Posted: March 01, 2012
CEBA Winners: Lake Arbor Automotive
Bill Daniels Ethics in Business AwardBy Lisa Ryckman
Lake Arbor Automotive owner Dana TePoel can reduce his business philosophy to just four letters: DTRT
It’s an acronym for the heart of the company’s slogan: "We Do The Right Thing for you ... every time!"
"When everything’s going right, running a business is easy," TePoel says. "The question is, how do you act when nobody’s looking? How do you act when something goes wrong?"
Lake Arbor Auto, winner of this year’s Bill Daniels Ethics in Business Award from the Colorado Ethics in Business Alliance, opened its doors in 1992 after TePoel bought a failing Westminster emissions-testing shop. Some 12,000 customers later, his full-service auto repair business boasts 10 bays, a team of highly qualified technicians and more than $1.5 million in annual revenue.
"When you start a business, you are the business," TePoel says. "I fixed the cars, answered the phone, cleaned the place, hired technicians, did the payroll. Slowly, you grow that and try to turn it into a business that has your values."
TePoel says he spent years instituting policies and procedures about how to make tough service decisions in an honest, customer-centric way.
"Finally, I just threw my hands in the air and said, ‘Just go do the right thing.’ If we should give the customer’s money back and apologize, let’s do that," he says. "Let’s just do the right thing, whatever it is."
Lake Arbor Auto even has a line item in its financial report for DTRT costs, which generally run between $30,000 to $40,000 a year. So where does that money go?
When one customer discovered that Lake Arbor Auto had done some brake work incorrectly, he received a full refund – and a refund for the oil change he had gotten at the same time – and a thank you from TePoel for letting him know. When a brake problem cropped up while Lake Arbor technicians were doing an unrelated repair, they assumed full responsibility and fixed that, too.
"That is not only extraordinary, but in my experience with car repairs, it is unbelievable," customer Mark Espy wrote.
"Really adhering to those values in the now, in the present, feels like leaving money on the table, but you’re really not, because you’re advocating for the customer," TePoel says. "By truly helping the customer instead of trying to get the sale right now, you end up getting it anyway. It’s over a longer period of time, but at the end of that time, you’re ahead of the guy who’s all about sales."
Lake Arbor Auto’s business philosophy has gotten it noticed. Since joining the Better Business Bureau in 2001, it has won nine consecutive Gold Star awards, as well as the BBB Torch Award in 2010 and the Golden Ethics in Business Award in 2011. It’s also one of fewer than 100 Triple-A approved repair shops in Colorado. In 2010, a chapter of Sales Professionals Colorado gave TePoel its "Champions of Free Enterprise" award, which focuses on honesty and solid business practices.
"Through time, do the right thing," TePoel says, "and people catch you doing it."
Winning the Bill Daniels award is recognition of the value of being fair, ethical, honest and on the customer’s side, he says.
"It’s kind of like a validation that doing the right thing for the right reasons is not only sustainable and profitable – it’s the right way to do business."
Lisa Ryckman is the online editor at cobizmag.com.