Edmonton auto shop's unique, pay-it-forward business model helps those in need
Published Tuesday, April 16, 2013 5:07PM MDT Last Updated Tuesday, April 16, 2013 6:52PM MDT
Car repairs can get costly and for many, having a vehicle break down can have a huge impact on everyday life and mean the difference between buying food and paying bills.
But an Edmonton auto shop is hoping to change that and give back to the community through its pay-it-forward business model, offering car repairs based on what customers’ can afford.
Chris Ferland with Good News Auto says his unique business model gives customers described as ‘the working poor’ discounts ranging from five to 50 per cent off a person’s bill through the company’s ‘JumpStart’ program.
“Sometimes a lot of people are just one repair away from not being able to pay their rent or mortgage, so that’s the people we’re focusing on,” Ferland said.
The JumpStart program is described as offering a boost, a helping hand, or ‘jumpstart’ to customers based on income and circumstance.
Ferland says a little more than half of his sales are through regular, competitive market business.
He then uses those profits to subsidize repairs for people identified as being in need – through the JumpStart program.
Ferland says he and his wife put applicants through a stringent application process in order to qualify for a discount.
They go over clients’ financial records, bank statements and paystubs to decide how much that person can afford to pay.
“That way we can go through and we can see, okay, this person really doesn't have any money or this person seems to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken or Wendy's or whatever and they’re always doing debit transactions so maybe we can teach them a bit better how to budget their money so they can in turn be able to save for their repairs,” Ferland said.
Partnership with the community
Edmonton mother Sonia Andino says her only vehicle is an unreliable truck that wouldn’t even be working if it weren’t for the help of Ferland and his company.
“I was desperate, I was like, I need to fix my car, I have a daughter,” Andino said.
“Everyone’s failed me and they (Good Auto News) were amazing.”
Good News Auto aims to give about a 20 per cent rebate to customers who qualify.
Ferland says that is the typical profit margin of an auto shop.
The shop partners with some churches and businesses who top up Ferland’s contribution based on each case.
“There’s an entire process that people walk through to ensure that money is going to the right place for the right reasons,” said Wade Payton, associate pastor with the Sherwood Park Alliance Church.
“When families are in need, we believe it’s our call as a church, that God has given us opportunities and resources to help people who are in need and Good News Auto is one of those avenues where as applications are made for help, we look at it and assess it and if we can help, we will.”
'I think it's my job to pay it forward'
Ferland says he is inspired to give back because of how he was helped during rough times in years past.
“Chances were given to me and people believed in me,” he said.
“I think it’s my job to pay it forward, to help people who need help. I think we’re all kind of responsible for that.”
Ferland says Good News Auto has helped more than 50 people get their vehicles repaired at a discount in the last few months.
The first four months of the JumpStart program saw the company thousands of dollars in the red, but now the unique business model has picked up and Ferland says Good News Auto is starting to turn a profit.
Andino qualified for a rebate on car repairs but decided to take Ferland up on his offer of interest-free payments instead.
“I did apply for JumpStart but at the end of it, I told them, just because I know there are other people who are less fortunate than I am, I’d rather them save that money for somebody else who really, really needed it,” Andino said.
“I told them I’d have no problem if they could work with me and I could give them in payments if they trusted me enough I could pay it off like that, and they said yes.”
'We're just going on a leap of faith'
Ferland says when he offers payment programs, he’s solely basing it on trust.
“We probably have about a half dozen that are outstanding payments that are being paid on a regular basis, zero interest,” Ferland said.
“(It’s) based on trust and gut feeling… There's always going to be people who will try to take advantage of the system and we're just going on a leap of faith that it's not going to happen too much.”
Andino says she’s thankful Ferland took a chance with her.
"We really had no money so I was giving them 40 dollars, 60 dollars,” she said.
“They just care for you so much. It’s not just a job to them. They care so much about actually fixing your vehicle, making sure it works well for you and they just put their heart and soul into it.”
Offering discounts on repairs isn’t the only good will that Good News Auto offers.
The company also puts on financial workshops and car care clinics as another way to help customers.
With files from Laura Lowe