terry.  “In a car dealership, if someone didn’t come back to the service department, there would still be three new customers every month replacing them. But not in this environment.”

“And when things were slow in a dealership there was still an inventory to work on. Here there is no other work. You still get the bills. And you still need to pay your people. “

Terry’s advice to potential buyers sums it up:  “You better know what you are doing.  When you own the business itself, there is no go-to guy, you’re it!”

Yet for Terry Herald “being it” is the ultimate reward for owning a business, the means to help someone every day.

By Karen Runtz

2 responses to “Changing minds AND tires

  1. Pingback: Doing right by customers | Sunbelt Canada update

  2. Pingback: Buyers give their TIPS on buying a business | The Real Deal

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