Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2000   by Jim Anderton

A crazy business

I had heard the story before, many times. "The guy down the street is selling brakes at $39.00 an axle. It's crazy!" The comment, from the owner of a reputable service centre, was one of many, and is ...


I had heard the story before, many times. “The guy down the street is selling brakes at $39.00 an axle. It’s crazy!” The comment, from the owner of a reputable service centre, was one of many, and is the most common issue that we at SSGM hear from the trenches: pricing in the business has gone from bad to worse. Granted, this is a competitive retail segment in a competitive economy, but the cycle of insane loss-leaders coupled with the scramble to make up lost ground through the chassis or powertrain business is a prescription for disaster. I wish I could blame the “curbsiders”, and although back-alley shops are a problem, this issue is clearly derived from licensed shops, often mass-merchandisers with banners we all know. Pricing is a sensitive issue, but as the industry evolves, independents feel that they are losing their ability to set fair prices for quality work in this age of Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

If you’re an independent, the game can’t be about fighting over jobs whose real margins disappeared years ago, but to embrace the services that the big guys can’t, won’t and likely never will offer. If they’re tied to specific national brands, offer a range of parts. Not just good, better, best, but by specific brand name. Roll unusual combinations of service together. On the hoist for drums and shoes? Why not replace that electric lock solenoid while you’re there? The brake and exhaust shop likely can’t and won’t tie up a high-volume bay to chase the little things, and that means two or three-stop shopping for the consumer. For today’s time-strapped consumer, one-stop broad range repairs are worth a small price premium on brake or suspension work, especially where the job is differentiated from the specialty shop’s work. Of course, that requires TELLING the customer about you’re A-level service, both on paper, and in person. Does every work order fully describe every service in plain English? Write out descriptions in full, and separate each step. ‘Charging system diagnosis” and “Replace Alternator” are not the same service. ‘Lubricate locks and hinges” is a common courtesy service, and if you’re giving it away, spell it out: “Lubricate all locks and hinges… No Charge”. Emphasize the “No Charge”. If you discount, make sure the original price appears on the work order. If it doesn’t, you’ve just established, in the customers mind, a new “regular price”. Bring the technician into the process, by letting the service advisor introduce the tech to the customer. Is there a phone on the shop floor? One phone call each morning by technician to a customer, say two weeks after a job, can work wonders. “How is the car now? Everything OK?” Five minutes that buys customer loyalty. None of this is new, but it’s amazing how often I see shops dropping the ball on customer service basics. Done properly, it can result in local markets with profitability for big and small players alike.


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