LAS VEGAS — New vehicle technology may weed out many small family-owned auto service shops that can't keep up with the investment needed in the near future to be a "shop of tomorrow."
That was the assessment of an auto service panel held during the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo in Las Vegas last November.
The Service Pro Panel predicted the automotive aftermarket will continue to consolidate through mergers and acquisitions as many shop owners look to retire in the next five years.
For those willing to continue in the business, they must invest in their shops.
"I think being willing to invest in good software to run your company is going to be important because it's going to be about bay efficiency and technician efficiency. That's definitely important moving forward," said panel participant Greg Bunch, owner of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Aspen Auto Clinic.
Panelist Rick Schwartz, co-founder and CEO of Schwartz Advisors L.L.C., a mergers and acquisitions advisor, noted that shops of tomorrow will need to focus on the people element of the business, as well.
"You really need to think who we're competing against, and it's not just the other shops. What's it like to go to Starbucks? It's very predictable. It's cozy. So some places are putting in WiFi and bringing in a Keurig coffee maker.
"You have to decide what is right for you and your clientèle and what they're expecting," he said, adding, "You need to start thinking about your facility as where customers are going to feel comfortable."
He suggested shop owners determine what type of customers they attract, or want to attract — such as NASCAR fans or soccer moms — and design the shop's interior and amenities to make that type of customer feel comfortable.
Mr. Schwartz also stressed the importance of an updated business website.
"You've got to have a website that has a good experience. It works. It's something I can open on my tablet or on my cellphone. It's so easy to get a simple but effective website," he said, adding that shops should strive to earn good ratings on such consumer websites as Yelp.com.
"So just think outside the box and think about how are you're shopping for things when you're shopping. That's what people are looking for in a shop to get their car fixed."
Regarding Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), panelist Jason Rainey, general manager of NAPA Autocare, said there are resources and education available for shop owners and technicians to learn about what technology will be included in vehicles in the next several years.
"But I think that is something we really have to get serious about. … This is always going to change, it always has. Now we're seeing change coming at us at a pace we haven't seen before, but I think in a lot of businesses, we just really need to embrace and get on with it."