A common analogy in the automotive industry is to compare a repair shop to a hospital. A hospital has an emergency room to handle people with immediate needs and a wellness center to focus on preventive medicine. Likewise, the needs of customers at independent repair shops run the gamut from emergency repairs to preventive services.
Twenty-five-plus years ago, service facilities made most of their revenue by repairing vehicles that were "broken." Today, preventive maintenance accounts for a substantial portion of shop revenue, and maintenance services are among the most profitable work a shop can perform. Historically speaking, preventive maintenance wasn't widely recognized as a profitable business segment because vehicles weren't built as well as they are today and frequent breakdowns kept service bays full.
As vehicle technology has advanced, many traditional maintenance procedures — carburetor and ignition point adjustments, wheel bearing packing and valve and clutch adjustments — have fallen by the wayside or are performed infrequently. But in their wake, other services — fuel injection cleaning, cabin air filter replacement and transmission and brake fluid flushes — have become more important.
Promoting vehicle maintenance is a winning proposition not only for the consumer, but also for the shop. It has been proven that following a consistent preventive maintenance schedule ensures that a vehicle will perform reliably throughout its designed life with a minimum number of breakdowns.
Shops benefit from fewer breakdowns, because it is easier to schedule preventive maintenance services. In addition, a lesser skilled technician can perform maintenance services at a potentially higher profit margin. There also are no guarantees that a client's vehicle will break down locally, giving any repair shop the chance to perform the repair. And clients dealing with an emergency breakdown generally are less enchanted with the repair process, because they're forced unexpectedly to allocate time and money to repair the vehicle.
Busier, more profitable shops require their technicians to complete a comprehensive vehicle inspection sheet with every vehicle he or she services. These inspection sheets are critical to finding problems. They not only build credibility with the client, they also result in higher profits for the repair shop. Explaining the checklists to clients at the counter adds value to service offerings, gives the customer peace of mind and clearly communicates that the shop owners care about the customers and their vehicles. It also adds a sense of professionalism to a shop, an edge a lot of competitors won't have.
The days of waiting for a vehicle to break so it can be serviced are long gone. Offering and promoting complete vehicle inspections and preventive maintenance programs are the dollar and loyalty generators of today.
Chuck Hartogh is vice president and co-founder of C&M Auto Service Inc. of Glenview, Ill., and Vernon Hills, Ill., and is an ASE-Certified Master, L1 Technician. (ASA).