AKRON (Aug. 18, 2003)—Does your tire dealership offer automotive services? If so, have you ever wondered what good technicians are really worth to your business?
Some statistics as well as anecdotal evidence may update your perspective on the issue.
First, let's hark back to my column in the July 21 issue of Tire Business. In it I offered a list of questions bosses should ask themselves when they're wondering about the fees they charge for repairs and maintenance. Too often, I hear owners and managers moaning that they can't justify charging what they think they ought to for maintenance and repairs.
One of the key qualifiers I suggested in that column was that if your dealership or service shop is the only facility or one of the few in the market area that does the work correctly the first time, you're entitled to charge accordingly.
Second, consider how easy it supposedly is to get a vehicle repaired or serviced correctly the first time. It's so easy that, as I've emphasized in previous columns, surveys show that consumers would rather go to the dentist than try to get a car fixed. What's that suggesting about the value of doing it correctly the first time?
Third, weigh the grass-roots marketing you can do at the local church picnic, block party or family reunion. Are people more likely to be raving about auto repair or railing at it?
Next, factor in the statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showing that the ratio of cars per mechanic had increased from 218 in 1994 to 255 cars in 2002.
Trusted colleague and source Paul Stock, owner/operator of Stock's Underhood Specialists in Belleville, Ill., offered additional perspective here. “When I graduated from automotive trade school in 1975, they told us the ratio was 75 cars per mechanic. The number impressed me, so I memorized it,” Mr. Stock explained.
Some things from the relatively simple time of 1975 stick in my head, too. For example, it was the first year the Big Three auto makers equipped all their passenger cars with catalytic converters. But the most relevant thing I remember from that era may be the persistent question: “Why would anyone want to work on cars for a living? It just doesn't pay.”
If you're an experienced owner or manager of an auto repair facility, doesn't the sound of 255 vehicles per technician stop you in your tracks? Most tire dealerships and service shops attempt to service most makes on the road. Doesn't the wide diversity of makes, models and technologies make your head spin sometimes? If so, imagine what it does to your techs.
Furthermore, doesn't the diversity of vehicle and complexity of modern systems suggest the need for modern equipment and ongoing training? Good equipment and worthwhile training isn't cheap, so doesn't common sense also suggest that smart bosses should charge appropriate labor fees in order to afford equipment and training?
If you do want to keep your techs competent and fixing vehicles correctly the first time, what are the chances that you can afford the necessary training and equipment by being the neighborhood's low-cost provider of repairs and maintenance?
Finally, you get exactly what you pay for, manpower-wise. As I have emphasized before, each and every business attracts a caliber of manpower equal to the professionalism of the shop. Typically, professional-looking places attract real, career-minded techs. Grease pits, on the other hand, attract knuckle-dragging wrench-turners.
According to the BLS, the median income for automotive techs last year was only $28,490. Considering what we expect them to know about a large, diverse vehicle population, does this sound like the kind of pay that will attract career-minded professionals? Hardly!
If the median pay was less than 29 grand, what's that say about the average level of professionalism this industry projects to prospective hires? What's it say about the fees a typical service facility is charging? Let me know, readers, because I can't think of anything positive.
I've said it many times before in this column: You've got to look and act like you're worth what you're charging. Furthermore, looking and acting the part is crucial to successful recruiting. That said, is your business due for a facelift and attitude adjustment?