Modern tools and equipment what fuel is to an engine. As fuel has great energy potential, equipment has immense profit potential. But unless a reliable spark ignites the fuel, it does no work and its potential energy is wasted. Likewise, shop equipment's profit potential is wasted unless informed, diligent owners and managers ``spark'' its use.
When I sold shop equipment, I sensed owners, managers and technicians all wished the mere presence of equipment in service bays would invite its use. However, history shows unless management sets a certain tone-that is, lays down the law-great equipment may not get used as much as it should.
Conversations with owners and managers convince me that there's no time like the present to review ways they can boost equipment use. In this column and the next, I'll offer suggestions on this topic. Just remember: The best ideas are often the simplest ones.
Set 'usage' fees
One veteran shop owner I know insists that setting and sticking to a ``use'' fee for every piece of shop equipment is an underutilized technique. This fee includes the labor time required to use the gear and the cost of maintaining it.
This fee reaps dividends far beyond the most obvious goal of paying for the equipment, he told me. First and foremost, it reinforces management's commitment to its equipment investment, tacitly reminding technicians, ``We're serious enough about this gear to pay you to use it and to charge customers every time you do use it.''
I can't agree more. Experience shows that if the boss doesn't seem to take his investment seriously, the workers won't, either.
The fee also ensures that the real cost of owning and operating shop equipment isn't lost in an accounting shuffle. Instead, the boss can put his finger on the use fee tallies quickly and easily.
A set fee emphasizes accountability. An old management expression says, ``Inspect what you expect.'' Technicians are more likely to use equipment regularly when they know the boss religiously counts the number of equipment use fees the service department generates.
It's a fact of life some techs must be prodded more than others to use equipment-regardless of how easy it is to use. Some rely on personal experience and automotive instincts first, test gear later.
Fee-spurred accountability can be a powerful motivator for lackadaisical techs. When a comeback occurs due to a stupid oversight, the boss should first ask, ``Why didn't the equipment detect that problem?'' A lazy tech who charged an equipment use fee without actually testing will have some tall explaining to do.
Usually, a careless or conniving fellow will only tolerate one such accounting. Then he'll either straighten up or find himself a new job. Either way, the service department is better off.
Establishing and tracking a use fee helps the boss react quicker if the equipment isn't making the money he predicted-and budgeted-it would. For example, a slow start with new gear may indicate initial training on it was inadequate. A downturn in use fees later on could mean updated software, test harnesses or hookup adapters are needed to accommodate newer vehicles.
Earmark special account
The shop owner told me that funneling equipment use fees into a dedicated ``maintenance and update'' account boosts the frequency of equipment usage. Psychologically, this places even more emphasis on management's commitment to profitability and productivity.
Good technicians know time is money and equipment saves time. Ironically, many techs have been soured on using equipment because they worked in shops where management didn't share their concern for good working test gear. They learned to do without because when equipment broke down, the boss didn't get it repaired quickly.
However, a dedicated account ensures that funds are always available for maintenance and upgrades. So instead of wasting time with less-efficient ways of diagnosing and fixing cars, techs know that valuable equipment will be attended to promptly.
Whether it's a new data disk, replacement test leads for an oscilloscope or a special drum adapter for the brake lathe, the fix is on the way. That feeling does wonders for service department morale, not to mention profits.
Next time: More approaches to spark equipment usage.