Imagine a car repair shop that has a “Ladies Appreciation Day”—where your car gets pampered with an oil change or state inspection while its owner gets a therapeutic chair massage or skin care advice from Mary Kay services.
From day one, Jerry Elman, president of Schoen Place Auto in East Rochester, determined his company goal was to be considered the most trusted car shop in Rochester—known for its ethics, competence, fair pricing and relationship-based customer service.
“Everyone can brag or make claims about their services, but we know for a fact that we’ve made a difference to our customers,” says Elman, who earned a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1977 and an MBA in 1984 from RIT.
Elman entered the import and domestic car repair business after working at Eastman Kodak Co. for 26 years.
“I was always the reformer in the corporate world and some may have considered me either the change agent or a lunatic because I always believed in an innovative approach,” says Elman, who lives in Pittsford, N.Y., with his wife, Janet. “I knew it was time to leave Kodak but didn’t want to leave Rochester.”
Elman looked at several area businesses for sale and then in April 2007 purchased Schoen Place Auto, which had been selling, trading and repairing cars since 1971. After one year, Elman decided to concentrate the business on car repairs only and moved the business from Pittsford to its 5,000-square-foot home in East Rochester.
“The car repair industry has a bad reputation, so my business focus was to target consumer groups who are often taken advantage of, mainly women and senior citizens,” he says.
And Elman has done exactly that. Schoen Place Auto, which employs five, received the 2010 Rochester Business Ethics Award in the Small Business category. The company also has been certified as “female friendly” by two female consumer websites, AskPatty.com and WomenCertified.com.
And while doing business ethically can be less than lucrative dollar-wise, at least in the short term, Elman says he never gives customers the “hard sell” for repairs they don’t necessarily need. “I want them to trust me. I want them coming back.”
Some of his customer base comes from networking within the Rochester community with Rochester Women’s Network and the National Association of Women Business Owners.
“Those are the two groups who helped me the most on building female-customer trust in my business,” Elman says.
“And would you believe I was invited to be, and am now, the only male member of Rochester Women’s Network,” he adds with a smile.
“And I am one of three male members of NAWBO. At first it felt strange, but now I’m just one of the group.”