Trust. It’s the number one reason consumers are reluctant to get work done on their car, even if they know something is wrong. And that is where Karolena Serratos comes in.
Karolena is a second-generation owner-operator of Professional Auto Care at 9916 Honeywell in the Brays Oaks Management District. She takes the same approach to auto care that her father, Everardo Serratos, took upon opening the business in 1983.
Their strategy was to build trust by sharing their knowledge of cars and car parts with their customers and giving simple-to-understand explanations for repairs needed.
Growing up at the business while both parents worked there — dad in charge of the shop and repairs, and mom Claudia managing the office— Karolena knew from an early age that she loved the world they built and wanted to make it her life’s profession.
“I watched the techs working on cars, and was helping my mom with work orders and paperwork, and I knew this was what I wanted to do from the age of five or seven,” Karolena explained. “My dad was discouraging me as he did not feel like a job getting dirty was a business for a little lady.”
Karolena paid attention throughout her childhood, handing her dad tools, figuring out how things work, and getting a hands-on education. She watched her mom handle the business end of things and “found ways to play” along with her two siblings while spending time at the business rather than being left in the care of babysitters.
Her siblings eventually went in other directions: a sister pursuing a PhD in philosophy at the University of Hawaii and a brother who moved up north and became a lawyer.
Karolena was the only one who wanted to stay in the business.
“I always loved the place, even through high school, I knew it was what I wanted to do – come into this business,” Karolena said. “I was always sure about that.”
Her father was not yet in agreement and asked that she go to college first. Karolena went to the University of Houston and earned a bachelor of business administration degree in entrepreneurship and supply chain management.
That education brought the business to a whole new level.
“There I learned about the supply chain and process management,” Karolena said. “I was able to put pen to paper to figure out costs.”
When she finished college, she continued to work at the business and set out to put standard processes in place such as checking people in and out, ordering inventory, and working on communication skills.
Computers and related technology became the next phase of the business.
The customer loyalty her father developed was the foundation in gaining the trust of customers by explaining repair details. Karolena even shares photos with customers to show the part that needs replacing, and she thrives on happy customers. The business prides itself on sending email updates to customers, providing repair cost estimates that are easy to understand and using only quality parts and fluids.
Along with her father, Karolena developed their trademarked “Service Smart” motto. For a yearly fee, certified technicians thoroughly evaluate a vehicle for repairs needed now and possibly in the future. For example, they let customers know how much life is left on tires and other parts. This helps customers plan how to best maintain their vehicle and budget for future repairs.
Initial service in this program has a first-year fee of $149.98 and $74.99 for each subsequent year,
“We don’t want customers to wait until something is broken,” Karolena said. “This way, there are no surprises ahead and we can give our customers peace of mind.”
While father and daughter are still partners, these days Karolena is in charge of the entire physical operation, with her semi-retired father mostly staying home and consulting remotely when needed. They still work on their own cars together in their off hours as their hobby.
Karolena is a certified ASE mechanic and employs two other mechanics, including Michael Campos, who has worked there for 17 years since age 17 and is now a master mechanic.
As a rare breed, a female certified auto mechanic, Karolena is the go-to media person when radio shows and local news outfits need an expert opinion on vehicle repairs.
She also writes a blog on the businesses’ website. The “Maintenance is a Must,” blog reviews updates, goes over vehicle safety recalls and otherwise educates on car repair.
She is seeing long-time customers return again and again, with second and third generations of customer families coming from all over Houston.
Service is by appointment only.
Professional Auto Care
9916 Honeywell St, Houston 77074
— by Arlene Nisson Lassin