Tire dealers and service shop operators can try boosting service bay efficiency all they want, but they won't improve it until they confidently and consistently charge for what their technicians know.
Also, smart bosses must apply the laws of supply and demand to the challenging diagnoses their techs perform.
Recently, my Tire Business colleagues urged me to tie into this issue's special section by covering some aspect of service bay efficiency, throughput, etc. Coincidentally, I'd just had an interesting and revealing conversation with a service shop operator about interpreting technician efficiency. For me, this was a golden opportunity to discuss two poorly understood parts of managing any service department-large or small.
First, though, let's be sure we all understand an important definition or measurement. Technician efficiency is the ratio of labor hours billed out to labor hours actually spent working on the vehicle. For instance, the tech spends one hour working on the vehicle and his boss bills out an hour's labor for the task. If so, the tech's efficiency was 100 percent for that job. (One hour billed divided by one hour spent equals one; one times 100 percent equals 100 percent.)
On the other hand, suppose the tech took an hour to fix the car but his boss billed out half an hour. Those numbers produce a grim efficiency result of only 50 percent.
Recently, I mentioned efficiency briefly during a presentation to a group of owners and managers in eastern Pennsylvania. An alert shop owner approached me after my talk and said something very revealing-not to mention commonplace-for those who've just begun monitoring tech efficiency. The man told me that his average workers were turning the highest efficiency numbers while the sharpest techs in the shop logged the lowest efficiencies.
Look a little closer and these results aren't very mysterious at all. The average techs in this shop are doing relatively average work such as brake jobs, exhaust, struts and light maintenance work. It's not unreasonable to expect experienced and competent techs to knock out this routine work properly but quickly.
However, these same techs aren't tackling the emissions failure that two shops nearby could not diagnose. They weren't told to pinpoint why a vehicle's battery intermittently goes dead. They weren't assigned the task of solving the blown fuse on that van's windshield wiper circuit.
No, the boss usually gives these tough diagnoses to the techs with the most years in the trade, the most schooling and the most equipment. The only thing you can count on with these tougher tasks is that the next one may be different from the last one. They demand patience, thought and a methodical approach. No matter how methodical a technician is, the task is a far cry from changing front struts.
Now let's assume for the moment that this shop owner's best techs are fixing these tougher jobs correctly the first time. If so, it reinforces their value as well as sets them apart from most, if not all, of the local competition. If their efficiency numbers are very low, it strongly suggests the boss isn't charging enough for their skills.
In fact, I've heard this complaint enough to suggest that this scenario is typically a wake-up call confirming that the boss isn't charging enough for the services of his or her most-capable technicians.
I'll repeat something I've said several times within this column: If you want to be a quick-service specialist, that's fine. That's your prerogative. Just do the rest of us a favor and don't label your business as a full-service auto repair establishment. Instead, identify yourself as the gravy-skimming, quick-fix artist that you really are.
If you're sincere about professional auto service, you're going to take your share of tougher jobs. Tougher jobs, by their nature, demand more skill, training, experience and equipment than gravy-skimming. Because these things cost money, you must charge appropriate fees every time you apply them to a task. If you don't or won't charge fees commensurate with the difficulty of the task, why take the job in the first place?
In my next column, I'll continue this discussion of charging what you're worth and relate it to the basic law of supply and demand. I'll look for you then!