It may be hard for some to believe in today’s digital world, that a small business can flourish for 30 years without any formal advertising.
[blockquote quote="Happy customers are your best salespeople." source="Bob Cronkhite, owner of Cronk Automotive" align="right" max_width="300px"]
But at Cronk Automotive in Richland, no website, Facebook page or Twitter account is necessary.
Owner Bob Cronkhite attributes the success to the business’ two core values: honesty and integrity.
“Happy customers are your best salespeople,” Cronkhite said. “You keep the good reputation by not selling people something they don’t need. We don’t go looking for trouble (on their cars). We’ve never relied on up-selling or nitpicking a car to death.”
Since opening the doors in 1985, his goal has been to serve people with honesty.
“It’s hard for a lot of people to feed their families and keep their cars running. People appreciate honesty,” he said. “We’re working on third generation family’s cars – the grandchildren of some of our first customers. I see it perpetuating itself and that’s just phenomenal to me.”
Though he doesn’t advertise directly, the business owner does credit Google and Yelp with increasing business through customer reviews.
“We’re getting more and more new people coming to Tri-Cities and mentioning they saw our great online ratings,” Cronkhite said.
Cronkhite semi-retired from the shop on Wellsian way across from Fred Meyer two years ago, so he no longer gets grease under his nails. But does work behind-the-scenes with his wife and he stops in weekly to check in on the shop and his employees.
Cronkhite said heavily depends on his four stellar employees to carry on the integrity of the business – offering solutions to customer’s vehicle-related problems and consistent, honest estimates.
Automotive technicians Shea Conner, Derek Rammerman and John Baylor have been at Cronk for about 12 years and are very reliable and trustworthy, Cronkhite said.
The shop’s manager and service writer, Ryan Jackson, has worked for Cronkhite for 24 years and has contributed in a large way to the automotive repair shop’s success.
“The clientele love him,” said Cronkhite.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Jackson started stopping by Cronk’s.
“He pestered and pestered me for a job,” Cronkhite said.
Then one day when Bob’s right-hand ‘man,’ — wife Chris Cronkhite was working — Jackson stopped by again to inquire about a position. Cronkhite had been working solo up to that point.
“Chris was curious about him, so I called the head of the auto tech department at Richland High. He told me that if he were looking for someone, Ryan would be the one he’d choose,” Cronkhite said.
Cronkhite offered him a job and has never regretted the decision.
“Ryan was really paying attention and is doing everything the Cronk Automotive way,” Cronkhite said. “He now runs the day-to-day business. We get employees and hold onto them for a good long time. We treat them right and they just stick around.”
Cronkhite worked at the Richland Texaco for about nine years before it closed. He built a strong clientele while there and continued working on cars at his home as needed for about a year.
He said one morning he woke up to six inches of snow on the ground in November 1985 and realized that working at his home wasn’t going in the long run.
Fred Meyer had opened on Wellsian Way about a year prior and the commercial area was developing. He noticed a “For Rent” sign in a window across from Fred Meyer. He rented the space and remains there today.
“We’re kind of off the beaten path, but it hasn’t hurt us,” Cronkhite said.
What began with just one bay on the left-hand side of the building grew into acquiring the entire building within about four years of opening. He knocked down walls, installed hoists and grew the business.
Cronk Automotive offers full automotive repair – brakes, oil changes, water pumps, belts, hoses – all of the day-to-day maintenance on vehicles. Modern technology and electrical changes to today’s cars don’t affect the business because Cronk has current diagnostic machines and the mechanics are properly trained. Most are Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified and all are trained to be honest with customers.
“We’ve given estimates of $387 and by the time we’re done, it might end up being only $325,” Cronkhite said. “People leave saying ‘Wow! Most places would’ve charged $425 when they were finished.’ We stand behind everything we do; it’s the best way to do business.”
Cronkhite believes loyal customers appreciate being treated fairly. And he appreciates them in return.
“I have made a lot of good friends over the years,” Cronkhite said. Many customers reciprocate.
Dave Pylate became a Cronk customer after moving to the Tri-Cities from Maryland 14 years ago.
“I really can’t say enough good things about them and have never been disappointed,” he said. “If something isn’t right, they’ll fix it.”
But just like a restaurant with consistently good food, said Pylate, the shop always busy.
“They’re usually crowded, but they’re honest and they only do work that is needed. They always let you know what they’re going to do before doing anything,” Pylate said. “They’re not out to take your money.”
Now they do the work on his daughter’s car as well.
“I have a relationship with them and appreciate that if they run into something they can’t fix, they aren’t afraid to refer you to make sure you’re well taken care of,” Pylate said.
And although they are busy, they can be trusted to get the work done in a reasonable time frame, said Jim Benson, another of Cronk’s loyal customers.
Benson said he has trusted Cronk Automotive with his vehicles for more than two decades.
“They do extremely good work,” Benson said. “They give an estimate and are always close to it or under the estimate. They don’t gouge you. I’ve been real pleased with their service. They have good attitudes and try to do what’s best for you.”
Cronkhite has modernized the shop’s layout a couple of times over the years to keep it as up-to-date and efficient as possible, so he can continue offering trustworthy car care well into the future.
“I never would’ve imagined 30 years later, I’d have Cronk’s in the same place and it would be as big and successful as it is,” he said.
Call Cronk Automotive at 509-946-5050 or visit them at 90 B Wellsian Way in Richland.
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