The Two Roads to Success

As shop owners and managers, the busier we are, the better the business. But do you ever feel that something is happening, and you’re too busy to pay attention? You really need to pay attention.
At the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association’s (AASA) annual Vision conference (not to be mistaken for ASA’s VISION High-Tech Training Conference), I was asked, “What keeps you up at night about independent repair shops?” I have two answers.

First, the rate of adoption of new vehicle technologies has become staggeringly fast. Many technologies are hitting the market in half their expected time. To our collision members, I’ll advise sending out a scout to learn what’s new, or you might have to kiss your traditional cycle time goodbye. To our service repair members, I’ll say the same thing. A huge number of cars with new technologies are coming out of warranty and will be visiting you soon.

I was recently working on a Ford Sync system, which is something I teach parts of in one of my classes. This particular year and model had a unique updating technique that I hadn’t yet performed. It took some finessing to talk the system into cooperating, even with the Ford scan tool. The question of “Is it the software or is it the hardware?” is not unfamiliar to drivability technicians, and it leads me to the advice I have for you.

Your shop’s technicians need to learn incrementally. Knowledge gained in one system often applies to another system, and the technologies out there now are the gateways to future generations of vehicle systems.

If you can comfortably and efficiently diagnose vehicle stability controls, drive by wire, parking-assist systems and even cruise control, you’re laying the foundation for a knowledge base that will support you as these systems become increasingly more integrated.

The second issue deserves more space than I have here: market share. But I’ll write about it next time.

For decades, independent repair shops have performed 70 to 80 percent of the post-warranty repair work. And we’ve been complacent about this for too long. The business models we’ve enjoyed got a serious shakedown a few years ago, and many people found themselves looking for a solution that worked really well. Their solution was to work harder and cut margins.

I’m now hearing from many of our members that it’s an unrewarding way to do business. Many traditional and nontraditional players are looking at that percentage and seeing how easy it would be to carve off a big chunk of it. They could be successful.

The ASA board of directors and I don’t believe this is inevitable. But we also don’t think that our future success is secured by just keeping busy. Now’s the time for you to spend some time on your business – you notice I said “on” your business.

Unplug from “busy” and attend an industry event. Write the check and don’t complain about the cost. The experience will pay dividends far greater than the cost. Learning to build a better mousetrap is something you owe your employees and your own sanity.