One OF the hassles of car ownership is having to service it every 5,000km. Auto service centres — more commonly known as workshops among Malaysians — are a common sight in the country.
Almost every neighbourhood has a traditional auto service centre, and bigger towns usually boasts specialist workshops catering to specific car brands.
However, despite the growth in numbers, auto service centres seem to be frozen in time. Most are dusty, greasy and badly lit, without so much as proper waiting area.
Some invest a small fortune to ensure customers are comfortable while waiting. Air-conditioned rooms equipped with flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi are not a rarity in such places, but the overall experience still not fantastic.
Things may be about to change. One company, Citicars PLT, has taken the bold step of opening up auto service centres in malls across the Klang Valley with the aim of changing the overall customer experience for people getting their cars serviced.
Conceptualised by Michael Liu, Citicars Auto Servicing wants to be a one-stop “lifestyle vehicle servicing and repair outlet”. It intends to provide customers with convenient and affordable vehicle service.
“Regular car servicing and maintenance is a necessity but most people dread the experience. People don’t want to wait around and do nothing. We want to change that,” says Liu.
Citicars’s first outlet, located in Sunway Pyramid opened its doors in May last year. The company quickly expanded by opening a second outlet in Gardens Mall, Mid Valley City just two months later.
The rapid expansion plan did not just stop there. They added two more outlets in Empire Subang and City Square Johor Baru, showing that Citicars means business. Another outlet has also been added in Paradigm Mall, Petaling Jaya.
“We want to be a market leader in the lifestyle servicing and repair industry in terms of outlet distribution in convenient locations,” says Liu.
“Who does not like malls? Why don’t you spend your time at the malls while getting your car serviced? Go shopping, dine, go for a movie, buy your groceries or simply enjoy quality time with loved ones in the shopping mall and, after that, you can conveniently drive home safely in your fully serviced and reliable vehicle,” adds Liu.
Starbucks of auto-servicing
Most auto service centres are still operated by sole proprietors or car companies. Citing the example of coffee shops, Liu says Citicars cater to a very specific market segment.
“If you look at Starbucks, they cater to a very niche market and coffeeshops have regulars as well. Customers have their preferences, and they go where they like.
“We operate under the same principle. We may not attract the customers who are comfortable going to their regular mechanic whom they have known for the past 10 or 15 years, but there are those who will choose our service,” says Liu.
Looking at the younger demographic that frequents malls, one would say that Liu has a very strong business model as the numbers seem to be in his favour.
According to the Malaysian Automotive Association (MAA), last year’s total industry volume reached 666,465 units, a slight increase from 2013’s 655,793 units. With the number of new drivers continuously rising, Citicars is banking on the right segment.
Pricing is a key issue as real estate within malls can be costly. Liu assures customers that all servicing is conducted in an open and area.
“Our customers can be assured of fair pricing, work quality, top-quality lubricants and genuine original parts,” says Liu.
Hoping to open 30 more locations by June next year, Liu sees opportunity across Malaysia and will be working with partners to achieve his target.
“We are looking for partners to help us expand. With an investment of between RM200,000 and RM400,000, one can open up a Citicars service centre in a mall in their town,” says Liu.
Liu says Citicars, which services about eight cars a day in the Klang Valley, still faces some teething issues in its effort to grow the business.
“Staffing is a key issue, but we are working with automotive colleges to get the right people on board. Citicars is the perfect platform for graduates in the field of automotive engineering. Our concept allows our employees to grow,” says Liu.
Customer concerns about pricing are another issue. According to Liu, many potential customers think that because Citicar auto service centres are located in malls, they are probably more expensive than your average workshop.
“To be honest, we have to price ourselves competitively if we want to grow. Therefore, our pricing has to be on par with our competitors in normal locations,” says Liu.
If Citicars can replicate the success of car washing services that moved into malls several years ago, they may just strike gold with their business model.