Lacombe Auto Service Centre named top shop of 2019 by CARS Magazine

Lacombe Auto Service Centre owners Elaine and Donnie Lysons stand in front of their business, which was named CARS Magazine's top shop of 2019. Supplied

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A system overhaul propelled Lacombe Auto Service Centre to being named CARS Magazine’s 2019 Shop of the Year in Canada.

At least, an overhaul on the business side.

Owners Elaine and Donnie Lysons admit they’re no mechanics themselves, but have done some tinkering on the administrative end to help those in the shop flourish, all the while streamlining their services and engagement with customers.

“They were looking specifically for a shop that had undergone a business evolution or major change in the past year. We’ve gone through a lot of changes,” said Elaine Lysons.

“We were still surprised we won it because we’re so new to the industry. It was quite a shock – even the editor, when he phoned us, said it was pretty crazy.”

It was, however, what made their story stand out from 27,000 other independent garages in the country.

The Lysons took over the shop – formerly known as 2A Auto – in March 2018. They came with an agricultural background, having farmed for 20 years, when they decided to switch gears.

The two sold their farm, and forayed into the realm of venture capitalism, which saw them start from scratch. However, they were looking for something they could involve their entire family in, which was when they found out the shop’s original owner, Dave Boere, was retiring and looking to sell.

They purchased the shop, and soon got to work in modernizing the business end, which they say many shop owners don’t have time to focus on.

“So many shop owners in this industry are so busy working in their business they don’t have time to work on their business. They get stuck in that rut, so it’s really hard for repair shops to evolve, but the industry’s evolving pretty quickly,” said Elaine.

Back row from left, Eldon Lamb, Kevin Crombie, Harold Goertzen, Rod Plato, Donnie Lysons and Toby Bullert. Front row, Daniel Lysons, Elaine Lysons and Samantha Lysons. Missing: Hans Peter Dendofer (Photo supplied) Supplied

In order to keep up with the changes, they took a number of different training courses, and also joined MasterMind, a mentorship and coaching support group out of Calgary with fellow industry owners, to figure out what the leading progressive shops in the country were doing and what direction they wanted to take the business in.

“We started making changes within the month,” she said. “It started with our shop management software we use to run the shop, which was a major change. We made our staff very inefficient very quickly… but they’re glad we made the change because long-term we’ve become way more efficient in managing the data, the history of the vehicles – it just took a little while.”

The name of the shop was also changed to better reflect their location, now at 3710 52 Ave. in Lacombe, and they introduced an employee handbook and updated safety programs.

As non-mechanics themselves, they also brought fresh persepective on what customers are looking for, including using technology to improve trust between the shop and those who bring their cars in to them.

“We came at it from the consumer perspective where we went to the garage and there were things we didn’t like,” said Donnie. “We asked ourselves, how can we increase transparency, how can we earn the trust of our consumers? How can we show and communicate better?

“Technology allows us to do is to keep the consumer or the car owner in the loop or involved in decision making. We can plan better, we can can source better and faster.”

To that end, they’ve brought in digital inspections, which allow for photos and videos to be taken throughout the inspection process so they can show owners what’s happening with their vehicles, and keep them constantly informed and involved in the decision-making process regarding repairs to their vehicles.

While some independent garages have given the industry a bad name – particularly through a W5 feature showing the fabrication of repair work by several shops in Ontario, Lacombe Auto Service Centre is committed to honesty – honesty from staff and honesty with their customers.

“The reputation of the shop was impeccable when we bought it. The staff are all proud of that reputation and they want to maintain that,” said Donnie. “We brought in a lot of systems that were knew to them, but the culture of treating every car like it’s your mother’s remains.”

Not only has the shop now received accolades within the auto repair industry, it has also been nominated for Best Customer Service for the Lacombe and District Chamber’s of Commerce’s 2019 Business and Community Awards that takes place in October.

“The one thing that has let us know we’re on the right track is the leading driver of new business is word of mouth,” said Elaine. “Our customers are still telling others to come and check us out.”