Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2008   by Marc Stahl, Store Manager With Beverly Tire In Stoney Creek, Ont.

A Service Manager’s ‘Rant’

In this thankless, and too often referred to as 'heartless' industry that we are in, I thought this 'rant' would shed some light and possibly open some new trains of thought on a situation we see all ...

In this thankless, and too often referred to as ‘heartless’ industry that we are in, I thought this ‘rant’ would shed some light and possibly open some new trains of thought on a situation we see all too often today.

Think about this for a moment: That $30,000 car sitting in the customer’s driveway is the equivalent of a second mortgage. It is often said the family car is the second biggest purchase a person will every make, after buying a home. So how can someone neglect it? Why not maintain it and try to make it last? How many of you have gone outside in the freezing cold to install wiper blades, change a light bulb or check something in a customer’s car. How about checking tire pressures when your bays are all full? Did you receive the thanks for going that extra mile from the customer and preserving the investment in the vehicle that customer spent so much on? So this “thanks” is from me to you.

Now think about this: Have you ever bought gas on a long weekend only to be gouged at the pumps because of the possibility of a rainstorm at a refinery? Or how about spending over two dollars for a head of lettuce because of a shortage? The best one is trying to book a flight on the March break only to be told that you are going to pay $300 more than you would have the week before because it is peak season.

Now here’s my take on this. As a manager of an independent service shop, I could never get away with charging an extra $20 for a snow tire because it’s snowing. I also could never get $5 more for a popular tire that is on backorder. Better yet, I could never get $10 more per hour for labour because the car is on a hook and won’t start. The average Canadian spends over $700 a year at Tim Hortons alone. But a repair shop is a criminal for a $350 brake replacement, let alone a $600 set of tires that will last four-to-six years and keep the car safe on the road. When you think about it, there is something very wrong with such a scenario. A Canadian can spend $10 on a pack of cigarettes, a $1.50 for a bottle of water, and up to $8 for a submarine sandwich, but that same Canadian will balk at spending $15 for a sparkplug. Or better yet, the customer who comes in and tells you “I’ll only be keeping the car for three months” so they can forego a proper repair or to push for a repair using the cheapest part, but turn around and keep that car on the road for the next three years without properly maintaining it.

As service managers, technicians and owners we have all experienced these kinds of reactions from customers. Sometimes it provides a good laugh. But something more important is going on here. What we are seeing is a terrible lack of customer understanding of the value this industry provides to them. Everyone knows that you have to maintain your house, that you check the roof to make sure it is not leaking. You maintain such things as decks and driveways, and you regularly service the furnace, water heater and air conditioner so they provide years of safe and reliable service. Someone may grumble about the price, but they know the much higher cost of neglecting to take care of that furnace or not repairing a small leak in a pipe or roof

We need to do a better job educating people about the work we do and why we charge what we do, from that set of tires to the price of diagnostics for tracking down what exactly is causing the engine to make noise and then inexplicably stall. We are not out to gouge anyone, but too many people believe we are doing just that because we have not taught them that we are protecting the second most important investment they have made.

When someone buys a $4 cup of coffee, what they are paying for is a quality product and a high level of service. They certainly would not be paying that price if the coffee was poor and the service terrible, and the facilities dirty and poorly maintained. A customer would take their business elsewhere if it was. The same goes for this industry. When we charge a certain amount for diagnostics and then service, or for the high-quality set of tires or sparkplugs, we need to make sure customers understand they are paying for the same things that made them pay $4 for a cup of coffee. We are providing a quality service with a highly-skilled and educated staff, which listens carefully and provides helpful advice to a customer’s concerns and questions, technicians who are always upgrading their skills and excellent follow-up service and support.

Can we stop every customer from complaining or trying to drive our prices down? No, we can’t. But we can certainly work harder to make those kinds of customers very rare.

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