Not many shop owners can trace their roots back to a time before automobiles, when horse and buggy were the standard means of transportation. But that’s exactly what Chris Fuller can do with Fuller Automotive that started when his great-grandfather Willis Fuller transitioned from working on horse-drawn carriages to the internal combustion engine.
Now Fuller Automotive & Tire Center in Auburn, MA, has eight bays for repairs on all makes and models, and is separated by a shared waiting room with a four-bay SpeeDee Oil Change center.
“It stayed in the family through the years,” Chris explains. “My grandfather built his first shop, which went through seven additions. Then my father worked in the building after college for a number of years.
“We got into the collision industry and moved into the building where we are now,” he continues. “My father never pushed me and never even asked me to come in. I got toward the end of graduating from college, and I took a gander at what was out there. During my junior year, I determined that when I graduated the next year, I’d be coming to work at the shop.”
Chris says one of the main reasons he decided to begin a career in automotive repair was that it would allow him to focus on family life, much like his own father had done.
“That was more important to me,” he says. “Papa said work hard and be good to people. Maintain that and you’ll find that things take care of themselves.”
Success Starts With Employees
Part of “being good to people,” Chris says, is providing a clean, safe, stable workplace with a positive atmosphere. Combined with competitive pay, health and disability insurance, as well as paid sick and vacation time, it makes for an attractive job package.
“We only employ people who fit our ‘family model,’ and you can feel that when you visit,” Chris says, adding that they also pay out bonuses and match employees’ 401k contributions. “We also offer free, unlimited training and testing via our Comprehensive Training and Career Path plan.”
That plan has been instrumental in attracting new technicians, which has be-come increasingly difficult in recent years.
That’s why Fuller Automotive offers new techs a two-year, in-depth training program that prepares them for a successful career in automotive repair and helps retain them. But on-the-job learning doesn’t stop there. Chris says the company also takes advantage of Elite WorldWide training for their service advisors, the general manager and himself.
“Each employee has a set amount of training to be performed each year,” he explains. “We hold onsite training two times a year and techs go offsite for specialty courses two to three times a year. We also provide online training and certification through CARQUEST/Advance Auto Parts Tech-Net Online, ACDelco Online Training and TBC Online University.”
Chris says having a sharp-looking store front, nice signage, immaculate waiting area, pristine bathrooms and cleans bays is about more than just an image — it’s a “display of your effort and attitude.”
“A lot of people say, ‘It’s really clean for a garage,’ ” he says. “But we’re not allowed to be slobs just because it’s a garage! We like to work in a clean environment, too. It creates a sense of pride.”
Fuller Automotive employs a comprehensive marketing plan that makes use of various mediums, including email, direct mail, radio, billboards and sponsorship of both community youth teams and professional teams.
“We utilize AutoVitals and Virtual Vehicle to communicate with the customer at times of service,” Chris says. “We also use Autoshop Solutions for website and social media, as well as Demandforce and Classic Plus’ Throttle program for email and direct mail to current and future prospecting.”
In addition to those marketing efforts, Chris says one of the most successful customer service programs has been Fuller’s Loyalty Punch Card. Rather than send out coupons that may or may not be used, this system rewards a customer with a $50 shop credit every time a card is fully punched.
“We were sick of getting cherry-picked and tired of people just coming in for an oil change or check engine light — and not coming back for additional service,” he says. “We weren’t capturing a lot of business like tires and brakes. We designed the program to work out to a 10% discount each time a customer comes in. They’re basically escrowing money for a $50 shop credit. It’s gone over very well since we started it two and a half years ago.”
“Our SpeeDee Oil Change of New England is a franchise unit and I’ve served on their National Franchise Advisory Council with positions ranging from Representative to President. SpeeDee is my other family; Ed Mikkelsen and Mark Gadoua have been impactful figures in my life,” says Chris.
As for Fuller family life, Chris praises his parents Richard and Marilyn for providing an environment that allowed him to draw both motivation and friendship from his brothers Jeff and Josh (both of whom are also involved in the ownership of additional automotive companies within the Fuller brand), and his big sister Kerri. “Kook” as Chris affectionately refers to her, delivers administrative assistance in all entities and serves as the company’s Marketing Manager.
As for the 5th generation, Chris married his high school sweetheart Michele after graduating from college, and they both realize that their sons will have to choose whether to carry on the business someday. Until then, they will just heed Papa Fullers words: “Work hard and be good to people.”
Chris says staying successful throughout a 100-year history takes focus and commitment. While it’s a daily, ongoing effort, he says there are a few main points that can help any shop become — and remain — more profitable.
“It takes vision and drive, as well as properly trained and engaged employees,” he says of General Manager Shon Kimball, Service Advisor Mike Supernor, Collision Managers Mike Furmanick and Ricky Horne, Service Manager Rob Fleck, Office Manager Sandi Uljua, and long-time technicians Alan Keer, Alcides Santiago, Ray Lumb, Tyler Warren and Mark Thiebeault. “They instinctively possess a true desire to service and deliver.”
With that kind of commitment, Fuller Automotive will be around for many years to come, perhaps servicing a new kind of transportation — only time will tell.