Smart Girls Just Know
|by Fran Joyce, September 2012|
Career paths are sometimes just paths. They meander here and there often changing course before finding their final destination. This is true for Lynn Belliotti who serves as the secretary/treasurer, office manager, and marketing manager for Chuck’s Complete Auto Service, a business started forty years ago by her husband Chuck.
Some little girls want to be nurses or princesses when they grow up, but Belliotti knew from an early age that she had a passion for trucks and cars. At her dad’s construction company, Belliotti learned to drive dump trucks, and operate bulldozers and back hoes. Not only that, she helped her dad with routine maintenance and repair of those vehicles.
When Belliotti got to high school, she wanted to take auto-shop and become a mechanic, but girls weren’t allowed in the program. Not interested in following her school’s socially proscribed career path for women, she pursued other options in tech school. Belliotti studied drafting, mechanical engineering, and civil engineering, before deciding to work in the civil engineering field.
While working for a civil engineer, one of Bellioti’s friends, the owner a towing service, had an opening for a driver. Bellioti convinced her friend to teach her how to operate the tow truck. For Bellioti, it was like riding a bicycle, all those years driving construction vehicles around the yard came flooding back. Bellioti got her license and started driving a tow truck.
While driving for AAA, Bellioti routinely delivered vehicles to area garages. One of these garages was Chuck’s Complete Auto Service in Upper St. Clair. When the shop needed a new tow truck operator, Chuck convinced her to come to work for him. Six years later, they were married, and Bellioti began to help with the daily operations of the business in addition to driving the tow truck.
“At first, I helped with bookkeeping, splitting towing duties with Chuck. Gradually, as I took on more responsibility around the shop, I had less time for driving the tow truck,” she recalls. In 1992, she stopped driving, took over most of the office work, and began to help her husband find creative marketing strategies to maintain and expand their customer base.
“It’s not the work I imagined I would do at an auto repair shop, but I am able to be involved in so many different aspects of the business that it suits me well,” explains Belliotti. Belliotti employs a three prong approach to marketing. This entails soliciting new business, maintaining their existing customer base, and community service.
“I didn’t study business or marketing in school, so I had to learn on the job. Ideally, marketing should expand our customer base,” says Belliotti, “without sacrificing our quality of service. If I send out too many postcards for a promotion, it might attract so many new customers that we can’t accommodate our regular customers’ needs. One of the first things I learned about marketing is that it is a balancing act.”
Reputation, word of mouth, and a great location play a large role in their marketing success. “The grandchildren of some of Chuck’s first customers come to us with their cars,” says Belliotti proudly, “but to succeed in today’s competitive market you have to stay current. We needed a website. We turned to Customer Link for help developing our website. I monitor the site, and design our coupon specials, but they maintain the site for us.”
Three times a year, Belliotti publishes a customer newsletter featuring tips on auto care, service coupons, and a $25.00 gift certificate for customer referrals. She and Chuck attend conferences for small businesses and auto industry conventions to learn the latest marketing techniques.
“When I looked at what we were doing, something seemed to be missing. I wanted our business to give back to the community, and I wanted to involve our customers in some way,” explains Belliotti. After listening to Make a Wish stories on a local radio station during the Christmas holidays, Belliotti was inspired to help.
“A typical wish takes about $ 3,400.00,” says Belliotti. “We decided to donate $ 2.50 from every state inspection to the Make a Wish Foundation. If we ever fall short of the $ 3,400.00 wish amount, we will make up the difference. Our customers enjoy knowing that they are helping someone just by getting their yearly inspection.”
“We are also a collection site for Cell phones for Soldiers and New Eyes for the Needy. Donated cell phones are turned into calling card minutes for our service men and gently used eyeglasses and sunglasses are given to those in need. In addition, $1.50 from select maintenance services is donated to The Wounded Warrior Project.”
When Belliotti isn’t busy working at the shop, she stays active. “I’ve always loved being active. Chuck and I play sand volleyball once a week. When I turned 42, I decided to take skating lessons, and I talked Chuck into joining me. My previous skating experiences were limited to once around the outdoor rink in South Park, then off to get hot chocolate,” she laughs.
“After the eight week class, Chuck was done, but I took a Learn to Play Hockey class at the Iceoplex in Southpoint. I started playing forward on a men’s team. Later I learned defense, and I began to alternate positions. Finally, I found some women’s teams. I started with Mothers of Hockey, and eventually I found myself in goal. Now, I’m the full-time goalie for a women’s travel team. We go to St. Louis, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. We recently attended an over 50 tournament in Florida!”
When she’s not dodging pucks or setting up the perfect spike, Belliotti enjoys visiting their seven granddaughters. She and Chuck travel to Phoenix to be with family every year. When asked if any of the girls would follow in grandma’s footsteps and become a tow truck driver, she laughs. “The girls are more into shopping and pretty shoes than cars, but they are all gifted athletes. Recently, several of our granddaughters competed in the Junior Olympics in Race Walking and Turbo-mini javelin.”
Belliotti doesn’t seem too disappointed that her granddaughters don’t share her passion for cars and trucks. “The girls have so many more opportunities than I did, and they will find their own career paths,” she adds. I can’t help but think that’s she’s right because smart girls just know.