It's not just your techs

Jan. 1, 2020
Though I know it would be reasonable at this juncture to start going after those techs of ours but before we do that I think it critically important that we look at our shop process and what role leadership plays in all of this.

With the dozens and dozens of automotive repair shops and shop owners I have worked with over the years, I can say that without a doubt the most successful of these were shops that were both efficient and productive. I can also say that these shops are in a distinct minority and that the vast majority of shops are only marginally successful (viable and profitable) because they are neither time efficient nor productive. Production in the automotive world is king.

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A big mistake we often make is looking at production as a function of who we have out in the bays in our shop and too often it is us as owners and service managers that are driving production and efficiency down, all the while pushing our technicians harder because we are not generating the labor hours we need to remain viable and profitable. Good, bad or indifferent, I am going to suggest leaving those techs alone, at least long enough to understand what is driving efficiency and productivity in our shop and long enough to develop a plan and process to move it in a better direction.

Shop productivity is a measure of our ability to keep our shop fully and appropriately staffed along with our ability to maintain adequate car count from day to day, week to week and month to month. If we do not have adequate car count, there is no way our technicians can be productive. Shop productivity falls mainly on us as the owner and the service manager. It is the responsibility of the owner and the service manager to drive and maintain car count at a level that gives those techs reasonable opportunities to achieve those expectations we have laid out for them and likewise it is the responsibility of the owner and the service manager to make sure the shop is appropriately staffed to handle these cars.

Appropriate staffing would include enough techs at a cross section of skill levels and experience to handle the numbers and types of services and repairs we would expect to see. This is all a delicate balance but a technician cannot be productive and efficient until steps are taken to position our shop to be productive and efficient, until we have adequate numbers of cars and are adequately staffed.  

Though I know it would be reasonable at this juncture to start going after those techs of ours but before we do that I think it critically important that we look at our shop process and what role leadership plays in all of this.

Lead, Follow…
The leadership aspects of all this is going to have me sounding like a broken record, but the single greatest challenge to most of the shop owners and service managers I have known over the years is leadership. The truth is that most of us would rather not lead and will tend to shy away from telling our people what to do but strong and visible leadership is critical in growing and maintaining shop and technician production.

It would be great if our techs and sales staff just automatically knew what was expected of them and just did it but that is not reality. If you truly want to move your shop in a new and better direction and if you truly want to have an impact on shop and technician production, you either need to lead or you need to hire somebody that will. It’s that important and you aren’t getting there unless there is strong and visible leadership.

Who is going to set standards for excellence and make sure we are doing the things we should be if you don’t? Who is going to encourage, reward, guide and occasionally discipline our technicians if you don’t? Get over yourself and lead. There is nothing else that will assure you arrive at your goal doing the things you want as they should be done.    

The process would be our looking at how we sell, what we sell, how we pay and how we handle the invoices and cars that flow through our shop. I am not going to go into great depth here but to put it simply, we need to take a very close look at our shop and make sure that all facets of our operation are designed to promote sales and encourage production. If our counter operation and process are cumbersome or impede the flow of vehicles into and out of our shop, we have to adjust it, modify it or fix it.

If our shop process is cumbersome or in any way pulls our technicians away from generating labor, we need to reset our priorities and develop procedures that will keep our technicians doing the things they presumably do best and the things that will make us viable and profitable. Technicians are there to service and repair our customer’s cars and in this need to be focused on generating billable time. We need to do everything in our power to get out of their way in accomplishing this and pay them in ways that encourages them strongly in that direction.

According to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), when measuring our technicians we can look at productivity, efficiency and proficiency. Technician productivity is measured by the actual time worked in a day or in a week versus the number of clock hours available in that day or a week. NADA recommends 85 to 87.5 percent as a productivity guideline, since non-labor-related activities can take up significant portions of the workday.

Simply put, according to NADA, productivity is hours worked on cars divided by hours available. Technician efficiency is measured by the actual number of hours technicians take to perform the labor versus the number of labor hours sold. It's really the ability of technicians to beat a time standard published in a labor guide. Flat rate hours produced versus hours worked. NADA recommends 125 percent (factory manual) and 135 percent (non-factory manual) as an efficiency guideline. If my A and B techs are not consistently beating those labor guides I am very likely to question what value they bring to my shop table.

Finally we would look at technician proficiency. Technician proficiency is a measure that combines productivity and efficiency and compares hours produced to hours available. Proficiency provides the truest measure of a technician's time usage or billable hours produced divided by hours available. NADA recommends that technicians be 100 percent proficient all the time with peaks to 120 percent.  Proficiency is likely the most relevant measure in that it simply talks about how many hours a tech produced versus the number of hours he was on the floor.

In the real world, I would expect that my B techs be producing at or around 40 hours every week and my A techs be above that lofty goal most of the time. Being an A tech is not only having that knowledge and experience but also being able to produce those hours week after week. Measuring and managing your technicians is the first step in moving in a better direction. Set and enforce expectations for production. If you lead them in a better direction, your technicians will definitely follow.

Nine Considerations
Nine things you can do to help drive production and efficiency:

• Market appropriately and consistently to assure adequate car count from month to month.

• Adjust you counter and shop process so that it flows and does not impede production.

• Define for your techs what your expectations are for production and meet regularly to review.

• Develop a pay plan that strongly encourages and rewards production.

• Set expectation for labor sales with your service advisors and meet regularly to review.

• Implement and oversee a comprehensive inspection process that includes maintenance checks and service history.

• Sell preventive maintenance and educate your customers on the importance.

• Be willing to ask your people for more and reward them generously when they succeed.

• Lead or hire somebody to do it for you.

All of us, our service advisors, our service manager, us as the owner and of course our technicians are responsible for supporting and driving production. Our techs are certainly measured and managed based on their productivity, their efficiency and on their proficiency but all of us have an impact on what is going on out there in the bays and all of us contribute, or take away from their success. Productive and efficient shops are successful shops.

It’s 8 o’clock. How productive will you be today? 

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