A shop owner in Muskegon, Mich., writes:
“We have been open for XX years now and are doing OK, but I want to improve that situation…. I am limited to one bay, pretty much. Right now it is just me running the repair business and working on the cars, which seems to be not very efficient. What I am questioning is would it be beneficial to add either a (service adviser) or a tech? Or would it not be worth it unless we have at least an additional bay?”
A shop owner in Inverness, Fla., replies:
“You have to ask yourself some serious questions. Right now, you are doing OK. How is your rent structured with sharing the bays? Do you have to pay for the second bay or are you paying for one and they let you use the other when it's open?
“Overhead greatly increases with employees. Do you think you have enough work to justify a s/a? I would think having a s/a with just you doing the work, (that) you would find you are paying someone to stand around a lot. If it (were) me and you are good with customers, I would hire either a tech, or maybe a general tech who wants to learn.
“If you see all of a sudden you are still making money and they are paying for themselves, then start thinking either s/a or you become the s/a and hire a good tech. But remember, when you are paying someone say $20 (an hour) they are costing you closer to twice that, so you have to figure real costs in.”
Tom Ham replies:
“There is a VERY profitable shop I know of here in West Michigan that is one tech and one s/a, but he does have three bays. Have you checked lately for available space? Leasing costs have dropped a lot.”
A shop owner in Melbourne, Fla., replies:
“I am in a very similar situation. I am not ready to hire yet, but think about it all the time. I know for a fact that doing it all yourself is not efficient.
“Obviously, the cost is the biggest issue. In my personal opinion, I think a tech is the way to go. You should never pay a tech to stand around (a lot easier to keep busy doing miscellaneous jobs/and flat rate pay).
“Personally, I enjoy managing the business and dealing with my customers. I feel it would be more reasonable to think you could help the tech and watch over them better, than you could for a s/a. It seems a lot easier to jump in the middle of a repair, than to jump in the middle of dealing with a customer. The key is efficiency.
“I don´t want either me or my new employee standing around AT ALL. I wouldn't think you need one s/a for one tech. But a half s/a, half tech, and a full-time tech sounds like a better situation. At least if you decide to be the s/a-tech, you don´t always need a lift to diagnose a vehicle or to test-drive one. You may find you might not need the extra bay to keep you both busy.”
A shop owner in Palestine, Texas, answers:
“I don´t know how you can even keep one guy busy with just one bay, except that you must do it all. Are you turning down business? If so, and there's a place to work, do BOTH!
“If you have a real tech you will get even busier, with his parts to order, estimates, customers, etc., and you'll need office help to do yours and his, but you'll need room.
“If you're making money now, and you like being in control of the quality, quantity and flavor of the repairs you are doing, stay as you are. Adding even one tech makes you DOUBLE in size.
“You are in a fair-sized town, with much bigger cities around you, so you have plenty of opportunity to carve a niche. I've had two techs (I'm the s/a), but the shop holds eight to 10 cars, and we still end up working in the yard while holding for parts, machine work, or authorizations.
“Being in a small town, the wait is sometimes more than one day, but I cannot imagine having only one bay per tech; my best guy bounces between three and four cars at all times. Very seldom do they stand around, but working on cars is ALL they do, no estimating, ordering, or customer/phone duty. We just can't drop what we are on to run 100 miles for parts. No one would pay us to, anyway.
“What you really need to ask is where you see yourself in the future. Then work toward that, but don't grow too fast. Keep debts way down and growth solid. OR be happy where you are. But be happy either way, 'cause life's too short.”
A shop manager in Toronto writes:
“First off, I think you have the right approach in regards to being an active team member. You take care of the business operations, customer service, writing estimates, and turn 10 or so hours a week while the mechanic is getting the repair/services completed.
“I´ve found in a two-man shop the mechanic has it very easy, while you are answering phones, writing estimates, getting parts ordered, diagnosing incoming cars, etc. As the previous post stated, a service adviser would spend a good amount of time idle if they are not expected to turn 10 to 20 hours a week.”
The questions and responses are posted on the Automotive Management Network website, which is operated by Deb and Tom Ham, owners of Ham's Automotive Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich. (The comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.)