Just a short drive southeast of Phoenix, AZ, leads you to the inviting city of Chandler with its blend of natural beauty and intriguing culture. The tumbleweeds roll and so do the cars in and out of Desert Car Care, as popular a destination for residents just as the city is for tourists.
A nine-bay shop working on all makes and models, Desert Car Care employs ASE Certified Technicians and is a strong supporter of continuing education, offering 20 hours of paid training per year to their employees. Their services include everything from routine maintenance to the most demanding driveability and diagnostic challenges.
Desert Car Care is dedicated to its employees and its community, receiving many business and community awards, and is a member of a number of automotive industry groups including the Network of Neighborhood Auto Repair Professionals, the Automotive Service Association of Arizona and the International Automotive Technicians Network.
Frank Leutz, the owner of Desert Car Care, joined the auto repair industry in 1990 working in the family business of his in-laws. He eventually moved on to get formal training and additional experience at a Chevrolet dealership before opening his first shop in 1996 and eventually Desert Car Care in 2004.
One of the biggest things that sets Desert Car Care apart is the connection they have with people — both their employees and their customers.
“What I really enjoy about the industry is the culture of people and always honing those relationships,” Leutz said. “I decided that when I open up a business, I want to have every ingredient that I can to promote people. I always believed in people first and that everything else would fall in line.”
Things are not always easy in this industry, and Leutz has had to overcome many of the same difficulties that we all experience. “One of the biggest challenges I had early on in business was the ability to make a profit,” he said. “You can have a lot of cars in front of your shop and you can be losing money.”
He went on to explain that in his first garage, they did what he considered just a lot of busy work because they were not organized. “I quickly realized you have to have a plan in place, you have to have policies, you have to have procedures, otherwise it just doesn’t work. It’s hard to assemble a team when they don’t have the expectations of the goal for the day or the goal for the month.
“The other thing we had a tough time with is pricing out a labor rate that was going to keep us profitable as well as pay people really well,” Leutz said. The expectation at Desert Car Care is for jobs to be done right and for them to provide an excellent service experience for the customer. Leutz believes that paying his employees well is an important aspect of his business.
A contributor to their success and organization has been the use of shop management software and, in particular, their use of tablets and digital inspections.
“BOLT ON TECHNOLOGY has been a great help to our garage,” Leutz said. “When we started using the tablets, there was a bit of a learning curve because we were used to the hand-written inspections, and it took our guys some time to start to get into that behavioral change, but once we did that, it’s been really productive for us.
“We’re able to text customers, we’re able to update our status screens so the whole shop knows exactly where we are at with our productivity for the day. It’s a win for us,” Leutz said.
Customer relations can be difficult at times, and Leutz explained how their use of digital inspections has been a big help. “Let’s face it, people come in to get their car fixed and think ‘mechanics are ripping me off.’ To have that added layer of inspection that’s really detailed, just helps us out and it really increases our ability to be transparent and ultimately present the work and keep us profitable.”
A conversation with Leutz always centers around people, an indicator of his commitment to his employees and customers. “No matter what, we have to fix cars well, but at the end of the day, it’s about our people and the people who are behind our common goals and mission to take care of the people in our community,” he said.
The formula for success has proven itself, with Desert Car Care expanding to a second location in 2009 and a third in 2012, although both have since been sold so a greater focus could remain on the employees and community of the original location in Chandler.
Leutz is passionate about educating the public on automotive service issues and helping other shops be just as successful. He is active in media interviews, sharing automotive stories for the public, hosting car care clinics for first-time drivers, women, Girl and Boy Scout troops and the community. He also provides mentoring and has hired high school students from the automotive department at East Valley Institute of Technology.
“If I see a younger mechanic or shop owner, we can share our story and hopefully help them out,” Leutz said. “That is really key. I get jazzed up on that.”
Another way that Leutz gives back to the community and to the industry is through a weekly radio talk show that he created called “Wrench Nation.” Launched in 2016, it is a platform for him to educate on all things automotive.
Leutz sums up the passion for his business, the industry and the people with a never-ending positive attitude. “I feel like we fix cars, but at the same time, you know, we are celebrating life.”