An enterprise that connects potential customers with selected auto repair shops in the East Valley is under way.
The project — Neighborhood Auto Repair Professionals Network — began six months ago by examining more than 750 auto repair shops Valleywide and narrowing them down to 20, independently-owned garages.
The inspections included checking garages for equipment, shops’ credit ratings and making sure mechanics were certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.
The selected shops are listed by the auto repair network on its Web site at www.narpro.com. The agency’s telephone number is (602) 265-4141.
The listed shops are located by postal ZIP codes as well as by other data, including the shop specialty, if any, and are within a short drive from a customers’ home or workplace, according to the agency.
"We’ve begun in the Valley and East Valley and, eventually, we plan to go national," said Jay Jennings, general manager for the agency.
No chain-owned repair facilities are listed, Jennings said.
"We’ve selected 20 auto repair shops that are family businesses and have proven their honesty and quality to their respective communities for decades,"
Jennings said. "We plan to list maybe 20 more."
Jennings and three other investors — Alan Tarr, Kevin Currell and Keith Colgate — started the agency by exploring auto repair shops and interviewing hundreds of owners and mechanics, mostly in the East Valley as well as in Peoria, Phoenix and Glendale.
So far they’ve invested about $65,000 to launch the project, Jennings said.
They also examined records at the Better Business Bureau, interviewed local chambers of commerce and made some "undercover" checks posing as potential customers.
Once the list was narrowed, they invited auto shop owners to several meetings to discuss the project and asked for their input.
"I spend about $3,000 a month to be listed in the Yellow Pages and other directories," said David Beck, owner for 30 years of Sundance Automotive, 2450 W. Broadway Road, Mesa.
"Now, it only cost me $500 a month to be on NARPRO’s referral network, and so far I’ve received several calls from newcomers to Mesa who were looking for a good repair shop," Beck said.
Jennings said the selected shops pay between $400 and $600 a month to be listed, including photos of the shops, addresses and a special direct telephone number.
Jennings said NARPRO conducts regular customer surveys to make sure the shops are living up to their reputations. "We can cancel them at any time," he said.
"It’s a good concept," said Hugh Dana, owner of Dana Tire and Auto, 725 N. Arizona Ave., Chandler. "So far, I’ve received several calls and a few new customers. It’s aimed at a lot of new people who are moving to Chandler and looking for a reliable mechanic."
Dana and his family has owned and operated from the same location for 54 years.
One of Dana’s satisfied customers, Loretta Eller of Chandler, said she examined the company’s credentials on the agency’s Web site before having work done on her car.
"I’m always suspicious of car repair places, but when I read about them I felt very relieved," Eller said. "I was especially happy to know they are family-owned."
A survey by Marketing Associates for the agency notes that four out of five people questioned said they prefer to do business with an independent, family-owned neighborhood shop and they want to make sure the mechanics are experienced.
Janet France, co-owner of Buddy’s Alignment and Auto Repair, 8295 E. Raintree Drive, Scottsdale, said an agency listing drew several new customers.
"Most people are leery of auto repair shops," said Janet France, whose family has operated Buddy’s for 18 years. "Usually, the best advertising is word-of-mouth. Now, we’re living in the age of the Internet and this program seems to be working, especially for newcomers to the area."
Not all garages listed, however, are entirely pleased.
Gary Luther, owner for 19 years of The Car Shop, 821 W. Broadway Road, Tempe, said he has received only a few inquiries since the program started.
"The problem is there are very few newcomers in our neighborhood," Luther said. "We’ve got a lot of college students from Arizona State University, but not many of them have cars."
Jennings said that areas such as Chandler and Gilbert, are receiving more agency attention because of the larger number of new residents.