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  Management Feature

Quick Service: Maintenance in the Fast Lane!

Posted 02/01/2013
By Charlie Polston

An express lane in your shop can open the door to a fresh revenue stream.’

Vehicle owners (consumers) generally have preconceived notions about automotive service centers and divide them into four broad categories:

Dealerships: This is where consumers go to receive free warranty work done on late-model vehicles when they break. They expect the service to be performed by factory-trained, top-notch technicians … at no charge.

Fast Lubes: When folks need a quick, routine oil change, this is where they go. The perception is that the service will be fast, convenient, and cheap; yet, it will be performed in a professional manner.

Tire Stores: Forgive me for stating the obvious, but people stop by the tire store when they need … well … tires.

Independent Shops: Vehicle owners visit their local shop when something goes wrong with their out-of-warranty car, truck or SUV. They expect personal service by competent technicians who will fix it right the first time.

Rather obviously, these are broad generalizations of consumer perception. The perceptions are accurate, but they are glaringly incomplete. In reality, the lines between the four types of service centers can get real blurry because they all overlap. For example, dealerships sell tires, tire stores change oil, independent garages flush transmissions, and so on.

Over the past 30 years, I have seen hundreds of automotive shops losing money and customers because they got focused on one thing: fixing broken cars.

Most service centers are seeing a reduction in car count – less vehicles coming into the shop. So if all you do is fix broken stuff, and stuff doesn’t break like it used to, or your customers defer repair until later, then you’ve got a problem.

When it comes to quick service (express service), three of the four service categories are chasing after the business. Dealer­ships have quick lanes where you can get oil changes, wipers, filters and fluid exchanges while you wait. Tire stores offer the same thing, and most people wait in the customer lounge while their tires are being installed. Fast lubes, as the name dictates, specialize in convenience, quick turnaround times, and all of their customers are waiters. Savvy fast lube operators have made “convenience” into a cottage industry by doing a full variety of automotive maintenance services “while you wait.”

On the other hand, independent service centers traditionally do not have express service as part of their business model. Most independent garages have some type of customer waiting area, but they really don’t want people to wait. I have met many shop owners who really shy away from express services. Some have a John Wayne macho mindset that says, in essence: “Lube, oil and filter services and maintenance are for sissies – we’re men, and men fix stuff!” It’s time for that mindset to change.

Rotary Lift – said to be the world leader in hydraulic vehicle lifts – recently conducted a survey of its service center customers that have added an express service lane to their business (see pie chart). More than 50 percent of shops said the greatest benefit to them came in two vital areas: customer retention (33 percent) and customer satisfaction (22 percent). My friends, that’s huge, because satisfied customers keep coming back and they tell their friends.

Other benefits from implementing quick service include customer convenience and shop volume. The thing that got me the most excited about the Rotary Lift survey was increased opportunity to sell service and parts. Rather obviously, this is why you’re in business.

Let me be clear: Express service provides a framework for customer convenience, customer satisfaction and customer retention. These three factors are important to your business, but they won’t make you any money. The only way you make money is by selling service and parts.

Express service allows you to see a greater volume of vehicles in the shop. That way, your techs can get their eyes and their hands on the vehicle, which leads to upselling opportunities.

I’m not suggesting you knock out a wall and start building more bays. Start with what you have, both in terms of equipment and personnel. Most shops are operating at less than 100 percent efficiency, so the odds are that you have the space and the time.

You do not have to make a radical shift in your business model, nor do you have to give up your core strength of being a first-class repair facility. I’m simply suggesting you expand your service offerings to place an emphasis on quick service and preventive maintenance.

As your express business grows and you need to hire additional personnel, remember it’s much easier to find maintenance techs and lube techs than it is to find master techs.

Maintenance services are the future of the automotive business, and an express lane in your shop is the key that opens the door to this fresh revenue stream.

My personal thanks to Dave Fischmer and the folks at Rotary Lift for allowing me to use their survey in this month’s AutoInc. article.

Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series of management articles that are contributed to AutoInc. by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. In 2013, AMI’s knowledgeable instructors will continue covering a variety of topics designed to educate and train today’s service and repair professional in AutoInc. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) Program.

Charlie Polston

Charlie Polston has been a customer retention and profitability consultant with BG Products Inc. for more than 30 years. He has been a frequent speaker at the National Automotive Dealers Association’s (NADA) annual convention. Additionally, he has conducted an AMI workshop at CARS. You can contact Polston at or call him at (918) 693-0164. For more information on training, email Polston at



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