AKRON (May 8, 2006) — Forward-thinking tire dealers and service shop operators should fervently promote all required maintenance services on an ongoing basis.
This makes infinitely better business sense than simply waiting for vehicles to fail and get towed into a bay. Attracting and culling maintenance-related work is the proactive approach needed in today's fiercely competitive marketplace. Quite simply, the old-school method of just waiting for cars to break down is driving some automotive repair facilities out of business.
This isn't a scare tactic. To the contrary, it's recognition of the state of the industry. What's more, it's not the first nor will it be the last time I discuss this topic within this column. A heart-to-heart conversation with a service shop owner several weeks ago reminded me that this message is worth repeating.
My colleague, a fellow I'll call “Dean,” operates a busy service shop in the upper Midwest. Dean's once-thriving business had slowed down, and he wanted to know if other shops around the country also were slow.
I have learned to answer this question with another question: What have you been doing all these years to promote the business? Sadly, Dean's response was a familiar one. Although he'd been in business nearly 15 years, he had never done a mailer, run advertisements or promotions of any kind. When he opened his own business, enough people followed him from his old job—and brought enough referrals—to sustain him for many years. He never promoted the need for routine maintenance services.
In previous columns, I've urged Tire Business readers to promote their businesses consistently, but especially to continue promotions when they're busy. Psychologically, the best time to promote is when you're doing well. Conversely, the worst time is when you're desperate for business. Like many other owners and managers I've met, Dean had done neither and only began asking questions after business had ground down to a standstill.
Equally disheartening was Dean's lax approach to maintenance. He has clung to the belief that repairs—broken cars—always come first and that maintenance is the work that sustains the business in between the break-downs. However, the auto re-pair facilities I respect the most are the ones that are healthiest over the long haul. Those shops have prioritized maintenance.
I'll repeat what I told Dean and what I've been trying to convince bosses for a long time. Typically, maintenance work is highly predictable and very profitable. For in-stance, the vehicle manufacturer recommends replacing the timing belt at 90,000 miles. The timing belt also drives the water pump. Therefore, it makes sense to replace both components together. At the same time, many techs believe it's the perfect opportunity to perform a major cooling system service (flush and replenish coolant, replace thermostat, etc.).
The beauty of maintenance jobs like this is that experienced service personnel usually know exactly how long it takes to perform these jobs and do them correctly. There are few or no surprises. The tech finishes on time or sooner, opening up the bay for the next job. What's more, this vehicle goes out the door and stays out when the maintenance work's done.
This immensely simplifies the manager's task of scheduling work effectively and keeping the bays as busy as possible as often as possible. That's a basic exercise in maximizing productivity. In case you haven't noticed, tire dealerships and service shops that win the productivity battle win the auto service war.
On the other hand, experience shows that a certain number of vehicles will limp in or come in on the hook with a variety of major problems. We can't predict when—or how many—of these will show up. Plus, it's infinitely more difficult to predict how long one of these repair jobs will tie up a valuable service bay.
So if you have to prioritize, attract the work with predictability and productivity in mind. Also, don't hesitate to charge appropriately for the heavier, bigger repair jobs that tie up bays much longer than maintenance work does. Failing to charge appropriately is a disservice to you, your technicians and ultimately the customer. After all, quality repairs take a certain amount of time and no less. Charge accordingly.