Jeff Myers was asked to ride his bicycle down the street to meet up with his dad one summer day while he was home after high school graduation. His dad worked next door to an automotive shop owned then, and now, by a man named Tony. Tony ended up giving Jeff a summer job that year, and the rest, as they say, is history.
That was 1995, and that summer job turned into a full-time job. Now, 21 years later, Myers is running the day-to-day operations and has turned the shop, now named MAR Automotive, into a family business. “It’s me, my cousin Ronnie, and my brother Pete,” says Myers. “And we’re doing better than ever.”
MAR, located in the Philadelphia area, primarily does cylinder head and engine work. “We pride ourselves on quality work and quick turnaround,” Myers says. “And it’s amazing how customers respond to that. I do the machine work and the engine building myself. Ronnie mainly does the cylinder heads. And Peter is our utility guy. If we have a pickup or delivery he does that, he does tear down, he does some machine work, he does assembly. We try to make sure that everybody can almost do everything, so if one guy’s down for any reason there’s not as many hiccups – it just keeps going smooth.”
Myers and the boys don’t get into heavy-duty diesel, but everything else is on the table, he says. In fact, recently MAR did a 502 big block Chevy for a marine engine and has been getting into Austin-Healeys, Mini Coopers and even some motorcycle work.
To keep the shop busy and gain a larger customer base, it’s rare that MAR will turn away customers who walk in the door.
“We don’t like to turn anybody away because when you turn them away once you don’t know where they’re going to go, if they’re going to stay and who they’re going to take with them,” he says. “We like to make them as happy as we can within reason.”
Along with not turning away jobs that come in the shop, MAR also advertises its parts sales using in-shop signs and details on its website.
“I tell my guys when a guy comes in to get a valve job, he needs gaskets, so you’re a supplier, do what you have to do to make a sale,” Myers says. “Our parts sales have really shot up. You have to ask, ‘What else do you need?’ I always tell my customers I don’t have a problem with you shopping around because I try to be as reasonable as I can while still making a profit so they come back.”
Everybody who walks in the door is there to spend money, he believes, whether it’s $10 for an intake valve or whether it’s $5,000 for a Grand National that’s going racing. And as a parts salesman or a counter guy it’s your responsibility to get as much of that business as you can.
“You do that by first getting him to like you; he’s got to like your company and he’s got to like your business,” Myers says. “But you also have to show him that you’ve got the quality parts and you have the prices. The last thing I want the customer to do is to go home and say, ‘Dang I could have gotten this $50 cheaper if I had looked online.’”
Myers combats the many issues of parts sales by price matching where he can, and where he can’t, he will tell the customer to buy online if he can get it cheaper.
“We match because whether it’s parts sales or machine work, once a customer leaves they might not come back,” he says. “Whether it’s just pricing or if it’s service or anything, you’ve got to keep them coming to your door. I don’t want that guy to say, ‘This guy jerked me around, I’m never going back there,’ and none of his racing friends are coming back. So sometimes you’ve got to take that hit so they don’t get a bad feeling about you.”
Myers continues, “But it’s important to keep in mind that everybody needs gaskets, and everyone needs other parts, and if he says no the first 10 times, ask an 11th time, ask a 12th time. Because if he keeps bringing jobs back, eventually he’s going to buy your gaskets, headbolts, bearings or piston rings, whatever. And he’s going to buy them and he’s going to say, ‘Hey, it was a good price and he had them the next day.’”
All in all, Myers’ business tactics are certainly paying off. He often has new customers come in who were unhappy somewhere else.
“With customers who left another shop, I ask them to tell me why,” he says. “I want to understand why they’re never going back there so I can help them and make them happy.”
But above all else, the Myers family keeps faith in God to aide them in business success.
“Ronnie, Peter and I are all Christians and we pray everyday for business, we pray for people to come in, customers, and we pray for the ability to do our job and we firmly believe that’s where our success comes from.”
In addition to keeping the faith, offering quality work, parts and service, MAR got some help from a customer who was good with websites. Myers did some cylinder head work in exchange for a website overhaul and a Google Plus page.
“The first month we were up 20 percent,” Myers says. “That guy explained to me that people don’t look in the yellow pages, they don’t do this and they don’t do that. They pull out their smartphones and they look for businesses on the smart phone. That’s been a major help just the way people search for us.”
The only problem MAR Automotive ran into with an uptick in business was the shop used to boast a one-day turnaround. Well, now it’s two to two and a half days because of all the work coming in.
“If you’re getting a complete engine build it’s a different story,” Myers says. “But if you’ve got cylinder heads or small jobs here and there to make a guy wait that’s a big turnoff. And that’s the biggest complaint we hear from other shops is the wait time.”
As business keeps growing due to MAR’s quality work, reach of jobs, web presence and overall services, the shop gains more and more word of mouth, and is also eyeing the possibility of new equipment.
“Word of mouth is huge,” he says. “Guys will get referred and come in and say, ‘I’ve lived 10 minutes from here all my life, I never knew you were here. So yeah, word of mouth is important. And since the business is picking up, new equipment could be a reality.” ν