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Service With a Smile in the Comfort of Home : Consumers Find Groceries, Clothes, Auto Repair Just a Phone Call Away


At 6:14 a.m., a busy executive hears a frightful screech from under his car hood. With a quick telephone call, he arranges to have the broken water pump repaired in his driveway.

Mobile auto repair service is just one facet of a burgeoning industry as a new crop of service-minded entrepreneurs bid to offer convenience, person-to-person attention and solutions to frantic schedules.

A home-service business' staying power depends on aggressive marketing, shrewd budgeting, consistent quality, word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business, according to workers in the industry.

Persistence and genuine hard work often tip the balance toward success. Maintaining good customer relations appears to be critical: with added fees, home service may not top the customer's priority list.

Here's a sample of the hundreds of firms in San Diego's home-service sector:

Door-to-Door Sales

The granddaddy of home service, Fuller Brush Co., is pushing 80 years old. In the early days, Dad Fuller peddled his custom-made brushes door-to-door. Today, in addition to brushes, the company catalogue features soaps, cleaners and other home-care products, which range from 69 cents to $20.

"Once people know our products, they get used to quality," boasted Lauri Johnson, a Vista section leader for Fuller. Marketing is a matter of "acquainting people with our products."

Johnson touches base regularly by phone, follows up on leads, alerts customers to sales, delivers orders and guarantees customer satisfaction. Her deliveries average 150 orders every two weeks to thousands of clients.

At-Home Shopping

Steve Pasas of Golden West Market in El Cajon set up his computer-based home grocery delivery more than a year ago by piggybacking the service onto his existing retail market.

"You need the support of an established store," said Pasas, whose East County customers include the elderly, shut-ins, young mothers, the disabled and working single mothers.

For a $4 fee, their grocery order is filled and delivered to the door during a specified time.

The biggest challenge, according to Pasas, is "reeducating people to use a different medium."

Golden West customers look up code numbers in a 145-page catalogue containing 5,700 items, including meats, fruits, vegetables, frozen foods and non-food items. Orders average $80, although there is a $20 minimum.

Now comprising 20% of its business, Golden West's delivery service is mushrooming.

"I anticipate it doubling this year," Pasas said.

What Pasas does for food, personal shoppers do for clothes, offering advice about colors, styles, accessories, cosmetics and shoes.

Department stores such as Broadway, Saks 5th Avenue and Nordstrom offer personal shopping services, often at no charge.

Ellen Haack, one of three personal shoppers at the Nordstrom store at Horton Plaza, suggested that customers turn to a personal shopper because of their own time constraints, an intense dislike for shopping or a need to change their image.

People may also need someone to show them how to create a put-together look.

"Until we suggest it, many people have never thought of wearing certain colors or outfits," said Haack, a veteran in the clothing and textile industries.

While more of her consulting takes place at the store, Haack will go to the client's home under special circumstances--illness, lack of mobility, scheduling conflicts or an important event such as a wedding.

Recently, Haack dashed to the Hotel Inter-Continental with three dress choices for a conventioneer whose garment had been ruined in transit.

To a customer homebound with severe arthritis, Haack sent a selection of shoes in the appropriate size and color. Beyond the price of the shoes, the customer paid only shipping charges for returning those shoes not selected.

Men represent 25% to 35% of Haack's customers, and she helps them spruce up their often conservative image.

"Men's clothing choices are limited," she said. "We do a lot with shirts and ties, pale pink or yellow; maybe a paisley tie. When we get to casual clothing, we can really have fun." Haack also handles Nordstrom's free gift-shopping service.

Mobile Vehicle Repair

La Jolla-based Snyder Auto Care is one of several San Diego mobile repair services. Owner Terry Snyder specializes in air conditioning and electrical diagnosis on cars, vans, buses, earthmovers and recreational vehicles, but also tackles other problems.

Some corporations--such as M/A Com-Linkabit--contract with Snyder for service on the company's fleet of cars. For a house-call diagnosis, Snyder charges $30, but he attempts to keep costs in line with going rates and gives a year's guarantee on all work.

Frustrated by what he perceived as a general incompetence in auto repair, Snyder began his personalized approach to auto repair four years ago, convinced that home service was the wave of the future.

Snyder believes in consumer education and invites clients to watch him work, explaining with sketches how a carburetor works or how to assess brake wear.

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