Seven years ago, Courtesy Ford Inc. in Syracuse outgrew its service area.
The car dealership's 18 service bays were constantly filled, and some customers had to wait three days or more for appointments.
With no land available to expand its 12,000-sq.-ft. service department, the dealership's managers decided to expand something else: their hours.
Instead of opening at 8 a.m. and closing at 7 p.m. on weekdays, Courtesy Ford started opening at 7 a.m. on Mondays and stayed open around the clock until 7 p.m. Friday. On Saturdays, the technicians would stay until 5 p.m.
``When people contacted us, we could always fill appointments because we had the night shift,'' said Peter Detor, general manager of Courtesy Ford. ``People don't wait three to four days.''
The changes boosted service orders to 85 or more per day from about 60, said Kevin Aud, Courtesy Ford's service manager. Those additional orders helped the bottom line as sales of Ford vehicles-particularly trucks-slowed.
Around-the-clock service has increased the dealership's service absorption rate-defined as the percentage of the store's operating costs covered by the service department-to 90 percent. ``It allows you to sell fewer cars to become profitable,'' Mr. Detor said. ``When sales are slow, it allows you to stay in business.''
Courtesy Ford has no competition in the 24-hour market because many dealerships are afraid to take the step, Mr. Detor said.
One big challenge was finding enough service technicians. Courtesy Ford tackled that by offering technicians an extra $1 an hour for the night shift. It also hired six techs, bringing its total to 19.
``It's much quieter and a relaxed pace,'' Mr. Aud said. ``It's a tough shift to fill, but it's convenient for some technicians whose spouses work during the day.''
A service adviser and a parts person also work the overnight shift. But even with the extra labor, Mr. Detor and Mr. Aud said the costs haven't increased.
``In the winter, we have to heat the building whether people are in the building or not,'' Mr. Aud said. ``The only additional expenses are lighting and personnel.''
Technicians and service advisers are paid flat rates based on the work they do. If there's no work, they don't earn money. The dealership pays only a portion of the salaries for the parts person and service adviser as a fixed expense. The remainder comes from a percentage of sales for their departments.
``We raised our gross and lowered the cost of sales by 5 to 6 percent,'' Mr. Detor said. ``The fixed expenses are already there.''
The dealership also had to make sure that the service advisers were asking the right questions to ensure that the right parts were available. ``You don't want to call someone at 2 a.m. and tell them that their car won't be done,'' Mr. Detor said.
One thing Mr. Detor said he wishes the dealership had done sooner was give advisers a financial stake in the success of the overnight business. That would give them an incentive to fill the night shift.
``It's easier to get people to bring their cars in right now instead of overnight,'' Mr. Detor said. ``It takes a service adviser to ask the right questions.''
To keep the overnight shift busy, Courtesy Ford initially focused on working on its inventory of new and used cars. That freed the day hours for customer-service work. It also handled repairs for customers who didn't want to wait for their cars during the day.
To expand the service, the dealership decided to market it to businesses that needed their vehicles during operating hours by using Internet advertising and direct mail. Those companies now get their vehicles serviced overnight.
``We're targeting salespeople who use their cars or delivery trucks all day,'' Mr. Detor said. ``When their vehicles are normally down, we can work on it.''
Businesses such as Leading Edge Logistics Inc. and Mullen Industrial Handling Corp. in Syracuse make up about 80 percent of the service hours after 6 p.m., Mr. Aud said.
Mullen Industrial uses the overnight service for its fleet of 30 trucks, said Mullen Operations Manager Jeff King. Although the company operates a 24-hour service, the company needs most of its heavy-duty trucks during the day. ``The vehicles are equipped and set up with special tools,'' Mr. King said. ``You can't just jump into any old vehicle and take care of clients.''
Leading Edge, a contractor for DHL International Ltd. in the Syracuse area, has a fleet of 18 trucks serviced by Courtesy Ford. Leading Edge typically has five to six trucks serviced at a time, said Tony Burrows, the company's regional manager. Having the service done overnight means Leading Edge doesn't have to rent trucks while others are being serviced.
``We were extremely happy with service at the facility to begin with,'' Mr. Burrows said. ``When they went to 24 hours, it made life a lot easier. We're in the trucking business, so it's perfect.''