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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Easy Aid

For Jack Bulko, 58, president of Van Nuys-based automotive-repair business Auto Aid, the recession served as a major motivator. It forced him to take a look at how he could enhance service to his customers. As he did this, Bulko found that one major market he could better focus on was attracting more women customers. “I thought there was more of an opportunity to learn and focus on women and to put us in a better position to serve women and be there for them,” Bulko said. “It’s taught us at Auto Aid to be better listeners, not that we weren’t in the past, but this was kind of an enhancement of that. We kicked up the customer service element a notch or two.” In 2008, AskPatty.com created the distinction of “female friendly” service provider. AskPatty.com is a Web site that provides automotive advice to women. In 2009, Auto Aid received that distinction. Stereotypically, women might know less about cars than men. As a result, there is a “stigma” according to Bulko with women perhaps being “terrified of being taken advantage of by mechanics. Being recognized by AskPatty.com has impacted us tremendously because we’re getting more women calling us and more women coming in the door,” Bulko said. Patty Quintana, a 53-year-old equipment technician for Verizon was initially referred to Auto Aid through her mechanic in North Hills who was going out of business. “The shop is clean,” Quintana said. “Everything is well maintained. I’m pleased with their guarantee. You could say my car is making a funny sound and they don’t laugh. [They don’t] talk down at you. They take you for a test drive to hear what the sound is. As a widow they make me more comfortable.” Family mechanic Although one segment of the market that Auto Aid focuses on is women, Bulko describes his shop as “the family mechanic that repairs everything from an oil change to an engine overhaul.” Some of the specific services the company provides are oil changes, transmission service, coolant service and brakes, diagnostics with check engine light, air conditioning and repairs. Especially here in the Valley in hot weather they also do a lot of water pump replacements. Private car and truck services are only half of what the business focuses on, the other is fleet services. They serve as fleet service provider for ARI (Automotive Resources International), PHH, GE Capital and Wright Express. Auto Aid currently has 6 employees. The recession forced his employment level down to 3 employees in 2009, from 6 employees in 2008. In 2008 Auto Aid’s gross annual revenues were $800,000 falling to $710,000 in 2009. Bulko’s 31-year-old son David joined the staff two years ago. He became vice president when the company, which was a sole proprietorship, became incorporated earlier this year. Bulko attended Baruch College in New York and received a degree in marketing with the intention of pursuing a real estate career. However, with interest rates in 1979 rising to as high as 18 percent the real estate market was stifled. Bulko’s ability to pursue a career in real estate was stifled as well. A brother-in-law was working in auto repair so Bulko decided to try that industry. Bulko suggested a mobile concept called “the tune up doctor.” The tune up doctor was a van Bulko outfitted with some tools and parts to serve as an auto repair shop on wheels. He would take calls, drive to the customer’s home and then leave. As the demand increased for Bulko’s services he struck out on his own from his brother-in-law and he turned his business into Auto Rescue. Auto Rescue was a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week mobile repair and road service. His initial idea was to franchise it like AAA. Instead his company grew into Auto Aid, which has been at its current location since 1986, when it became a full-service shop. AAA recognition In addition to Auto Aid’s certifications as “female friendly” at Askpatty.com and AAA certification they also received a certification from Angie’s List, a paid consumer review site and Automobile Club recognition for 20 years of service to AAA’s members. The AAA certification involves having 300 random customer invoices pulled by AAA so they can randomly survey customer satisfaction with the shop. Also, the certification requires that the shop have an ASC certified master technician, a qualification Auto Aid met as well. “AAA has been a big impact on our business and normally when folks come through these avenues they’re good prospects as customers,” Bulko said. Speaking of customers, some of the challenges Bulko said Auto Aid faces has to do with adapting to the need to get and maintain new customers when people are searching for deals and discounts in this economy “without regard for quality of relationship.” Another issue they have faced is the increasing number of electronic devices being built into vehicles. Networking was another area Bulko discovered in the recession. He has taken advantage of this customer building relationship tool through chambers of commerce. But reaching the general public has been a challenge for Bulko, who has tried everything from Yellow Pages, ValPak and Daily News ads. Now he tries social media marketing, makes more use of his Web site and uses search engine optimization. “Today it’s the Internet and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about tweeting, Facebook and social media marketing,” Bulko said. “It’s a whole new world out there. I spent two hours this morning with someone teaching me how to set up Facebook.” In addition to adapting to the changing marketing landscape, Auto Aid has tried to increase customer service skills in other areas. “I find that people are becoming much more consumer friendly rather than abrupt,” Bulko said. “Those who haven’t adapted to that are out of business or closing down. You see vacancies all over the place.” Payment options One of the ways they have become consumer friendly is by giving estimates that break down repairs into “necessary now” and “necessary later.” “A lot of people are unemployed and uncertain about their mortgages, homes and jobs. Breaking the repairs down helps the person make a decision. If they’re getting an $800 tax refund back we’ll help carry it beyond the tax refund.” Headquarters: Van Nuys Employees 2009: 3 Employees 2010: 6 Revenues 2008: $800,000 Revenues 2009: $710,000 Bulko offers financing as an option for people that are faced with these challenges. Quintana is one customer that also has taken advantage of this financing option. “I think they’re straightforward and honest with what can wait and what has to get done now,” Quintana said. “As a widow I have told them I don’t have as much money readily available. They will take payments.” They also are consumer friendly through specials they offer to customers. For instance they offer Manicure Mondays, in which customers, female or male, can receive a free manicure with an oil change. He also said some other auto repair places offer wi-fi and massages. “The ideas is let’s make it as comfortable and convenient for the customer as possible,” Bulko said.

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