The acquisition by AutoNation is a wakeup call for the retail automotive industry, said Scot Wingo, CEO of mobile repair startup Spiffy. Spiffy offers mobile repair via self-operated vans that are bright blue, and through franchised clients and white-label “digital servicing” — a play on digital retailing, said Wingo.
Since the AutoNation purchase was announced, “we are seeing an influx of requests from dealers that want to learn more about our digital servicing offering,” he said.
A serial entrepreneur, Wingo co-founded Spiffy in 2014 after launching and exiting three other e-commerce-focused startups. When e-commerce became the norm for old-school companies as well as startups, Wingo figured auto retail would follow suit.
Either dealerships will build a mobile repair service themselves or leverage someone else’s software, he said. Spiffy isn’t looking to be acquired, he added.
“Our plan at Spiffy is to build a large independent company and then go public,” Wingo said.
The Tesla effect
Based on the 2022 J.D. Power Customer Service Index study, dealership customers like the option of mobile repair. While mobile repair penetration of overall service events is still quite low, 22 percent of Tesla’s were mobile, said Chris Sutton, vice president of retail auto for J.D. Power.
Tesla’s mobile-only score in the study was 920 on a 1,000-point scale. Because mobile service usage overall is so low, there isn’t a comparable score for the industry, Sutton said. But the average industry service score in the study is 848.
Adding a mobile service offering should not only improve customer satisfaction and loyalty for a dealership, it also could help the dealership capture a larger share of repair work on older vehicles, which generally go to independent repair shops, Sutton said.
Ford backs mobile service
Mobile repair is on auto manufacturers’ radar. One-fifth of Ford’s 2,985 dealerships offer mobile repair via its Mobile Van Service, said Todd Rabourn, North America regional CX director for Ford. Another one-third are committed to doing so.
“We heard from our customers that they wanted easier, more convenient and more personalized ways to service their vehicles,” Rabourn said.
In January, Ford said it would boost support for dealerships’ mobile repair, including offsetting costs for up to six repair orders per mobile service unit each day and all pick-ups and deliveries. The payments are based on a store’s warranty labor rates, which vary by market. Ford dealerships deploy 828 mobile service vans.
Central Ford in South Gate, Calif., near Los Angeles, has offered mobile repair for more than a year, said Service Manager Rudy Benavidez. While his dealership has been struggling to find, train and retain enough mobile repair technicians, Benavidez said that when the team is fully staffed, it will enhance his bottom line — and not just because of the mobile services.
“Say they need an oil change and [the technicians] find something else,” he said. “They send it back to the dealership.”
Fleet maintenance is where Benavidez sees real opportunities for mobile repair.
“If I can take the mobile van and do three or four oil changes in one sitting, from the standpoint of productivity, that really helps out,” he said.
Bill Demaree also sees mobile repair opportunities with fleets. He is corporate director of fixed operations at Tom Wood Automotive, part of an Indianapolis-based group with 27 business operations including dealerships, tire sales and collision repair.
Tom Wood contracted with Spiffy in 2021 to use its mobile repair platform.
The group runs the Spiffy mobile repair as a separate business not tied to its dealerships out of an old Enterprise car rental building it owns.
“Our goal is to have a ‘Tom Wood Mobile Service Powered by Spiffy,’ ” Demaree said.
Spiffy vans are a benefit to the dealerships, especially on fleet reconditioning work — of which the group has a lot, Demaree said. He said a typical dealership may have one or two detailers. With Spiffy, “I have five vans who roll in and detail [a car] in one to two days,” he added.
Soon Tom Wood’s Spiffy vans will be much busier.
The company just leased a building on property at Indianapolis International Airport. Tom Wood services half the airport rental vehicles, Demaree said. With the new building, “they don’t have to leave the airport.”
The group also just launched a new mobile tire service that’s doing “really well,” Demaree said.
“It is contact-free, all done via the app,” he said. “Our team is there while [the customer] is working. They change the tire, and they leave.”