PHILADELPHIA: Mike Risich is the founder of a nine-year software company that has gained recognition for five consecutive years as one of the fastest growing companies in Philadelphia.
What is particularly impressive about this is that its Bolt On technology focuses on car repair, a service sector filled with customer doubts (some would use a much stronger word) about the mechanics and their recommendations.
“There are two places that fight for the number 1 spot that Americans want to go to the least. They are the dentist and the car repair, “said Risich. One hurts in the jaw, the other hurts in the wallet. ”
Apart from picking up the tab, there is no way that Risich can eliminate the pain of anyone’s car repair account. He is willing to eliminate what he and industry experts say is an important factor contributing to that malaise: client distrust.
Bolt On is selling the transparency of the service through texts and photos and videos shared. Consider it as another tool in the garage, one that became necessary in the last 15 years, approximately, since people stopped waiting for their cars to be serviced. According to Risich, as more customers left the vehicles and went to work, to the gym or back home to bed, the hours of inactivity of the mechanics increased.
With electronic tablets, Bolt On technology helps mechanics show owners the condition of their vehicles, even if they are miles away at work or at home.
As Kevin Bowe, president of Bowe’s Exxon Car Care Center in Conshohocken, says, “My service managers called customers by phone” to explain what repairs were necessary and to obtain authorization to proceed with the corrections, Bowe said. “Nobody answers your phone anymore. There was a car in the bay hanging there, delaying productivity. ”
When a customer called again, usually a couple of hours later, there were lingering doubts: Was it really necessary to replace the brakes? Was that belt really fired? Is that faulty sensor really something important?
In that environment of doubts, Risich, who took over the technical school and then worked in software development, saw a business opportunity.
He founded Bolt On with two commercial capital partners to provide garages with digital methods to share videos and photos with external clients. With evidence of, say, a leaky radiator or uneven tire wear, according to Risich’s theory, trust would flourish between the owner of the vehicle and the service station. It is likely to give the former more confidence in a repair decision and, later, more sales.
“It’s unfortunate that the popular opinion in the auto industry is that we’re taking a ride,” Risich said. “Most of that is because most of us do not know anything about the complexities of what makes the car work. We know that the key is in the front and the gas in the back, and everything else that someone else has to fix for us. ”
Risich defends the repair industry at the macro level, promoting “so many great stores” with owners and technicians proud to solve problems, “but due to our fear of the unknown, we do not feel that we are always receiving value for the dollar … We really want to help change that popular opinion. ”
Monthly Bolt On subscriptions, which are typically US $ 400 (RM1,668) per month, have steadily increased, said Frank Dragoni, director of sales and corporate partnerships. Revenues in 2017 exceeded US $ 6.5 thousand (RM27.11 thousand), an increase of US $ 4.5 thousand (RM18.77 thousand) in 2016 and US $ 3.2 thousand (RM13.34 thousand) in 2015, according to the company’s request for Philadelphia 100, a project of the Greater Philadelphia Business Forum that identifies fast-growing local companies. Bolt On has made the list each of the last five years. He has not sought angel investors, maintaining growth through subscription sales, said Risich.
Bolt On hopes that 20 million photos have been shared on his system in mid-November, twice as many as a year ago. Growth would probably be even stronger if it were not for the many older workers in the auto repair industry, Risich said.
“We are asking a community that really has a technological challenge to use new tools to continue doing its work when the tradition has been ‘Well, that’s how we always have done it,'” he said. “At this time, this industry is notoriously full of workers from previous generations.”
The last infusion of technology significant to the industry was about 10 years ago when service stations switched to customer-related management systems or CRMs, allowing reminders of electronic services and special promotions for vehicle owners who replaced postcards and coupons sent by mail.
Bowe’s Exxon Car Care Center has seen many changes since the late Edward Bowe opened the business in 1955.
The new vehicle technology “has certainly presented challenges in terms of investment and equipment for independent repair shops,” said his son Kevin. “Software providers like Bolt On have really helped.”
There are others, he said, but none that is integrated with the existing software systems of the service centers.
By using Bolt in just four months to date, Bowe said it’s too early to quantify its effect on sales, but, for one customer, “I think we’re doing a better job internally by presenting the full picture of the vehicle’s condition. .. If we call him and say: ‘Your car needs brakes, they are metal to metal’, we can show you an image of the good brake system and an image of your car in the store. ”
That, in turn, allows for faster repair decisions and more efficient vehicle processing, especially valuable for a store with limited space, such as Bowe’s Exxon with its three service bays. Although customers may not be able to answer phone calls during a work meeting, communication through the texts is the way of the world.
Service centers lose money while vehicles wait in elevators for owners to approve or reject repair recommendations.
“That delay in not being able to reach a client for one or two hours paralyzes all day,” said Bowe.