Shop Operations and the Status Quo

Jan. 1, 2020
One of my least favorite things in the whole world is to

listen to an automotive repair Shop Owner or
Service Manager whine about how bad things are.

One of my least favorite things in the whole world is to listen to an automotive repair Shop Owner or Service Manager whine to me about how bad things are and how desperate he or she is to move in a better direction and how when I would make a suggestion toward that lofty place of automotive viability, I am instantly awash in great reasons (excuses) as to why we couldn’t possibly make “that sort of drastic change”. Shut up! I just don’t want to hear it.

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With the average age of cars at an all time high and with Americans more dependent on their cars than they have ever been, you are going to sit there and cry and whine about how bad things are but are determined to do the same things just as you have always done them and worst of all, you have some misguided expectation that things are going to get better; that cars are going to suddenly overrun your lot and customers pile up at your counter and throw money at you for the honor of having you work on their cars. What do you think; this is the 80s or something?

I have had the honor and pleasure to work with some pretty incredible shop owners over the years and if I could share a secret to their success it would be in never being entirely satisfied with the status quo. It wasn’t enough something worked, it had to work extraordinarily well and even then these owners would find ways to make it better. It sounds like an awful lot like work but truthfully it is like doing the maintenance on your car. Rather than risking that catastrophic failure, you bring your car in periodically and if you are diligent about it that car can last nearly forever.

Your shop is no different but it takes that consistent attention and maintenance to make that happen and to assure that viability. The great owners and managers I have known over the years were relentless in the pursuit of excellence and never satisfied with “good enough”. These were the guys that rather than dive for cover when the economy started heading south four or five years ago, made themselves more visible, not less as many among us did and benefitted from being out there and visible when customers were looking for that friendly port in a storm. These were also the guys that changed with the changing market place and not only survived the greatest economic downturn in nearly 80 years but in most cases set new sales records, expanded their operations and picked up a great many new customers.

I can guarantee that every one of these owners was worried about where the market was headed but rather than stand behind their counter whining about it, they went out and attacked their market, upgraded their staffs, looked for training opportunities, marketed more than ever and laid out a bigger, shinier welcome matt. Through all of the economic turmoil of the past several years, this group of owners raised their expectations for their shops and for their staff members, not lowered them and though it has been a lot of hard work and long hours, they have benefitted from the effort.

There is no doubt that keeping your head is easier than attacking the challenges and obstacles that are out there but you are unlikely to see what is coming at you, risk or opportunity, and rather than being surprised and overwhelmed by whatever chance would throw your way, being up and striving and going after it will at least give you the opportunity to see what is coming at you and the time to change and to react and survive and maybe even flourish.

 Set customer experience as the number one priority of your shop, and not only talk that talk, but walk that walk. Insist on it, set high standards and celebrate the successes.

  • Instead of assuming that things are okay with your customers start surveying them and find out the things you do well and the things you need to improve on.
  • Hire the right people, set high standards, insist on attainment and celebrate the successes.
  • Tie all compensation to performance and pay generously for excellence.
  • Tech productivity is king! Set high standards and expectations. Develop a process that supports production. If you get out of the way and free up your technicians to work, they will amaze you with what they can accomplish.
  • Instead of letting cars pass through your shop without checking maintenance history and inspecting the vehicles you are seeing, develop a vehicle inspection process and begin to talk to your customers about what you are seeing.
  • Instead of ignoring staff training needs, develop a training plan for both your technicians and sales staff, even paying for it and providing incentives. This is good for you, good for your staff members and good for your customers. Highlight and publicly celebrate training milestones.
  • Look at the profit structure within your shop and rather than striving to be the cheapest guy in town, develop a profit model that supports your business, your staff compensation and that makes you price competitive while still being able to pay your bills. Build value into your various services. Customers hate high prices but are very willing to pay for value. Bring the value and you will profit.

For many years now I have written about leadership and the importance of you, as the Shop Owner or as the Service Manager, taking the business in the direction you would have it go and to stop allowing the business to drift aimlessly and without direction or mission. The one and only difference between you and the great owners I described above is they make a great living in asking their people for the extraordinary and you, or at least a lot of the Shop Owners out there, make a moderate living not asking for anything at all. I am ashamed to say how few technicians out there even know what is expected of them or how to spell success. I see and talk to way too many Service Advisors who have no idea what is expected of them and who remain untrained and oblivious for years. Too many of you work brutally long hours and have nothing to show for your efforts but a bad back and a hand full of bills.

After these many years, there is no doubt that setting out to ask for something different and better from our people would be a scary proposition but I am guessing that if it is between survival and doing the same things, you would choose to survive. Making a decision like this takes courage; there is no doubt about that. Unfortunately too many of the owners I have known over the years were not likely to make changes unless they were literally feeling the pain and suffering a deep crisis. It doesn’t have to be like that. The day you decide on getting better and on something other than the status quo is the day you begin that journey toward excellence. You may not arrive at the lofty destination but your efforts in that direction start paying today. If you are not willing to change, adapt and try new paths toward success, I am guessing you have made a decision toward something other than automotive excellence.

Change is not your enemy, the status quo is!

In “The Hollow Men” T S Elliot, a great American born poet described a likely ending:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.