AKRON (Aug. 14, 2000)—Image is everything in the automotive repair business. That´s why tire dealers who offer automotive services should always be focused on both improving and maintaining their businesses´ image.
Image has a direct impact on the two biggest issues facing the automotive service industry: getting adequate pay for our knowledge and attracting trainable new employees. These are ongoing topics of conversation with owners and managers of auto service shops everywhere I travel.
I meet readers who chide me that I´m a one-song vocalist because the only tune I sing is the "Bring Me a Better Image Blues." I´ve been teased about the image-related topics I´ve covered, including neater rest rooms and coffee stations, cleaner hands, better manners and nicer uniforms.
Your dealership´s or service shop´s overall image is the sum of all these little details.
If the image battle already has been won, these elements of the overall image aren´t relevant any more. What´s more, if the image battle is won, then top techs with 20 years´ experience are routinely earning $100,000-$125,000 per year and it takes $60,000-$70,000 to get a new kid in the door. Meanwhile, job applicants are lining up around the block for an opportunity to interview with your service manager.
You say that doesn´t describe the auto service industry in any town you know? Then we´re still waging war on the negative images that have plagued this business for several generations.
To put the big picture in a more-positive light, imagine that you´re a mason constructing a super-strong foundation. You want sturdy building blocks—lots of them.
Consider each of these elements I cover to be another sturdy building block in your business´ professional image foundation. Obviously, any building—or business, for that matter—is only as strong as the foundation on which it´s built.
My field experience has taught me that the healthiest service facilities I see always boast the strongest image foundation in town. Inspect every part of this business and you find all the little image elements add up to an indestructible foundation. Plus, the owner confirms that the image enables him or her to charge the fees necessary to recruit and retain good workers.
I worry about the number of bosses I meet who just don´t grasp the direct relationship between a healthy, positive image and their ability to recruit the right technicians. Let me cite several examples that I hope will help clarify this crucial relationship.
Let´s begin with the constant complaint that school counselors send all the student rejects into the automotive shop programs. The service shop owners and managers don´t realize it, but many counselors have nothing but overwhelmingly negative images of our industry. So why would he or she refer a "decent" individual to work in that Calcutta hellhole they perceive our business to be?
For one example, this counselor can always spot the auto repair guy in the supermarket checkout line because he´s grubby and reeks of parts-cleaning solvent. His boots are worn through, exposing the shoe´s steel reinforcements; his uniform looks tattered. The counselor wonders, "What kind of money could this guy be making if he looks like that?´´
For another example, the counselor can also spot the auto repair guys at the church picnic because their hands look like raw hamburger. What the counselor doesn´t realize is that some techs preserve their hands with the same gloves medical professionals wear.
Or think of the counselor who´s afraid to walk into the bay of a shop because it´s so filthy. Furthermore, he or she has to use the shop rest room while waiting for a ride to work. The rest room door doesn´t lock, the toilet seat is missing and the floor´s wet. "What kind of animals tolerate these conditions?" he or she wonders.
Last but not least, the school´s automotive department is a dark, filthy dungeon. Local shop owners don´t complain about it because they grew up working in grease-pit-looking facilities. To them, it looks normal.
During the school´s open house, parents and prospective students tour its vocational trades department. Working in a greasy dungeon isn´t their idea of a great career. Meanwhile, everyone wonders why auto repair enrollment drops year after year. Beats me!