Dave and Jan Kettle made profitability the center of their business at Quality Mobile Fleet Services in San Diego.
“We started with the idea that we would do light-duty tasks on heavy-duty trucks,” Dave told a room full of shop owners at Fullbay’s first Diesel Connect conference in Phoenix.
And it’s working.
The business, just five years old, did a million dollars in business in its second year and just moved to an 18,000-square-foot shop with a lot outside. They do in-shop business now as well, but mobile is still at the heart of their company.
“Mobile is whatever you want it to be,” Dave says. “Mobile isn’t necessarily emergency services.”
That profitability stems from boundaries. The Kettles set up iron-clad processes and procedures to protect both technicians and their business.
Quality Mobile Fleet Services doesn’t do tires – “I have tiny mechanics,” Dave says – and they don’t carry a lot of parts. Nor do they service owner/operators or let drivers or dispatchers diagnose their own vehicles – “The customer is never right,” Jan says. This way, they avoid putting on a new starter when the issue was a loose wire.
When the company can’t or won’t handle a certain issue, they hand business off to another vendor. Those tires? They go to a shop around the corner.
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Relationships, like the one with the tire vendor, play a critical role in Quality’s success. They also built a friendship with insurers and catch business that way. And once you rescue a stranded truck, Dave says you have a perennial customer.
“There’s an opportunity cost that you can’t convey in marketing and advertising,” Dave says. “When you go out and rescue someone, after they kiss you on the mouth, they bring you their truck. They’re customers for life.”
Mobile jobs are paid on the spot. The technicians aren’t off the clock until the bill is paid in full, meaning the longer payment takes, the more it’s going to be. Technicians are urged to keep themselves safe and respect the drivers, and demand the drivers respect them in turn.
“We always put safety first and tell our mechanics that they are worth more than that repair,” Dave says.
Dave tells a story that a responding technician once found a driver in the cab completely naked. When the tech asked them to put clothes on, the driver responded he didn’t tell the technician how to dress in their house, and he wasn’t going to listen to someone tell him how to dress in his house.
The truck ended up being towed to the shop. When the driver got out of the cab still in his birthday suit, the technician said, “OK, now you’re in my house, and here we wear clothes.”
The Kettles say their mechanics are engaged in their business and take pride in what they do. “‘We could set you up a bay, would you be happy with that?,’“ Dan says. “Oh, hell no, they’re a mobile mechanic and they take pride in that. We can do what we do anywhere and anywhere the need is.”