The One Thing You Can Fix to Grow Your Shop Today

Focusing on the results instead of the activity can help elevate your shop’s success and increase your bottom line.

John Wooden, one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time, has a quote: “Do not mistake activity for achievement.”

Year after year, I’m sure Coach Wooden saw people confusing activity and achievement on the court. Think about tryouts, when less talented players would try to make up for lack of skill with their hustle. As a former high school tennis coach, I know what Wooden means: It’s easy to admire the less-talented kids who give everything they have on the court to make up for their lack of skill.


The problem is that hustle and grit can’t make up for a lack of skill, for doing the wrong thing or for working toward the wrong end. It’s the same reason why working harder and longer in our shops doesn’t actually make us successful: We mistake activity for achievement. We spend more and more time away from our families, work later and later, sacrifice more and more and yet the problems are still there.

We get so caught up in the activity of owning a shop that we lose sight of the actual desired results: Owning a successful shop. I’ve been studying shop numbers and learning how to fix shop problems for more than 40 years. I can tell you from experience that there are almost no simple solutions for shops. Repair shops are like vehicles, made up of complex systems in need of complex solutions, and trying to fix your shop takes time and patience.

So when I say that the end result is to own a successful shop, understand that I’m not trying to simplify matters. But what I am trying to say is that we can pull apart systems in a shop and diagnose the problems the same way we can with a vehicle. And that means while fixing all of a shop’s systems is a big task, starting out doesn’t have to be.

All we have to do is focus on results instead of activity.

Consider your shop’s average ticket

On the surface, it’s a simple calculation: sales divided by cars. As an indicator of the health of your shop, there are few numbers or calculations that are more straightforward or to the point. But think about everything wrapped up in this one single number.

Because the bottom number isn’t just cars. It’s also the quality of the customers that drive those cars, their level of trust, their willingness to listen to recommendations, and your reputation in the community. All of these things are already decided before the customer ever steps into your shop.

And the top number isn’t just sales. It’s also the thoroughness of the inspection and the skill of the technician, the ability of the service adviser to educate the customer about those recommendations, the ability of your service advisers to manage your parts gross profit, your shop’s follow-up process, and the customer service provided by your entire front counter staff.

Each of these things directly impacts your average repair order, yet how many of these things are treated like an activity that just “needs to be done” rather than a result that needs to be achieved?

Of course, it would take dozens of articles to cover these topics, and the title of this article is about one thing that you can fix to grow your shop today. So to illustrate how we can focus on results instead of activity in our shop and how you can put this way of thinking into action today, let’s focus on the aspect I listed, which not only can have the biggest impact on your average repair order, but is also the aspect that is most often disregarded as an activity we do because we have to do: the inspection.

Why is the inspection so important?

Even on just the surface, the inspection is what keeps you from losing your shop. When we play order-taker and just do what the customer asks, we open ourselves to an enormous amount of liability. After all, explicitly stated or not, you’re the expert, and when that customer leaves your shop, their brakes and hoses fail, and they sue you, the judge will only see your logo on the invoice and your failure to inform them that their car was in danger of malfunctioning and call it an open-and-shut case.

Of course, I’m not here just to argue that your shop have a policy of doing thorough inspections on every vehicle. That much, I hope, is a given. I’m here to argue that having a policy of thoroughly inspecting a vehicle is an activity. If your techs are simply supposed to do it because those are the rules, there’s no result they’re trying to achieve. It quickly leads to pencil whipping — where the techs rush through forms, check items they want to do and skip the ones they hate.

Having a policy isn’t the end result, though, is it? Doing thorough inspections means more than just protecting the shop from liability. It also means building trust, because the customer knows they have an expert who is working to protect them. It means building a pipeline, because even items that aren’t purchased today are in the back of the customer’s mind for next time. And it means increasing your average repair order in an ethical, sustainable way: by giving the service adviser a list of items the customer actually needs so the service adviser can educate the customer.

There is no surer, more sustainable way to grow your shop today than to focus on achieving results in your inspection process. Which begs the question: how can we focus on achieving results in the inspection process? The same way you fix every other part of the average repair order that I listed above: measure, track, train, adjust, incentivize and hold your team accountable.

I realize that’s not an easy thing to hear. Shop owners are constantly told to focus on activities instead of results and it’s led us to where we are. We focus on making sure our technicians are doing an inspection rather than whether they’re doing a thorough inspection. We focus on getting cars into our bays instead of whether they’re quality, loyal customers. We focus on the average repair order instead of whether it means we’re actually successful.

But the title of this article isn’t misleading. If we apply these steps to the inspection process, we can apply them anywhere.

Measure: What metric can you use to tell whether a technician is doing a thorough inspection? If a technician only tells you they found the problem the customer came in for, they’re pencil-whipping the inspection.

Track: Do your technicians do more thorough inspections close to pay day? In my shop, I noticed that they would be significantly more productive close to when they would get their checks. Unless you track day to day and week to week, you’ll never know.

Train: Do your techs have a clear understanding of what you expect them to do during an inspection? Do they know how to do a thorough inspection? Do they know where to go to learn more?

Adjust: When your measurement tells you that you have a problem, how will you adjust? In my shop, the huge increases in productivity right before pay day also meant a huge drop in productivity afterward. We went to weekly pay years ago and it changed the way our techs treated the inspection process.

Incentivize: Do your techs understand “What’s In It For Me?” It’s more than them understanding how their inspections affect the pipeline and thus their paycheck. Creating an incentive-based pay plan rewards them now for achieving the results your shop needs.

Hold them accountable: When your technicians don’t achieve, when they don’t hit the goals that lead to your shop’s success, you must hold them accountable or you will teach them that it was just an activity all along.

Apply these steps to your inspection process today and you’ll start growing your shop immediately. Apply them to other areas of your shop – how you advise at the front counter, how you control parts gross profit, your marketing – and you’ll step up your shop’s level of success for years to come.

It’s not magic. It’s not an “Easy Button.” But it is the way to stop focusing on the activity – and the chaos and lack of profits that it brings – and start focusing on real results, real growth and real change.