Does your tire dealership offer automotive services? If so, plan the future of your service department around the fact that today's vehicles break down less often than older models did.
The corollary to this observation is to sell maintenance like your business life depends upon it-because it does.
The results of J.D. Power and Associates' 2003 Customer Service Index caught my eye. This study reveals that new-car dealership repair jobs have shifted away from traditional warranty work and toward routine maintenance. According to this study, regular scheduled maintenance accounted for 47 percent of a car dealership's work in 1999. By 2003, the number jumped to 57 percent.
The report suggests something that doesn't bode well for many auto service facilities: Newer vehicles are better built than ever before. New-car dealerships are doing more maintenance and less straight repair work simply because these vehicles are requiring fewer warranty repairs.
Some readers may not feel threatened by these numbers. But when I read that a car dealership's work mix is now approaching 60 percent routine maintenance, I'm concerned.
First of all, many tire dealers and independent service shop operators I meet underestimate their competition because they believe the ``village idiot'' runs the local car dealership.
He or she is hardly an idiot. If nothing else, that car dealership sells routine maintenance much better than any independent service facility around it. It's done a superb job of conditioning customers to bring their vehicles back faithfully for 30,000-, 60,000- and 90,000-mile services.
Typically, these regularly scheduled services are plum jobs-predictable and profitable work that's easy to schedule and easy to do. What's more, a technician with average skills can usually perform this work.
Although you and your colleagues may see and hear about major diagnostic work that the dealership's service department bungled, that's hardly the point. What counts is that they're cranking out those profitable routine services like clockwork.
It's sad when I hear an owner or manager criticizing a car dealership for incompetence and then discover that he's got a bastard repair job-something he should have never taken in-occupying a valuable service bay for an entire day or two. By the time his workers figure out the car's problem, he's lucky if he can collect an hour of diagnostic time.
Say what you will, but the car dealer is choosing work more intelligently than that independent operator is. Don't take the job if you can't cover the time required to fix it correctly!
Second, this study echoes something I've been hearing from attentive owners and managers for the past two years. Namely, the newer models just don't seem to break down as often as the older ones did.
The recent economic slowdown only reinforced this point when many shops' bays weren't as busy as expected. When you hear this complaint repeated in separate conversations with owners and managers across the nation, you begin to believe it's a legitimate issue as opposed to a regional concern.
Third, vehicles will always break down at one point or another, creating relatively large repair jobs. It's just that there will be relatively fewer of them. Regular Tire Business readers know I've made this argument many times in previous columns. But it's an important point that can't be emphasized enough.
To offset that reality, your service department has to cull more and more regularly scheduled maintenance work. Considering the number of car dealers and aftermarket service facilities competing for maintenance work, you cannot take this issue lightly. Everyone's fighting for a bigger slice of the maintenance pie.
At the very least, pitch this concept at staff meetings so that everyone from the front counter to the back shop understands the importance of capturing and performing maintenance work. Then take another long, hard look at your advertising and promotional plans.
Be sure they convey that regular maintenance ultimately saves money and aggravation by making the vehicle safer, more reliable and more fuel-efficient.
As the famous Fram filter ads stated so effectively years ago, it's still a matter of pay now or pay later. Don't underestimate the value of that message.
Dan can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]