On the morning of April 29, 2011, millions of people across the globe watched Prince William and Catherine Middleton exchange wedding vows at Westminster Abbey.
It was no different for Gregg and Christina Caldwell, owners of G&C Tire and Auto Service. That day, the couple opened the doors to their Virginia-based repair shops at 4 a.m. and aired the Royal Wedding on two TVs while customers — who actually showed up early to receive oil changes — enjoyed food and refreshments.
“I could care less about the Royal Wedding, but I know some people were interested in watching it, and if we can tie something from the news to our business that helps people know about us, we’re definitely willing to try,” Caldwell explains. “I want to be a shop that tries new stuff and stays on the cutting edge.”
Unconventional moves such as this have garnered attention from the media and impressed local entrepreneurs like Greg Harsh, co-owner of Hot Tubs and Pool Tables Outlet in Manassas, Va.
“He bought a Big Green Egg [grill] from us, and when I delivered it to his shop, I thought, ‘Boy, I wish I could run my place like this,’” said Harsh, who started his spa sales and service company 10 years ago with his brother, Dale.
The little things are what really caught his eye, such as the themed “Man Cave” and “Beach” waiting rooms; up-to-date magazines (some in Spanish to cater to his clientele); a fully stocked fridge with a sign that reads, “Free cold drinks to all G&C customers”; freshly brewed coffee and real creamer; a kids’ play area; free Wifi with access to computers and iPads; complimentary loaner cars; a superior warranty; and a putting green for customers to use while waiting for their cars.
“They are really generous. It says, ‘Our customers are important to us,’” Harsh notes. “They wash the car for the customer, and send you e-mail updates when your car is ready. It’s that wow factor that sets them apart.”
Encouraged by what he witnessed at G&C, Harsh returned to his store and began working on improvements to his own business and customer service strategies. Recently, he added repairs of accessories, and this year he doubled the showroom from 4,000 to 8,000 square feet in an effort to create a more effective shopping environment. He also is planning a children’s area, and intends to include a special waiting room where customers can sit back, help themselves to beverages, and read current magazines or catch up on the news.
“We’re positioning ourselves for [the economic recovery] and when it comes, we’ll be good to go,” he says.
Harsh is taking a few pages out of Caldwell’s technology playbook, too. Currently, G&C has about 50 instructional videos and commercials posted on its YouTube account. And Caldwell is constantly finding ways to utilize social media to communicate to customers, including hosting contests and sending out e-mail surveys. Recently, Caldwell gave away an iPad to a customer who submitted the best video about their most memorable experience at G&C. To ensure his efforts are not wasted, he attributes a source code to every new customer so he knows which of his communication approaches are successful.
Like Caldwell, Harsh plans to set up a Facebook account, and create instructional videos and advertising for his Website.
“He really seems to work more on his business and less in it, which as an owner, that’s really how you get ahead,” Harsh says.