San Franciscos Luscious Garage is an auto repair shop dedicated to innovative and transparent customer service. Yes, you read that little bit correctly. This entirely awesome garage, specializing in hybrid vehicles, that’s woman-owned and operated, has taken several radically new steps to ensure its customers leave without ever feeling ripped off.
How often is that associated with car repair shops?
Carolyn Coquillette, 32, opened Luscious Garage in 2007, in a space one-third the size of her current digs, which she moved into that space three years ago. The newer, larger space has allowed her to upgrade her amenities, which includes a spacious waiting room, containing a small library, and copies of the New Yorker.
This is Luscious. 2.0, she says.
It all ties into Coquillette’s customer service philosophy, which she attributes to her first instructor, who taught her that auto service consists of 70 percent fixing the customer and 30 percent doing the repair.
Part of fixing the customer is getting them over their prior repair horror stories. Tugging on her left earlobe, Coquillette says, I use this ear as a dumping ground for auto repair trauma tales. Then she assures these drivers that the repairs she makes are necessary, the price is fair, and their car will be returned properly fixed.
This last guarantee is especially important with hybrids. Owners bring the car in when the repair light goes on, and when you give them back the car, the only discernible difference is that the light is off.
Enter Hyspace: Luscious Garage’s most innovative customer service feature. It’s kind of like a Myspace for hybrids, according to Coquillette. The online multi-service center allows customers to make appointments, ask questions of their mechanic, see all of their service and repair records, along with test results performed on the car, and even look at photos of the broken car part alongside a shot of its shiny new replacement. Theres also a clear accounting of what everything costs.
The goal online is to be completely transparent…our records are your records, Coquillette says, pointing out that the garage lacks the customary service counter separating the customer from the mechanic.
This interactivity can take more time, but the repairs go better, she says, because the customer can be part of the process.
Dealing With the Toughest Customers
Being a female mechanic hasnt been a drawback with Coquillette’s San Francisco clientele, a mix of women, gays, and heteros. If anything, several customers, drawn to a shop that is female-owned and operated have chafed when spotting Gregory, her male mechanic, archly asking Coquillette, Who the hell is he?
The hardest customers to win over are taxi cab drivers and owners. San Francisco requires that all new taxi cabs be hybrids, so some of them naturally find their way to her garage.
The drivers see a clean, well-maintained shop, [and] theyre immediately afraid theyre getting ripped off, Coquillette says. They dont feel like they deserve this level of experience.”
Slowly but surely Coquillette says shes overcoming their instinctual objections to her, and LG now services some two dozen cabs.
Taxis all have unique ID numbers on their outsides, so I often see cars Ive serviced driving around the city, and I love that.
A clean, well-lit place for cars
Coquillette became interested in car repair ten years ago, when she couldnt fix her vehicle despite having recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in physics. It obviously wasnt applied physics, she laughs. She took car repair classes at night school in Ann Arbor and then an apprenticeship. Seven years later Coquillette moved to San Francisco, where she worked at two different shops, in Oakland and Petaluma respectively (the latter owned by a woman). With a passion for hybrids and sense that the industry was ripe for change, particularly in regards to customer service, she decided to venture out on her own.
The name Luscious dates back to when Coquillette first began fixing cars, and people kept commenting on her gender. It became a question of whether others would define me, or Id define myself, she says. Luscious became her online handle, and when she opened her garage, it was the obvious name choice.
The name also underscores her vision of a garage that is aesthetically pleasing and sustainable. Plants abound, the work area is very clean and quiet, thanks to the use of electric tools, and the place doesnt smell like an auto repair shop, Coquillette adds.
While she believes most car mechanics are honest and hardworking, Coquillette clearly relishes the garage shes created.
Sometimes we joke that we should go on sabbatical and spend a week at another shop to remember how terrible they are.
Photos courtesy of Kelly Hoffer.