The Future of the Auto Service Business and Your SuccessPosted 10/15/2004
By Steve Louden, AAM, CARS Chairman
A consistent question in our industry seems to be: Is there a future for the independent shop owner? I always answer with a resounding yes and add that it is getting better every day. The next question is usually: How can you answer that way when so many shops are closing their doors?
The future, as well as the present, belongs to shop owners who are dedicated to offering and delivering the best service value in their markets. The key point here is investment. You must be willing and able to make the following investments to survive in today's ultra-competitive marketplace as well as tomorrow's.
Your facility absolutely has to be clean, organized, well maintained, comfortable and inviting enough to attract and retain today's sophisticated consumers. Would you eat in a restaurant or visit a doctor if their facilities looked like some of the shops we have all seen? A dump truck, several gallons of paint and new lighting would do wonders for some shops.
The top shops attract the top people. You must have top people to perform top-quality work in an efficient manner. You must have a comprehensive pay and benefit package today, yet many shops do not even offer the No. 1 employee benefit - health insurance. How about an air-conditioned shop if you are in the Sun Belt?
You must have a comprehensive marketing plan today. The old story about building a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door went out with high- button shoes. Most national franchises dictate as much as 10 percent of gross sales be spent on marketing. How much are you investing in this area? Education
You cannot repair today's cars with yesterday's skills. The same goes for human resource skills. Constant updating is required both in the technical area and in the people-to-people area.
Computerized repair orders tell your customer you are up-to-date and have embraced the computer age. I can't imagine managing a shop today without computerized repair orders, integrated accounting, job costing, inventory control and profit management. If your software/hardware is 10 years old, it is past time to update. The new systems are absolutely fantastic.
Today's sophisticated cars require sophisticated tools to properly repair them. The old dwell meter won't cut it today. Don't overlook timesaving equipment like lifts and automatic parts washers also. Information
Yes, we are truly in the information age. You must have access to critical information to repair today's cars, and this area is better today than it has ever been due to numerous industry leaders dedicated to the cause. Yes, you will have to pay for it.
You are probably asking yourself - OK, but how do I pay for all of these "investments?" The answer is to offer and deliver the best auto repair value in your market and charging accordingly. Quit trying to be the low-cost provider as someone will always underprice you. Just make sure no one beats you on perceived value.
Join a 20 Group. Go to the industry shows and conventions. Be a part of trade organizations. In short, get involved and participate. The return on investment is priceless.
There are millions of vehicles on the road today, and the franchised dealer network can only service a small percentage of them. That leaves you, me and the rest of the aftermarket to service the majority of the vehicles on the road. Only in America.
We are getting our share, and I hope you are getting yours. Good luck, and I hope to see you at this year's CARS in Las Vegas.
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