This Kind of Consideration Brings Customers Back: Expedient Thinking Matches Expedient Service in Southern Ontario
By David MacDonald
There are cars that come onto the lots and into the shops of CRS Automotive’s two Southern Ontario, Canada locations that evoke in co-owner Ahmad Liaqat a near- Pavlovian response. Ferraris. Lamborghinis. A 1967 Mercury Cougar. A 1978 Chevrolet Corvette. A 2015 Jaguar F-Type S Coupe. A 2008 Porsche Boxster S Limited Edition. A 2012 BMW Z4. These are the kinds of Sirens that beckoned to Liaqat from his father’s original shop and moved a newly-graduated software engineering specialist to steer a course for a career as a brick and mortar and e-commerce Automotive Manager.
When Mohammed Liaqat opened the first CRS Automotive in Hamilton, Ontario in August 1998, his son, Ahmad, sought to match his father’s ambition. He went to college.He took up a modern trade. He earned his diploma. And while Ahmad was paying his dues as a rookie software engineer, he again looked to his father.”About four years after he opened the business I stopped by one day to ask him for a part-time job to earn a little extra money,” Ahmad explains. “Of course he said “yes” and was excited to bring me on board. I really didn’t have any intention of joining him for long because I was considering upgrading my software training. A few months into the job my father asked me to work with him full-time. I agreed and I took on a new challenge.”
Mohammed tailored the transition from computers to cars for his son from the beginning. “During those first months and years,” Ahmad recalls,”my father was constantly training me: in business management, customer service, employee management. My father taught me slowly, giving me more and more responsibility over time, and when I made a mistake he would coach me. I learned a lot from my father but I also have a very ambitious academic side to me. I’ve taken several courses on Automotive Management, I regularly consult successful business coaches, and I attend regular monthly meetings with other shop owners to analyze business strategies and industry innovations.”
After nearly 18 years in business, Mohammed’s vision continues to change and his business acumen shines through his son’s efforts. The original Hamilton service centre has ballooned to 7,000 square feet and includes 10 bays – not to mention spacious parking. And with the expansion to Oakville in December 2014 came new opportunities. The home and headquarters of companies the likes of Tim Hortons, Siemens, and The Ford Motor Company Canada – not to mention a hoard of high-end automotive dealerships – Oakville was the ideal location for the Liaqats and CRS Automotive to plant a new flag.
“Both locations offer the same services when it comes to vehicle repairs,” explains Ahmad, “but we’ve added a lot with our Oakville location, including vehicle sales. The Oakville location is 13,500 square feet, has eight service bays, a vehicle show room that holds up to eight vehicles and a parking lot for about 80 vehicles. Oakville also houses our boardroom and five offices for key staff.The Oakville location also sees a lot of higher end vehicles in for service because of the market that it is located in. In Oakville we are surrounded by new and high-end car dealers and many of them use us on a daily basis for services they don’t do themselves. We take on wheel alignments, service off-brand vehicles, perform emissions testing, you name it. We’re constantly seeing that kind of business our way.”
As it is for Ahmad himself, the unofficial mantra at CRS Automotive is “embrace your roots.” While the added sales division in Oakville has helped the company exponentially grow quarter after quarter and accounted for 20-25% of CRS Automotive’s 2015 profit, “the mechanical side is our core and is where our concentration is,” Ahmad emphasizes. “We’re still growing the sales side of the business and expect it to continue to bring in a larger percentage every year.”
Ahmad sees a lot of overlap with CRS Automotive’s approach to sales and service. “If you can absorb costs to get the customer on the road or back on the road quickly and pain free it goes a long way,” he explains. “We offer Fleet Services, for instance, to companies with multiple vehicles to manage. We customize our services for each company to ensure we are taking care of their needs. We go the extra mile to ensure as little downtime as possible for the company’s vehicles – which includes picking vehicles up and dropping them off, pre-ordering parts, full and preventative inspections, directly dealing with out-of-town fleet management companies so they don’t have to, arranging transportation for drivers stuck in the in-between, and,of course, special rates for larger accounts. This kind of consideration brings customers back.”
Offering both traditional automotive and customized mobile services to any and all in their expansive pocket of Southern Ontario requires Ahmad to comprise his team at CRS Automotive of the best of the best. He feels that his three-partscreening system is fail-proof. “When hiring new staff, the first thing we look at is their skill set,” he says. “We look for people with the proper training who are comfortable working on a wide array of vehicles. It’s important to us to have someone who is capable of moving between different manufacturers and different technologies. Next we look for people who are team- oriented.It helps everyone when a tech is willing to share their knowledge and gets along well with other team members. Third, we look for someone who pays attention to detail, because it’s usually the small things that cause big problems.”
The cr?me de la cr?me for Ahmad are those Automotive Service Technicians who are certified by The Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program.”All of our technicians are licensed by the ministry and have their Red Seal,” he explains.But always the consummate student, Ahmad emphasizes that”We do higher apprentices to take care of small jobs while learning the finer points of the trade alongside a licensed tech. With the apprentices we hire, we do our best to ensure they get time to go to school and receive hands on instructions from our licensed technicians.”
Ali Ghaddar is the kind of technician skimmed from the right part of the barrel. “He was actually hired by my father, Mohammed,” Ahmad explains. “He started working with us as a technician and in no time at all his management experience from other automotive shops came shining through. So when my father stepped out of the business, I brought Ali into the office to help me run things. Ali proved to be an invaluable employee. When the Oakville operation became a reality, Ali became an equal partner in the business. And while he’s a great technician, he’s an even better business owner. His attention to detail is masterful and he treats our customers with the respect expected by CRS Automotive customers.”
Regardless of their skillset in the bays, their attention to detail under the hood, or their boardroom prowess, Ahmad is quick to point out that his employees are endurance athletes first and foremost. “Our hours and size of the shops make us a force,” he insists with a notable tone of pride. “When you have 13 hours each day with 10 bays in Hamilton for six days a week and 8 bays in Oakville for seven days a week, you’re going to get a lot of work done. We work this hard because we love what we do and we know it makes a big difference to customers who don’t have to wait the industry-standard amount of days to get their vehicle back.”
Working with reputable vendors is a major factor in delivering above-standard service for CRS Automotive. Ahmad points out that the newly crowned Tire E-shop found at www.crsautomotive.com has been a huge success in part because of local suppliers who deal parts online and who deliver within a 30-40 minute timeframe. “Coupled with our daily out-of-town deliveries – which we see several of per day – the workflow into our shops is constant,” he says.
Even while e-commerce represents calm waters for Ahmad, he is not willing to put CRS Automotive on cruise control. “We’re always working with innovative people who help us promote ourselves online through social media platforms in the most up-to-date manner possible. We use an awesome company in Europe that helps us maintain and promote our website. Ali and I are always seeking to capture videos and photos of automotive-related material and send it off to our media team to post. We have found that the more we interact with people online, the more business it generates for us. We also ask our customers to help us grow our business by leaving a review on Google; this goes a long way to helping us build our online presence and ultimately bringing in new customers.”