AKRON (June 23, 2008) — Smarter, more efficient scheduling may help dealer profits during this period of unusually high energy costs.
Skyrocketing energy costs are forcing more and more companies to re-evaluate how they're doing business. From a local bakery or pizzeria coping with delivery costs to large airlines rethinking their routes, businesses large and small are discovering they can't continue doing things the same old way. Everyone resists change to one degree or another, but even more conservative bosses are realizing that the status quo isn't cutting it anymore.
I see and hear about more companies examining business hours, work schedules and accepting that they can't realistically be all things to all consumers all the time. I started working in service stations in my teens and took as many hours as practically possible. I needed money for tuition, books, transportation, etc. I rarely complained about business hours as long as I profited from them.
But that said, this green teenager did wonder about the practicality of the business hours we kept. Month in, month out, we worker bees would wait out the later hours, serving the odd customer here and there. Eventually we turned the later hours into our cleaning and maintenance time. The place looked better—matter of fact, it looked great—and keeping busy made the time go by more quickly.
Besides long evening hours, my service station employers followed the trend of trying to offer full-time mechanical repairs on weekends. Yes, the dreaded “mechanic on duty” sign was posted.
However, I noticed that the weekend clientele was different from the vast majority of the customers we served regularly. There were a small percentage of brake jobs, oil changes and tune-ups that we did because these customers claimed they couldn't leave their cars during the week. The bulk of the weekend jobs were breakdowns that were towed off the interstate or barely limped onto our property with a major problem.
Depending upon when these breakdowns occurred, we couldn't get the necessary parts over the weekend. All too often, we saw that these vehicles had been neglected and would need much more work than the customer realized and/or was willing to authorize. But most of all, the vast majority of weekenders were motorists who realistically would never become regular customers.
Over the years, I've met many bosses who gradually closed their businesses on Sundays and then on Saturdays. They closely monitored their clientele over several years and realized it was simpler and more profitable to focus on five weekdays than on weekends.
They lengthened their daily hours and then made it as easy as humanly possible for customers to abide by the weekday schedule.
These owners and managers told me that an effective customer shuttle service and/or loaner vehicles made all the difference in the world to their business' success. In many instances, the “shuttle” was nothing more elaborate than a service writer taking a customer to work in a company-owned car.
These owners and operators clarify that it takes a certain amount of “conditioning” or coaxing customers to respect a five-day work format. But the customers they want the most—the people who value quality work done right the first time—end up supporting this schedule.
Some very successful service shop operators I know have embraced a Tuesday-to-Saturday schedule. They have adjusted their parts inventory accordingly and lined up quality parts suppliers that can support a Saturday schedule.
This plan accommodates motorists who insist on scheduling car service on weekends but still gives the staff two consecutive days off. What's more, it's two consecutive days when the boss isn't incurring routine energy costs in order to serve a fringe or marginal clientele.
Surely, shortened hours or a less traditional work schedule may not suit every tire dealer and/or service shop operator. Nonetheless, I urge every reader to take a longer, harder look at the hours they're open and the income those hours generate.
Monitor the clientele the hours seem to attract. I submit that it may be time for some bosses to make prudent adjustments.