If a customer comes into an auto parts store asking for a lawnmower engine, a reasonable response might be, “I’m sorry, we don’t carry that.” The counter pro might even point the customer to a lawnmower dealer down the street, in an effort to provide at least some help.
But that’s not how Allan Miller operates.
When a commercial customer came into Advance Auto Parts store No. 9566 in Tampa, Florida, asking for a Kohler lawnmower engine, Allan Miller told him the store doesn’t carry lawnmower engines. But he asked the customer to give him the engine specs anyway.
“He wrote everything down and gave it to me,” said Miller, the general manager at the Advance store. “I said, ‘Give me a few hours and let me do some research.’”
Miller, who will celebrate his seventh year with Advance Auto Parts in December, said he’s been doing business with this customer since he started working at Advance.
“He does auto repair, and he does lawn care on the side for a farm here in South Tampa,” Miller explained to Counterman. “The motor on one of their lawnmowers blew out, and he needed a new one. The cheapest one they found was $2,500.”
Miller, whose prior experience included management positions in Home Depot’s Lawn & Garden department, thought he might have a contact at Kohler who could help him create a commercial account. Through his contact, he was able to open a Kohler account and find the engine that his customer needed. Even with a standard markup, Miller told his customer he could get the engine for several hundred dollars less than the local lawnmower dealer that quoted him $2,500.
“[The customer] came in the next day and said, ‘Allan, go ahead and order it,’” Miller said. “I told him, ‘I already ordered it for you guys. It’s on its way here.’”
Needless to say, the customer was pleased, and paid for the lawnmower engine in cash. Earlier this month, Advance featured Miller in a “Thank-You Thursday” post on Facebook.
“Thank you, Allan, for demonstrating excellent customer service and helping our customers get the right parts at the right time,” the Facebook post says.
Because South Tampa is on a peninsula, it’s “separated from the rest of the population,” which makes the business environment extremely competitive for auto parts retailers, according to Miller. Advance store No. 9566 is sandwiched between an AutoZone and O’Reilly Auto Parts.
“We have a very limited client base,” Miller told Counterman. “ … So we have to do everything we can to not only keep our customers, but to keep winning them over.”
Even if that wasn’t the case, Miller said his approach to customer service would be exactly the same: “In all the jobs I’ve worked in retail, it’s always been, ‘Get ‘em what they want, even if you have to send them to the competitor.’”
If a customer is looking for a sale item that’s temporarily out of stock, Miller and his staff won’t hesitate to track down the item at AutoZone or O’Reilly and provide it to the customer at the sale price, he noted.
“I will do my best to get the part for you,” Miller added. “My whole team has adopted that thinking.”