Point of View: A Meeting of the Minds

Point of View: A Meeting of the Minds

A lively discussion with area shop owners is enlightening for all in attendance.

You are in the business of keeping cars running safely, so they can stay on the road and move people where they need to go. Your success depends on your technical skills and the skills of the people you work with. But your success also depends on the quality of your training, the quality of the tools and equipment you use, and the parts you buy.

Earlier this month, we hosted a regional Automotive Service Association (ASA) meeting and met with about 20 technicians and shop owners, representing independent, general automotive repair shops. Several editors, publishers and sales managers were on hand to discuss topics that are important to you and your peers.

We opened the meeting with a general discussion about business and the trends being seen at the shop level. AAIA recently announced that dealership repairs are as much as 34% more costly to the consumer than those performed at independent repair shops and we wondered if this, combined with the economy, could be an opportunity for the independent repair shop. Most of our guests felt that their customers didn’t know the true differences in costs between a dealership and an independent repair shop.

Some of the trends they are seeing included a lot more price shopping by their customers. Most of the shop owners said they would not quote a job over the phone; there are just too many variables that can lead to an unhappy customer. They prefer to get the customer into their shop and walk them through the processes they must follow to correctly diagnose and, ultimately, fix their vehicle. The personal touch helps explain the value of service, training and proper diagnosis to the customer.

We also talked about the effect of the Internet on their business. Many shop owners and technicians are using it for two main things: repair and product information, and buying parts through a traditional distributor online. They all called out ALLDATA, Identifix and Mitchell 1 as their online sources for information, repair information and estimating help, turning to the OEM websites only to fill in whatever blanks they found, and only when information was provided for free. Most of them are using some form of online parts buying assistance, although they all agreed that there is still a need for a good “parts guy.”

Then we moved on to the topic of training. They all recognized the importance of training in this business, but the amount of time and money they spent upgrading their education ranged from very little to 40 hours a year. Some of the most popular sources for training included trade magazines; others are seminars at trade shows, supplier-supported training and association meetings. Not many liked to travel far for training. They preferred evening or weekend seminars. Most also recognized that several manufacturers offer online training as well. For now, no one in our group was using online training, but they thought it would be a great option for young techs just starting out.

The tariffs on Chinese-made tires had just been announced in the news, so we easily moved onto the hard-to-define-but-everyone-knows-it-when-they-see-it topic of QUALITY. Everyone at the meeting firmly stood behind the quality of the workmanship they performed on their customers’ vehicles. Many expressed disappointment that some manufacturers no longer make anything in the United States and felt that for some types of parts the quality was lacking and therefore making their job harder as inferior products led to comebacks with their customers.

We closed the meeting with some lively discussion on marketing shop services. Every shop had developed creative ways to get closer to their customers. There were discounts given for AAA memberships, discounts for seniors, and one sent a $10 check in the mail to anyone who referred a new customer. One shop owner had developed his own “Club Card.” It cost $100 for a one-year “membership.” That membership gave the card holder discounts and free services worth more than $350 over the next 12 months. The card holder received four free oil changes and various discounts like $10 off a power steering flush, $10 off a cooling system flush and more. Additionally, for every $50 spent, the customer would get $1 back off his next repair. Talk about a creative way to keep your customers coming back!

I hope you’ll take a few minutes and let me know what you would like us to discuss at our next roundtable meeting. I’ll be happy to represent you, and report back.

E-mail me at [email protected] or leave a note on our website at www.techshopmag.com

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