Lord William Kelvin, creator of the Kelvin scale of temperature, stressed that measurement is the basis of all knowledge.
The same concept applies to your dealership's or service shop's productivity because you don't know what a legitimate productivity issue is until you measure it.
Experience shows that your service department's actual productivity usually isn't what you think it is. What's more, things that you assume are major leaks in the productivity ``bucket'' may distract you from the valid, serious problems under your roof.
Let's start at the beginning. Productivity is the relationship between available labor hours and actual labor hours sold. Suppose your service department operates 60 hours per week with three technicians. That means you have 180 available hours of labor to sell every week. (Three techs times 60 equals 180 hours.) If your dealership bills out 180 hours in a week, then its productivity is 100 percent.
Understandably, shop layout, the type and number of lifts, the amount and location of special equipment and the amount and types of tools available all have a major impact on productivity. The manager's skill at selling and assigning work also affects it.
Anyway, a Tire Business reader recently asked me to comment on the impact of today's monstrous toolboxes on shop productivity. Perhaps you don't get back into the bays very much or haven't been in the shop lately.
If not, toolboxes aren't the basic, roll-about items they once were. These days, a tech's toolbox may be larger (literally) than most of the vehicles he's repairing. It's not uncommon for one of your techs to invest $15,000 in one of these behemoths-empty!
The reader argued that these massive toolboxes negatively impact shop productivity because they cannot be maneuvered around the bays. Therefore, the techs who own them waste valuable time walking back and forth to their toolboxes.
On the one hand, I agree wholeheartedly that needless walking is unproductive and wasteful. In previous columns I have urged readers to maximize productivity by arranging the overall shop layout as intelligently as possible. Relatively few readers have the opportunity to design a dream shop from a clean sheet of paper, so they should use existing space as creatively and effectively as possible.
That said, experience tells me that we shouldn't dismiss these large boxes as being inherently evil or wasteful. First, any tool dealer will tell you that the most-successful techs are the best prospects for the bigger boxes. Successful techs and a successful service department go hand in hand. Many bosses would love to attract this caliber of top earners.
Second, all the techs I've ever met who reached that plateau did so via a thorough understanding of productivity and efficiency. Typically, the tech who owns a monster box also relies on a small work cart that's easy to maneuver around the bays. The tech quickly outfits this cart with the essential tools for a given repair job and rolls it over to the vehicle much like a lineman who loads up his work belt before climbing a utility pole.
I believe any astute observer would agree with me that top-earning techs aren't walking back to their toolboxes very often.
If for some reason your techs aren't using carts, buy a first-rate cart for each one. This gift will reap more dividends for your service department than you can imagine.
Third, the complexity of modern vehicles and the proliferation of makes and models have forced today's techs to invest heavily in a lot of specialty tools and testers. If you doubt me, ask a top-earning tech to give you a little tour of the specialized stuff he already owns. Then ask him what he's planning to buy next.
Fourth, camp out in the bays and measure the time a tech spends walking back and forth to a large tool box loaded with time-saving tools of all kinds. Then measure the time these tools save him on each and every repair job. I respectfully submit that the actual ``walking time'' will pale compared to the hours these tools save the tech and the service department every week.
Last but not least, the time wasted by inadequate tools and equipment, poor shop layout, careless parts ordering, etc., dwarfs the time wasted walking to the toolbox. But don't take my word for it-go measure it for yourself!