A Mechanic at Hand
The slogan of Ben’s Auto Body in Mexico, Mo., is “One Stop Shop.” The catchphrase is especially apt since the owner, Ben Steinman, added a mechanical department in 2000. After spending the first few years getting a feel for the new addition and how to promote it, the 1,500-square-foot wing of the body shop—complete with just a single mechanic—is now thriving despite a sluggish economy and providing a much faster turnaround time for customers. Eight years after its inception, the mechanical department has been well worth the investment. “It’s been a real good fit,” Steinman says.
Steinman says his decision to add a mechanical department was actually the result of location. Since his shop is located in a rural area of Missouri, he didn’t have the luxury of sending customers’ cars to a local mechanic just down the street. “I’ve talked to different people around the country, and they’ve said they have close relationships with the mechanic next door, [that they] send them business and vice versa,” Steinman explains. Not having a maintenance shop nearby was a problem. “For us, it was a handicap,” he says. “You may have a car that’s all ready to go, and the day you’re about to send it out the door, there may be a bad tire or wheel alignment, and then the car can’t go out,” he says.
—Ben Steinman, owner, Ben’s Auto Body
At the time, Steinman was scheduling maintenance on customer cars at a service shop in the nearby town—but things weren’t working out well. “We were having trouble scheduling and getting our wheel alignments done in a timely manner,” Steinman says. “When we were subletting the work, we didn’t feel like we were a priority.” That and the constant shuttling was a source of frustration. “If they noticed something was wrong with the frame, they’d send it back to us, and then it would go back to the mechanical shop. It was a lot of wasted time and motion picking up cars and bringing them back.”
Not to mention the inevitable lack of productivity. “In our area, you can kill two-thirds of a day with the car being at another shop. Two employees drop it off and bring it back,” Steinman says. “It’s a liability also in expense—two people on the road, gas, down time of not being productive.”
MAKING IT WORK
While the decision to build a mechanical department—at Ben’s it’s in a separate building from the body shop—was a logical one to better serve his customers, Steinman had to invest in some early up-front costs. “It’s a completely different breed” Steinman says of the equipment needed to run a service shop. “You need more diagnostic equipment and—depending on how many mechanics—several lifts.” Steinman spent $30,000 on two lifts and wheel alignment equipment. He spent another $6,000 on diagnostic equipment and other miscellaneous items.
Steinman says that while the average bill for a car in the service shop is less than that of a car in the collision shop, more cars go through the mechanical department on a daily basis. “Cars are in and out quicker, and the repairs bills might just be $100 or $200—but you’ll be doing multiple [jobs] a day,” he says. “The collision jobs are in there longer but are more expensive.” Steinman has a goal of making $1000 per day in mechanical repairs, and the shop typically makes this goal.
Right now, Steinman only has one mechanic working in the service shop—with no backup. That could be a problem, but so far, he says, no major issues have arisen as a result of the solo-managed service shop. “I have an excellent employee,” says Steinman, who hopes to add another mechanic sometime in the future.
If his mechanic does need a second opinion or instruction on a particular repair, Steinman says an online database of mechanical information works well. “That’s where Mitchell On-Demand comes in. You can check on differing wiring diagrams and troubleshoot if you have a misfire,” he says. “It will give you recommendations.”
As for Steinman himself, he attends mechanical courses offered through the Automotive Service Association (ASA) to keep up to date on the latest service information and to expand his automotive expertise.
LONG LASTING EFFECTS
The mechanical department has provided two-fold benefits. The most important perk for Steinman is, of course, being able to take better care of his customers. “Whenever you’re doing something in-house, you have more control. It’s a better turnaround for our customers.”
—Ben Steinman, owner, Ben’s Auto Body
Undoubtedly, the extra income has been a big plus, too. “It’s a good thing to have with the economy,” Steinman says. “It diversifies us. When the body shop slows down, the mechanical shop picks up and vice versa.”
He explains a few aspects of the mechanical shop have been especially helpful in generating more cash flow in the midst of a tight economy. Mechanical parts have a larger markup than collision ones, Steinman says, and labor rates are higher as well. “For the last 30 years, the mechanical rates were lower, but right now, the collision rate is $45 per hour and the mechanical is $58.” Up-selling has also been easier on the service side, too. “Quite often, it seems easier to up-sell the mechanical than the repair,” Steinman explains. “If it’s a safety item, they don’t ask
what it costs, they just want it done.”
The mechanical department has certainly turned into a great asset for Ben’s Auto Body. “We lost money before, and now we’re making more money,” Steinman says. “I don’t think we could function without it here.”