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Entrepreneur Interview: Matt Curry Keeping Ahead in the Auto Repair Business and Being Social

by Shashi Bellamkonda on March 26, 2012

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Curry's Auto Service

I’ve discovered Curry’s Auto Service, a local small business that carries on a conversation extremely well with the community and customers via a blog, Facebook, and Twitter. They even take pictures of cool customer cars and post them on Twitter!

Curry’s Auto Service has locations across Northern Virginia and Maryland, making it one of the area’s largest independent auto repair companies. Curry’s has been honored by Inc. Magazine as one of America’s fastest growing companies, chosen by Motor Age magazine as the Top Shop in America, and certified as “Female Friendly” on AskPatty.com.

I asked Matt Curry to explain the secrets of entrepreneurship and how social and online marketing are working for their business:

1. What’s the story behind your entrepreneurship at Curry’s Auto Service?

Integrity . . . responsiveness . . . customer empathy . . . staff loyalty. These are words that never come to mind when thinking about the auto repair business. “Why isn’t there a place where the DC area’s most demanding consumers can get a Ritz-Carlton–like experience for their cars?” This is the question that occurred to me at the age of 15 at my first job changing tires at a Northern Virginia tire shop.

In 1997, my wife Judy and I cobbled together $360,000 in credit cards, loans, and our entire life savings to open the first Curry’s Auto Service shop in Chantilly, Virginia. We now operate nine stores across Northern Virginia and Maryland, with a 10th to open in the summer of 2012.

I’ve tried to think about what might initially seem like significant obstacles in life and business as merely “speed bumps” and to make nontraditional but calculated risk/reward decisions along the way. For example:

  • While my friends headed to college, I was working towards my goal of owning an auto repair business. I understood the value of education, but my heart and head were already focused on my career—and working simply provided a faster path to becoming an expert than going to college.
  • On a personal level, since childhood I’ve had issues related to attentiveness and hyperactivity, so I learned to capitalize on these challenges by converting my energy into new approaches to age-old business problems—and multitasking towards a solution.

2. What offline community events do you hold? Workshops, open houses . . . ?

Community engagement is one of our biggest strengths, actually. We hold educational events like car clinics for women as well as racing events. In terms of community support, we’ve donated time and resources to over 55 national and regional charitable groups, churches, parent-teacher associations, and youth athletic clubs. Just a few of these include:

  • In 2006, I took a two-year leave of absence from Curry’s Auto Service to raise $209,000, with which we launched Dulles South Youth Sports (DSYS), which now serves more than 1,600 area children and teens.
  • I also serve on the Board of Directors of Final Salute, an organization that provides housing and medical support for female veterans.
  • Curry’s Community Test Track Fundraising Program, which enables local communities and charitable organizations to raise cash through sales of a Curry’s-specific discount offer.
  • Joe Gibbs’ Youth for Tomorrow, which provides education, counseling, and homes to help disadvantaged youth become responsible members of society.
  • Food for Others, which provides free food to unemployed and low-income families.
  • The Tigerlily Foundation, which provides breast cancer support, education, and advocacy.
  • The Wounded Warrior Project, which provides programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members.

3. Curry’s Auto Service has a blog, and you show remarkable thought leadership on it. What has the customer feedback been like?

The feedback on my blog, A Dash of Curry, has been great. Customer service is something we all complain about when it’s bad and appreciate when it’s good—so there is some great discussion around that, from the car business to the Redskins. I also don’t think people are used to hearing about the real side of a business like auto repair—“warts and all” as they say. But we have always run an open business—every employee can see our financial goals and performance—so the blog is really an extension of that open approach to business.

4. Has Curry’s interaction with social media helped your business? Can you give 3 to 4 online marketing tips to other business owners?

Social media has definitely helped us engage with our customers and the community in general. Curry’s has been using social media for years, including using our Facebook page to promote special offers to our fans and to gather feedback on our service—whether good or not so good.

In the beginning, I was amazed at the fact that people would take the time to follow us online much less interact with us. But if you have a good business and the right approach to customer feedback, social media shouldn’t be anything to fear. That’s why Yelp and Google Local have been great for us. Because we do a good job and, when things break (which they always do in the auto repair business!), we have nothing to hide. So my main advice to other businesses is that the world is becoming more transparent, and companies need to adapt.

Secondly, invest in monitoring your reputation online and respond proactively. We mine for conflict—you can’t shy away from frustrated customers, which in auto repair comes with the territory. The other advice related to social media is “ABL,” or “always be learning.” You probably won’t find the right formula for using social media on day one, so be patient, listen to customers, look at the data every week, and make adjustments. And good things will come.

Image courtesy of Curry’s Auto Service on Flickr.

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