A look at how state-of-the-art service repair shops operate

April 9, 2018
Say goodbye to the “trade” days. We’re entering an era of true professionalism, with a culture of respect and cooperation where everyone has each other’s back.

If you’re a progressive shop owner today, your future looks very bright indeed. New opportunities are about to open up for you if you continue to maintain a positive attitude and a focused commitment to your business. 

Your prospects are in stark contrast to the fate of those who fail to prepare for advancing vehicle technology, the growing shortage of competent technicians and a new generation of educated and plugged-in consumers. Shop owners who do not keep up with the times will pay a steep price as the business landscape changes. 

Thousands of independent shops will disappear in the next few years, but I believe the ones that are left will be terrific businesses to be a part of. 

These thriving shops will typically have eight to 10 hoists, and two or three “diagnostic only” bays in a meticulously clean facility. 

Vehicle calibration services will have an impact on bay design. We’re going to see bays as wide as 32 to 35 feet that give adequate room for this specialized service. Vehicle software platforms will become the new training models as many high-end technicians transition to the role, essentially, of software analysists. 

Shops will have secure high-quality connections to the internet – both for client use in the waiting area, and for staff use in the office, back rooms and bays. 

Tablets will replace clipboards and paper. And accessing technical information, vehicle service histories and management information will all be done online. Similarly, parts ordering will be done instantly with the touch of a button instead of a phone line. 

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Shop web sites will be managed by outside firms and will be used not only for marketing purposes, but as a reference tool for clients seeking information about their vehicles. Making service appointments will be streamlined, with everyone’s calendars automatically synced and updated. 

And as your shop evolves, so will your workforce. 

Your well-paid and highly trained staff will be committed and fully engaged, with a clear understanding of your vision for the business as a whole and their role within it. 

Management and staff will establish a close, professional relationship. This will be a “career” — not just a “job” — for everyone in the shop. The business will offer them unique opportunities for personal growth and job satisfaction. Challenges will be met with enthusiasm and be rewarded with handsome compensation and financial stability. 

I believe professionalism is going to be even more necessary in tomorrow’s shop environment than it is today. The emphasis will be on developing highly-tuned management skills and ethical relationships with coworkers, clients and affiliate companies. Only suppliers that are committed to the success of the shop will have the privilege of interacting with it. This includes everyone from the jobber to the accountant to the equipment sales person to the third-party marketing company. 

Say goodbye to the “trade” days. We’re entering an era of true professionalism, with a culture of respect and cooperation where everyone has each other’s back. 

The result of this “team” approach will be greater trust and loyalty from clients, as they see how professionally their vehicle maintenance is being managed for safety and reliability. High-functioning shops will earn valuable permissions from their clients to access the full range of vehicle information available through telematics. This will allow a level of vehicle management that exceed the highest client expectations. 

The relationship between the shop and client will reach a whole new level. 

The impact on you and your staff will be dramatic. You’ll become a fully operational team, enjoying a professional wage based on the talents you individually bring to the operation. The most progressive and successful facilities will take a profit-sharing approach, where everyone benefits from the shop’s success. The days of offering a simple bonus are rapidly coming to a close. Individual bonuses tend to be a divisive force in a business. Profit sharing creates a unified team. 

As I’ve discussed before, shops will have a minimum of three labor rates. Some will have as many as five different labor rates to handle the unique challenges of advanced technology. These rates will no longer be set around multiples of an hourly wage, but will reflect the need for operational efficiencies, which affect the true cost per billed hour. This new reality will truly reward the shops that “get it” because achieving efficiencies will be the key to remaining competitive in a marketplace that requires elite skills. You have to attract those top-performing techs and compensate them fairly. Inefficient shops will price themselves out of the market. 

I believe the tension and animosity between the independent sector of the aftermarket and OE dealer will start to subside. Both sides will need each other more than ever. With future vehicles working their way up to 500 million lines of software code, the potential for more vehicle recalls is very real. High-end independents are very likely to be solicited by dealerships to give them a hand making sure consumers are taken care of in a timely manner. 

The best technicians – the ones reaching analytic specialist status – will see each other more frequently at high-end training sessions and industry conferences. This will allow them to share information more easily and build stronger relationships. These professionals will embrace a culture of continuous learning – something that is already happening in other industries and is long overdue in ours. 

Independent shop owners will also start to work more closely together, as the need to specialize in specific vehicle models emerges. The days of working on all makes and models will come to an end. The amount of information, training and tooling will be probative, forcing shops to start working together to meet market demands. This potentially is one of the most exciting changes coming to our industry. Professionalism and cooperation will reach a whole new level within the aftermarket. 

As I’ve said before, we don’t get paid for what we do. We get paid for what we know. This is the new aftermarket reality. 

Does this sound a little too farfetched for you? Well, watch out. It’s already starting to happen. 

I’m confident you’ll see – or read – about businesses that have embraced the new aftermarket within the next 18 months. Will you be one of the shops that truly excels in this new reality? Or will you be one of the unfortunate statistics that everyone will read about? 

The alarm is being sounded. Are you hearing it loud and clear? 

About the Author

Bob Greenwood

Robert (Bob) Greenwood, AMAM (Accredited Master Automotive Manager) was the President and C.E.O. of Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. (AAEC). AAEC is a company focused on providing Business Management Resources and Development for the Independent Sector of the aftermarket industry utilizing the Internet environment. AAEC content and technology is recognized as part of the curriculum of the Fixed Operations Diploma and the Aftermarket Degree courses taken at the Automotive Business School of Canada in Georgian College located in Barrie, Ontario, Canada. This school is the leader and only college in Canada that offers an automotive business education. AAEC is also recognized by the Automotive Management Institute (AMI), located in Colleyville, Texas USA, allowing 80 credits for successful completion of the AAEC E-Learning portion of the site towards the 120 credits required to obtain the reputable Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) designation. The Automotive Management Institute’s Accredited Automotive Manager designation is the first business management accreditation exclusively for the automotive service professional. To date, AMI various programs have attracted more than 212,000 enrolments throughout North America. 

Greenwood died on Sept. 9 in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, from a heart attack. He was a regular contributor to Motor Age magazine and will be greatly missed. See some of his recent work here:

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