I am starting to notice a trend when it comes to alignments. It’s not the vehicles that are changing, but rather the attitudes toward alignment services — and it happens at independent repair shops, franchise shops and even dealers. The alignment bay is starting to become neglected as shops show less willingness to recommend and perform alignments. In some shops, the alignment bay or pit has become nothing more than another drive-on lift.
What stops technicians and front counter people from selling alignments? The deterrent is a perceived convergence of costs concerning the time, equipment and market prices for alignments. In other words, the technician can’t make any money, the shop is trying to match prices and outdated alignment equipment makes the situation even worse.
There is a way out of this downward spiral, and it is a simple four-step process. First, raise your alignment prices. Second, evaluate and update your alignment equipment. Third, create preventive or diagnostic alignment services. Lastly, invest in alignment training.
Pricing is the first barrier to overcome to start performing more alignments. Unlike traditional retail economics, shops should raise prices to increase business. Don’t worry about meeting the competition’s prices. If they are offering a lower priced alignment, chances are they hardly ever sell the service. Also, the low price attracts customers that are often more trouble than they are worth. If you can make a case about why an alignment is needed to your customers, chances are they will not haggle on the price.
So, take the chance and raise your prices; you deserve it. How much should you raise your prices? For a simple calculation, take what you think is fair and add 25% to 35%. This is not price gouging because, on average, alignments are chronically underpriced. Also, by raising your prices, technicians have more incentive to recommend alignment services.
Sometimes it is the equipment and the “alignment ergonomics” that could be holding your shop back. Most technicians know that beating or even matching the billable hours can be difficult when using older alignment equipment. This can kill any enthusiasm for recommending and performing alignments.
It’s easy to see how new computer technology and sensor heads can increase a technician’s productivity, but even less complicated items can make or break overall alignment productivity. The two items that can bottleneck alignment productivity are turn and slip plates. Even if you have the most sophisticated alignment system with digital cameras and a fast computer, the technician still has to pull the car on the rack and pull the pins on the plates.
One of the newest technologies on the market is a self-centering and locking turn-and-slip plate. With the flip of a switch, slip plates will lock and unlock during an adjustment. This saves the tech from needing to circle the vehicle several times in order to remove and insert pins. Also, these new plates can save a technician the embarrassment of trying to drive off the lift without reinserting the pins.
Once you have addressed pricing and equipment, the next step is to institute the alignment check service. The alignment check is nothing more than an inspection and a check of the basic alignment angles. This service can be viewed as preventive maintenance or a diagnostic service. It can be reasonably priced or even given away. Also, an alignment check can be an additional item you can add into a mileage interval service package.
Lastly, maybe the most important investment you can make is training. Training can increase productivity and reduce comebacks at the same time. Even the best alignment systems cannot help a technician spot certain conditions like shifted engine cradles and worn bushings. Training can help technicians spot possible problems before the job is undersold and a vehicle is stuck in the alignment bay for an extended period of time. Some alignment consoles include training as part of their software package so the tech can brush-up his or her skills during downtime.