Shop Profile - April - 2019

Imperial Auto and Truck Service Center: Providing More Than the Customer Expects

Imperial Auto and Truck Service Center has built a reputation not just on doing great work, but by exceeding their customers’ expectations. “I, personally, do free windshield repair,” says Loren Kiner (pronounced Ky-ner), owner of Imperial. “Somebody has a chip in the windshield, I go out with the tool and I fix it. And I do it for free.

“A customer comes in with really nasty looking headlights, we recondition them while the car’s being serviced. So, when we present the car to them, they’re thrilled.”

“I had a guy come in with a Silverado; he was towed in because it wouldn’t move. We overhauled his transmission. While it was here, I had Louis, our detailer, buff his headlights out for him. When the guy came to pick up his truck, he didn’t even talk about the transmission. He talked about how his headlights looked like new and he was always concerned about that.

“My wife and I get invited to a lot of holiday parties and high school graduations from customers that come here. And the talk always turns to cars. The other night, one woman said, ‘Whenever we come in, we’re always anxious to see what you did that we didn’t expect.’

“She’d brought her car in one time and the pull handle on the door was broken. I have a plastic welder so I fixed it. She got into her car, saw it was fixed, and was overwhelmed.”

According to Loren, he provides the extra services to keep his customers coming back. “It’s not that I’m selfish, but I really don’t want to give anyone a reason to go anywhere else.”

It must be working well, because they not only come back, but they send their friends, too. “I get a minimum of eight phone calls a week from people who were referred here by others. At least eight; sometimes 20.”

A Look Back

Imperial is a full-service auto repair shop just about a mile or so off the Las Vegas Strip. It’s a large shop — 22 bays — and keeps busy all year long.

The company name is a little misleading: While they offer a wealth of repair services for its customers, Imperial is primarily a transmission repair shop. That’s where they focus most of their business. But they offer so much more.

“In 1984, I started Kiner’s Towing in Ohio. Then, in 1988, I opened Imperial Gulf, which was a Gulf station. Then I purchased an old Earl Scheib building that I turned into an auto repair center. I kept those shops going until about 1998.” That’s when Loren decided to retire. He sold his shops off, one at a time, and he and his wife moved to Las Vegas.

It wasn’t a complete retirement: “I started an inspection company where we do mechanical claims inspections for auto manufacturers and insurance companies. But as I was going in and out of shops here in the valley, I discovered that people really wanted a shop like the ones I operated in Ohio.”

So he opened Imperial in 2002. “I couldn’t sit around, and the inspections, I was actually covering four states. It had me on the road a lot and I flew to some of the inspections in small towns. Finally I just wanted to stay in one place.”

Loren got his start in the auto repair business through family. “When I was a boy, my dad had a Sunoco station. I used to go with him on Saturdays and whenever I could. So I got a pretty good jumpstart on the rest of my classmates when it came to career training. They had 40 of them sitting in one class and I had one-on-one education.”

While he spends most of his time at Imperial, Loren continues to operate his inspection company. “I have inspectors in the field doing mechanical claims inspections,” he says.

A Wonderful Experience

Las Vegas is a popular vacation town, so it’s no surprise that a substantial part of Imperial’s business comes from out of town.

“We probably do about 80% local business and 20% comes from out of town,” says Loren. And when it comes to dealing with out-of-towners, “I like to make sure they have a wonderful experience here in our town, so we try to get their repairs done as quickly as possible and get them back on the road.”

Among those services is honoring ATRA’s Golden Rule Warranty. “A lot of places hear you have a warranty issue and they put you on the back burner. We don’t do that here. We had a guy here Saturday with an ATRA Golden Rule Warranty. He brought in his warranty and I just read this guy: He was expecting a problem.

“And I said, ‘Let me have your keys and let’s look at it.’ I generated a work order and had our trans tech check it out. He found a coupler had a little crack in it. We had one, we put it in, test drove the car, and everything looked good. The guy was kind of dumbfounded… he didn’t know what to say.”

“We’re more of a family here, and we’re very welcoming. When a customer comes here, it doesn’t matter whether they’re from Henderson, Nevada, or Sheboygan, Wisconsin, I want them to leave here with more than they ever expected to receive.”

And Imperial offers a variety of warranty coverage, depending on the services they provide. For general repairs, they offer a nationwide, 2-year, 24,000-mile warranty through NAPA. And of course, when it comes to their custom-built transmissions, they offer the ATRA Golden Rule Warranty.

“I always wanted to be a place where people could get anything they need done,” explains Loren. “For example, window tinting is big here, so I have a guy who does window tinting. A customer comes in to get his brakes checked and he asks about window tinting, we can take care of it for him.

The result is that most customers who come in become regular customers. “We have a little over 90% retention,” says Loren. “And we don’t do much advertising; everything’s word of mouth.

“Right now, most of the shops in the valley don’t have a lot going on; we have over 100 cars here.

“This is a town where people expect service. We make sure we go above and beyond. And it’s paid dividends; I have 22 people who work here and are able to support their families.”

Longtime ATRA Member

Imperial has been an ATRA Member for a number of years. Which leads to one, inevitable question: Why?

“I like to protect the integrity of the business and I like to make sure that people have someone with them at all times,” says Loren. “Before I was a Member, if I did a transmission for someone in another state, and he had a problem, it was a hairball… I had a problem trying to get him helped… making phone calls and trying to protect them.

“I’d been going to the AAPEX and SEMA shows for a long time, and at one of the shows I spoke with someone from GEARS Magazine. We went over ATRA’s program and I thought it sounded great.

“We help protect ATRA’s reputation around here, because this is a popular tourist destination. We get a lot of customers in from Utah, from Arizona, from California — and they have transmission issues. So we make it a priority to show them just how strong the program is.

“A lot of times we won’t even fill out a warranty sheet. If it’s something we can take care of quickly, we’ll just take care of it.”

Being situated right in Las Vegas, it’s no surprise that Loren sends some of his people to ATRA’s Expo every year. He doesn’t get there himself every year, but “I was there a few years ago.” And there’s a good chance he’ll be at this year’s Expo at Caesar’s Palace.

Community Service

Like any good neighborhood shop, Imperial does a lot to help their community. “Every year, we’re one of the sponsors for Toys for Tots,” says Loren.

But that’s just the beginning of their involvement. “Every year we give a scholarship to a Nevada student who’s going to college in Nevada. They write a letter explaining how they hope to make a difference in Nevada, and then we read the letters and make a decision. Two years ago, it was a young woman who was going to college to be a nurse. My wife picked her because she’s a nurse.

“We sponsor probably 10 Little League and 10 Pee-Wee Football teams every year. We have all their plaques on the walls.

“Every year there’s a Baker-to-Vegas run to help support law enforcement. They run 5-mile legs, and my youngest daughter is a detective in California, so we sponsor her department.”

In addition, they work on programs and provide sponsorships within their church. All ways to help their community while keeping their names and faces out there. A win-win for Las Vegas and Imperial.

Computer Programming

One of the most common services necessary to keep today’s cars on the road and running right is being able to update the vehicle’s computer programming. All too often, a car can have a problem that has nothing to do with the mechanical side of the vehicle. It needs the latest programming to keep things working right.

That’s why Imperial has upgraded its equipment and training to offer computer programming in house. “We have all the latest software and equipment necessary to update the computer systems on nearly every car that’s likely to come by. Even Subaru software… because the nearest Subaru dealer is on the other side of town.”

Imperial Auto and Truck Service Center: A transmission repair shop that also provides a full range of general repairs, and goes a bit further when it comes to providing customers with something extra. Not much wonder that, while other shops are struggling, Imperial has a full lot. Seems like something they’ve earned.