I was talking to Jim Currier of Jim & Sons Transmission in Cuyahoga Falls, OH, and he said something that stuck in my head. I was commenting on how clean his shop was and how it looked better than some dealerships in the area. Jim said, “It has to be this way. After all, I am competing with the dealer.” Jim’s shop only performs transmission and driveline work and service. Jim’s philosophy is that if a customer is going to spend the amount of money required to repair a modern transmission, they will feel more confident spending it in a place that is clean and well maintained, like some dealers. To get an idea just how clean Jim’s shop is, take a look at www.jimstrans.com and look for the virtual tour feature. Although, my visit was spur of the moment, the shop was just as clean as the pictures. Jim’s approach to service has paid off and probably will be even more successful when you consider the grim fate of many dealers.
In October, the National Automobile Dealer’s Association (NADA) estimated that as many as 700 new car dealers will go under by the end of the year. This is up from the 430 dealers in 2007. If 700 dealers close with average of 18 service bays (2007 NADA Data Report), this would mean a loss of of 12,600 bays. This means that more drivers will be looking for a place to have their car or truck serviced.
Getting these “I only take my car to the dealer” customers to come to your shop will be difficult if it is below standards. I am not saying that every shop has to be strangely familiar to a new car dealer — down to the white belts, polyester suits and constant paging over the PA system for the used car department to pick up line six.
You have to give them a buying experience that makes them feel like they are getting the best possible service. These “dealer only” customers are willing to spend their money with your shop if they feel confident they are not buying the least expensive option.
Another component that has to change is the parts shops have available to install. I was going through the latest product releases and they seem to be saturated with the phrase “meets OEM specifications.” When did this become the aftermarket benchmark for quality?
I remember when some aftermarket products made the promise that they were better than OEM. It was the reason why some people took their cars to independent shops. These products were made of better materials with improved designs and touted features like larger balls on ball joints and brake pads that could stop better on a dime with little noise.
Now it seems most of the aftermarket parts manufacturers are happy to keep pace with the OEMs that might be going out of business. In all fairness, the original parts installed on the assembly line are better made since warranty periods have increased. But, I know there is room for “better than” OE parts, and I know customers are willing to pay for it. Also, if more and more dealership parts departments shut down, how are you going to get some of these OEM-quality parts in a reasonable amount of time?
Almost every reputable and profitable shop owner I know is looking for the best parts — not the cheapest ones. If parts manufacturers make the best, good shops will buy them. Why? Because a comeback and the hope that the parts manufacturer will cover the labor for the warranty claim clearly outweighs the up-front profit made by installing a cheap part. Cheap parts that compete only on price have the potential to turn the automotive repair industry into a commodity.
After looking at how new car dealers turned themselves into a commodity instead of a unique buying experience, shops and the aftermarket should not try to be just like OE. Our industry should try to be better.