We spoke with Pat Haney about Alignment Professionals, the local alignment shop she owns with her husband Derrill. Mr. and Mrs. Haney have a wealth of experience running their business over the years, and I thought Pat had some great insights about how to make a small business stand out among larger corporate chains and offer something really special to their customers, as well as the yin and yang of challenges and satisfaction that comes with the territory.
Why did you start your business?
My husband was an alignment technician who became a business owner because he developed a loyal customer following by doing business honestly and providing quality service. He has served the Lincoln-Park and Fourth & Gill neighborhoods for 35 yrs.
Why did you choose this type of business?
For steady employment! Derrill could not stay employed as a welder due to contract lay offs, so he began in the alignment business in 1982, when we were newlyweds.
What is your background? What in your background did you find particularly helpful getting started or in day-to-day operations?
Derrill and I are a team, and we compliment one another’s strengths. He runs the shop and I run the the business (on a good day)! I have an entrepreneurial/marketing background stemming from being employed at Whittle Communications in its glory days. Derrill found the alignment business early on in our marriage. I (Pat) have worn several hats that have strengthened my ability to serve others (Marketing Specialist, Mom, PAC Instructor, Party Planner, Stephen’s Minister, Life Coach). We both are BIG on customer service and satisfaction and take pride in serving the community in a way that will add to people’s lives positively.
What do you think gives you an edge over your competitors?
Our faith in Christ and acknowledging He is the reason for our success. We serve our customers as if we’re serving the Lord. Mission Stmt: Col. 3:23-24. As a result, our customers know they can trust us and we are experienced in the field. We employ ASE Certified Techs and pay them hourly so they can feed their families without having to manufacture work in order to eat, leaving them free to serve our customers with integrity and honesty.
What’s your ideal customer like? Is that the type of customer you expected to attract when you first opened?
Someone who appreciates our experience and respects the dedication it takes to run a small business in today’s challenging business climate. That can be male or female, young or old. We get to know our customers personally and take the responsibility of servicing them personally, as if they were our own family. “What would you do if it was your Mom’s car?” Is a question we have our techs ask themselves. We are more focused on service than demographics. Good service, never goes out of style.
What do you think keeps your customers coming back?
Experience, honesty, personal service, fair prices, guaranteed satisfaction.
What are the biggest challenges you faced getting started?
The same one we are facing today, wearing lots of hats in order to remain profitable and keep serving our customers well. We’ve also learned boundaries, so that we’re able to work and live together 24/7.
What are the biggest challenges you face in day-to-day operations?
Serving the public and being in the problem solving business has its challenges. We have to keep things in perspective and remind ourselves who we are serving (mission statement). We’ve learned to work hard (5 days a week) and play hard (weekend off) so we and our techs can spend time with their families and recharge to serve customers well.
What are you most proud of about your business?
That it has grown every year and has been built through the grace of God, despite our shortcomings and ignorance and we can have provided employment for a few hard working techs to provide for their families with integrity.
Any products or services you enjoy or consider special or unique that your customers should check out?
We are an old school alignment shop which allows us to align vehicles other shops cannot, such as lowered, lifted, hot rods, antiques, duallys, etc. Our techs know how to customize specs to correct unusual problems, not just how to use an alignment machine. We replace and repair suspension, straighten frames, alignments and brake service. We also straighten axles on boat, arc, utility trailers and vehicles.
Knowing what you know now, would you have changed anything about how you got started?
Ignorance is bliss!
What’s your goal with your business, personally or profesionally, in the next ten years?
To sustain our business in the face of an ever changing automotive field and pass along our philosophy to the next generation of service oriented technicians and retire with pride.
What would most make your life as a business owner easier?
Not having so much overhead (taxes) so that we could hire more people and not have to operate with a skeleton crew in order to stay in business. More business training, other than on-the-job.
What is your fondest memory with your business? What was your greatest success?
Derrill had the opportunity to be Grand Marshall at the O’Reilly 400 truck races in Bristol at the Speedway. He was a guest On Live at 5. We were treated like royalty and seated in the box suites at Bristol. He met all the drivers and announced, “Driver’s start your engines!” He and my son rode in the pace care to start the race and we met the winner in the Winner’s Circle following the race. Then, they drove us back to our car after the race and the carriage turned back into a pumpkin . . . . and we returned to reality, but he had a great story to tell his customers for quite a while.