Too often these days, dealing with businesses, large and small, local or not, is one great big frustration. Customer service is, for the most part, obsolete and price seems to be the major driver of many if not most consumer decisions. During my tenure as a Senior Editor for OpEdNews, I have striven to share stories of exceptional businesses whose values I admire and that do not share that blatant disregard for their customers. Northshore Automotive is one of them.
My guest today is Tim Fella, proprietor of Northshore Automotive, located in Wilmette, Illinois. Welcome to OpEdNews, Tim. Can you tell our readers a little about what you do?
Hello, Joan. Thank you for inviting me to this interview. As you stated, I am the owner and proprietor of Northshore Automotive in beautiful Wilmette. We service and repair all makes and models of automobile with a specialization on imports. We also do a limited number of used car sales where we offer quality cars in great condition at a fair price as well as locating cars that people are looking for.
How long have you been doing this, Tim? And how did you get started in the first place?
I've been in this business for just about 35 years in all. I found myself in need of a job so I started sweeping the floors and taking care of stock in a dealership parts department. Eventually, they saw how hard a worker I was and moved me up to full-time parts associate. That accounts for the first 15 of those years, when I moved up to parts manager and had to move from dealership to dealership. At that time, I found myself without a job. I had been let go because of some workplace politics. I had unknowingly offended someone who decided to throw around his power and there I was, all my years of work and loyalty counting for nothing. It was at this time that I decided I was done with the dealerships, and how they treat people - both employees and customers - and decided to open my own business. I have spent the last twenty years running my own shop, just trying to give the customers a place that is built around honesty, integrity, and actual customer service.
How's it going for you? How's it different running your own business than it was working for a dealership?
I am pleased to say that I have been very lucky and things are going very well! There are so many differences that sometimes it's hard to believe that this is the same industry as the dealership. There is job security that comes with being my own boss, versus always being anxious at the dealership that you are on someone's short list for termination. I like to run a straight-forward business; dealerships are awash with politics and I don't play those games. However, owning my own business has the added pressure of never knowing if or when the customers are going to come through the door. The biggest difference is customer service! When a customer walks through my door the first time, we try our best to show them how we are different and it's amazing how over time we build a relationship. I have customers that purchased a car from me, then brought that car back for service with me. Now, here we are years later and I am finding cars for their kids and servicing their cars. I have loyal customers who have been with me all these twenty years I've had my business, and I have seen their families grow and they have seen my own family grow as well. I'm a very lucky man.
I can attest to what you just said. In my old neighborhood, virtually every person brought their car to Northshore Automotive and had been for many years, if not decades. That's what I call customer loyalty! At some point, you chose not to advertise. How did you come to that decision and has it served you well?
I have focused on only two forms of what you could consider advertising - direct mail, in which we send out coupons to customers or my prefered manner which is to purchase space for ads in local programs or books. This includes various New Trier High School sports programs, Evanston Women's Club's annual yearbook, and the Wilmette Park District skating rink. This way, even if the money spent doesn't bring anyone in the door, at least I know that it's going to a good cause and right back into the community that has supported me and my business.