What could be considered bad news for vehicle owners looks to be a golden opportunity for independent tire dealerships and other repair shops seeking to expand the automotive service segment of their businesses.
The bad news for consumers: The number of service bays in the U.S. plummeted by 44,000 units between 1996 and 2006, according to a report by Lang Marketing Resources Inc., a consulting and marketing analysis firm.
This happened at the same time the population of cars and light trucks grew by 22 percent, or more than 39 million vehicles.
The bottom line is that there are now far fewer service bays available to take care of a growing number of cars and light trucks on the road.
For the owners of vehicles this means they likely will be waiting longer to get an appointment to have their cars serviced. In an era when speed and saving time is a coveted commodity, service shops that can get vehicles into a bay quickly and at the customer's convenience can have a significant advantage.
But that's the quandary. How can tire dealers and other independent repair facilities take advantage of this situation?
One way is to consider adding service bays and hiring more tech-nicians to handle the burgeoning vehicle population.
Certainly having more techs and more bay space in which to work opens up the possibility of serving additional customers, but this can be prohibitively expensive.
Jim Lang, president of Lang Marketing, suggests another way-improving service bay productivity. This can be achieved through better technician training, enhanced tools and equipment, use of sophisticated diagnostic techniques and shop management software, things that can enable service bays and mechanics to handle more vehicles, he said.
Much has been written about the tech crisis facing the U.S., and certainly the decline in the number of service bays nationwide is a reflection of that.
It's also a situation that is expected to worsen.
In its recent report, Lang Marketing noted that there were fewer than 155 vehicles for every service bay in the U.S. in 1996. A decade later, that number had grown to 190 cars and light trucks for every bay.
By 2008, the marketing company sees that jumping to 200 vehicles per bay.
All this spells new business for independent repair shops.
But to grab their share, tire dealers and other service outlets need to be on top of their game to prepare their shops and employees to take advantage of it.
That includes anything that will get customers in and out the door quickly and keep them coming back again and again. If you don't, your competitors might.