Hunter officials gave me a tour of their engineering center. They showed me how the company designs, engineers, builds and tests its equipment, such as tire changers and alignment racks.
Many companies buy parts from all over and assemble them at a central location, but Hunter manufactures nearly everything in house and has near-complete control over quality.
Only a computer hard drive that is assembled in California is shipped to Hunter, and even then engineers upload the software and test it to ensure it works perfectly before shipping. Hunter management understands that unreliable equipment costs dealerships, and company officials are obsessed with ensuring high quality.
As dealers struggle to retain customers and boost profits in fixed operations, equipping a shop with dependable repair equipment has never been more important.
Hunter, of course, isn't the only innovative equipment company. Hennessy Industries Inc., which makes Coats tire changers and wheel balancers, also manufactures equipment designed to make service safer for technicians and more efficient for customers.
Other vendors also understand the importance of making reliable equipment that improves service quality and efficiency. But Hunter's product portfolio is particularly large and growing. Its laser focus on ensuring quality and eliminating operator error may be unique.
I visited a dealership that uses Hunter's Revolution Tire Changer. I watched a technician change a tire from a Chevrolet truck quickly, safely and with a high degree of automation.
Except for lifting the wheel a few inches off the ground to set it in the machine, the tech had to do little more than enter the data and monitor the mostly automated process. The old tire was off and the new one was installed and properly inflated in about two minutes.
That's a big deal. Changing tires can be backbreaking work, as tire sizes and weights have increased. Wheels as large as 22 inches are now common. And because expensive tire pressure monitoring sensors are inside the wheel as part of the inflation valve, technicians must use the proper equipment and techniques to avoid damage.
Hunter has also developed superfast and accurate wheel alignment and tire tread equipment, with time-saving aspects that dealerships can profitably market to customers.
It offers a brake rotor machine that resurfaces the discs on the car. Cool stuff.
Gary Palanjian, Subaru of America's vice president of parts and service, agrees that time is important when customers decide where to get their vehicles serviced.
Palanjian notes that Subaru hosted Hunter officials at the automaker's recent national business conference. He calls the company's latest equipment "a great idea."
"The Hunter equipment, especially the tire tread monitor, is incredibly transparent," Palanjian says. "When you see the readouts, it's like you say: "I get it.'"
Nick Colarelli, Hunter's executive vice president for engineering, says the company's r&d budget is the industry's largest among wheel service companies. Hunter's growth will be fueled by innovative new products, he says.
During my visit, I suggested that Hunter develop an air gun for lug nuts that automatically tightens them to the proper factory specifications for torque. Many techs today use air guns and waste time by putting the nuts on as tight they can.
Hunter executives wouldn't give me specific information about their future products. But they smiled and nodded at my idea.
Here's the bottom line, dealers: As you buy new equipment for your shop, think about your customers. You might pay more for an advanced tire changer from Hunter, Coats or another supplier. But your throughput -- with creative marketing -- is likely to increase as customers' cars are serviced faster.
Remember, most of your customers can make more money. But no one can make more time.