Spotlight on Maude Robert and Stéphane Doré: Trusted owners!
Together for more than 20 years, Maude and Stéphane have managed to establish a collision and repair shop that stands out for its commitment to customer satisfaction, as well as its ability to maintain and repair modern vehicles. Now in their 17th year of operation as owner of SMD Mécanique, they continue to prioritize outstanding customer service, continuous training on new technologies in the automotive sector including EVs, and maintain entrepreneurial creativity to attract new employees.
Maude Robert and Stéphane Doré, co-owners of SMD Mécanique
What company do you currently work for and what is your position?
We have owned SMD Mécanique located in Saint-Charles Borromée in Lanaudière since 2007. We bought the shop from its owner who wanted to pass the torch and retire. It is a well-known business throughout the community, as an auto repair shop has been located there since 1960. We are the third generation of families to take up the torch.
Did you know you wanted to work in the auto care sector?
Stéphane: I started working as a mechanic in 1992, I knew at that time that I wanted to have my own establishment one day.
Maude: I worked as an independent hairdresser for 10 years. So, I did not always know I wanted to work in this industry, but I have always had a keen sense of entrepreneurship. I was working in an environment where customer service was at the heart of my concerns, which still applies today as co-owner of SMD Mécanique.
Where did you attend school? What is the highest level of education?
Maude: I first obtained a diploma of vocational studies in hairdressing. After buying our shop, I went looking for additional training. Stéphane trained me to be a technical advisor and I also did additional training with accounting technicians in order to be able to do our company’s accounting.
Stéphane: I started doing mechanical work at a very young age at the Garage Noel Lachance in Montreal. I learned by working, while combining evening refresher training. I also did a lot of continuous training.
How do you divide tasks as a co-owner?
We are a team of three people, soon four in the shop. Maude takes care of everything in the business that does not pertain to mechanical work such as administration, estimates, customer service while Stéphane does everything else with his team in the shop. We are truly a complementary team.
What is your biggest challenge as a shop owner in 2023?
Without hesitation, the labour shortage and the lack of staff to take over represent unprecedented challenges. Adding to this is the growing number of retirements of qualified technicians and finding people to take over. We have been recruiting for over four years, and we are trying to be creative in our approach. One thing we do as an owner is to provide the tools. We have also introduced four-day work weeks year-round.
“You have to keep an open mind to find new ways to recruit; You have to be creative” says Maude.
We also had to specialize our service offering to ensure that we could serve our customers looking for repair services. For example, we had to withdraw the rustproofing service this season and reduce the tire installation service only to our customers who came in for mechanical services.
“The situation forces us to make choices to manage our priorities, we are lucky, people understand our reality,” says Maude.
What do you think makes you stand out?
“We are good!” says Stéphane, breaking out laughing
On the one hand, we have a well-oiled machine, we run a tight ship schedule-wise and we minimize time waste. Technicians never have time to twiddle their thumbs. Many of our customers are workers so they leave us their vehicles for the day, which also allows us to improve efficiency.
Another part of our success is the customer experience we offer. Our customers are important to us, and we are also important to our customers.
What advice would you give someone either starting in the industry or looking to transition into the industry?
Being passionate. Let’s be honest, it is a difficult job, says Stéphane. Passion will help to overcome the majority of difficulties. Machinery and equipment can be intimidating at first, but trust that there will always be someone to guide and help you. There are very good career opportunities with the increase in the average age of shop owners and workers retiring.
The industry is changing! This is a profession that is increasingly valued. The cliché of “mechanics with dirty hands” is no more. There are good working conditions in the auto care industry. There is room for our young people!
What issues do you think the Automotive Industries Association of Canada should focus on and why?
Access to information is the key element and we believe that the association is well placed to help us move forward on this issue. As entrepreneurs and small business owners, we do not have the power to deal with such a situation alone.
At AIA Canada gatherings and events, I don’t feel I have to compete, we are all together and we are all walking in the same direction.
What is the biggest change or evolution you’ve noticed or witnessed since joining the industry in 2007?
The arrival of electric vehicles (EVs) brings its share of uncertainties. We are newly set up to repair EVs at our shop. Fortunately, the gradual arrival of EVs gives us time to prepare, train and adapt. We try to see this as an opportunity. We are and want to remain at the forefront of technology.
Stephane: I took my first EV course almost 10 years ago in 2014. My technician, Louis-Philippe, is currently taking the EV Skills training. After working in this industry for 30 years, I have seen a lot of changes. With the advent of EVs, yes there will be a huge change, but there will always be brakes to do, tires to change, steering and suspension to repair. It will be a while before change is felt in our shop.
“Another key component to successfully repair EVs is having access to information — without information it is complicated, if not impossible, to repair vehicles,” says Stéphane.
What inspires you most about your work or the industry?
Passion! It is important to us that guests feel at home during their visit. They are happy to have seen us and they trust what we do. We develop a relationship of trust with both our customers and our suppliers. We are proud to say that our customer service is personalized and has a very human approach.
What is your most rewarding professional experience?
Maude: I am very proud to have become a woman owner of a collision and repair shop at only 24 years old. People’s mentality has changed a lot over the years, but I still had to make my mark in this industry.
Stéphane: My most beautiful and enriching memory is that of the visit of one of my terminally ill clients. We spent an afternoon laughing and chatting, not knowing that this was his first outing in six months. When he felt good, the person he wanted to come and visit was me, his mechanic. He sadly passed away the following night in his sleep. This is one of the examples that shows that the people who come to our shop love people who have heart and it is my greatest pride. It also shows that a good mechanic is important in the lives of their customers.
About the campaign I am AIA
I am AIA aims to raise the profile of auto care industry professionals in Canada with the goal of humanizing our industry and showcasing members of AIA Canada. If you are interested in participating in sharing your story through this campaign, we encourage you to apply.