Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2005   by Bob Greenwood

Aftermarket Insecurity Generates Low Wages

It has been said many times over the past five years that our sector of the automotive industry has become very challenging and very technical. We are an industry in rapid transition that requires to...

It has been said many times over the past five years that our sector of the automotive industry has become very challenging and very technical. We are an industry in rapid transition that requires to attract from the education system the very sharpest young minds enclosed in bodies that carry an abundance of energy and self-confidence. We are not an industry that requires people with “attitude” that have no desire to become the very best of what they are capable of being. We are not an industry that requires people just looking for a job with handouts. We are a sector in need of “movers and shakers”. The automotive aftermarket sector of the industry truly is the most exciting and the most challenging compared to any other industry in North America today. We are a sector who has a future that will “awe” people as the technology of the next generation vehicles hits the marketplace over the next seven years.

Why is it then, that we, within the independent sector of the automotive aftermarket industry demonstrate, through our actions, the opposite message? The general public, indeed, is not aware of the caliber of knowledge and “drive” required in our business today. The only thing that can really be said about that is “shame on us”!

As I write this article, we are 24 hours away from a Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO — the only retailers of liquor in the province) strike here in Ontario. I read in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper that the average union employee receives between $18.63 and $21.80 per hour plus benefits. Compare this to the average licensed automotive technician who earns between $18.50 and $24.59 per hour with half the benefits. I asked myself how much training and on-going investment is required to keep the shelves properly stocked today? How much training is required to operate a cash register and Interac machine today? Can anybody who has a desire to get up in the morning hold this job? You can obviously see where my frustration comes in. Don’t get me wrong; I know the people at the local LCBO and they are great individuals who do a fantastic job keeping the shelves full. They are also very helpful when my favourite product happens to run low and I ask them if it’s possible to bring out another case from the back room. They have served me very well and I even thank them and they said “you are welcome.”

Now I know I’m going to receive some criticism for my sarcastic approach (lighten up please, I’m trying to make a point with a “lighter” approach) BUT the fact remains it does not even compare to our sector of the industry, yet we sheepishly carry on our jobs and do our sincere best each and every day behind the scenes from where our customer/clients don’t have a clue what is involved. I see this LCBO/Aftermarket type comparison every day when one interacts with other industries and career models.

The question must be asked “what are we doing?”

Compare the responsibility, the energy, the education, the investment and the working environment to accomplish what we do for the general consumer. A competent technician is easily worth $85,000 to $90,000 per year. A business owner who has put “all” on the line and exposes him/herself to incredible odds is worth $100,000 plus a year, yet, in both cases we are only achieving one half to two thirds of those numbers as a norm for our industry. We would require labour rates in the $150.00 to $175.00 range to support this type of individual income.

Based on our “actions” to date, we must be a very insecure, guilt ridden group of people who have the belief that we are not worthy of a higher society career status and higher personal self esteem. I am saying to all of us, let’s give our heads a shake!!

Consider that we have to start changing our actions to support the message about the professionalism that is required today in our industry. To do this perhaps it is time every shop owner, every licensed technician, every jobber owner and jobber employee ask the following gut-wrenching questions — and be honest with yourself — “Do my physical and verbal actions coupled with my personal attitude display to the public an image that ‘wows’ them?” “Do I “look” like a professional in the public’s mind?” “Does our facility provide an atmosphere of comfort and “high-tech” cleanliness that produces a desire in bright boys or girls that some day they would like to work in a building and environment like this?” If you are “chuckling” at these questions and saying “yeah right”, then you are the one we have to reach and change.

Consider that perhaps it is long over due that all of us start conveying to the public the talent required today to execute our functions on consumer vehicles ranging from $18,000 to $85,000 plus. When we won’t take the time to educate them properly and professionally, then how can we expect them to understand? How can we get them to say “Wow, I really didn’t know how technical and complicated this is? Am I ever glad I’m dealing with you.”

I’ve mentioned it before that many people pay $99.00 per hour plus parts, plus a $99.00 service call to service a $5,000 home furnace. People pay $60 per hour plus parts with a minimum of 1 hour charge for maintenance on a $1,000 snow blower and I’m confident you are aware of what the consumer has to pay to fix their boat. Now I know many of you are thinking luxury items and home necessity items that are not in need of frequent service are different. I disagree because the vehicle they drive is a necessity. It is because of our environment and the degree of how they use their vehicle that requires it to have more frequent service intervals. Is that our fault? I don’t think so.

We, as an industry, are way out of perspective in terms of value we bring to the product being serviced. We have bought into our own rhetoric, and have now educated the consumer, that the cheapest price is the best price. It is time to get out of this ridiculous price rut we have weaned the consumer on. That statement not only applies to shop owners and technicians but also the Jobber business as well.

Consider that it is time all of us, at every level of our industry, “stand tall” and become very proud, not only personally, but through our displayed actions with each other, and the consumer, of who we are and what we represent. We are not “second class” citizens. We are “first class” professionals fulfilling a very important service to the average consumer. With out us … well … they are “toast.” The worst thing we can do is get on our “high horse” with that attitude. We can, however, confidently display and professionally discuss with them, what is required today of each person within the aftermarket industry, at every level, from the Manufacturing representative to the Jobber employee to the Shop owner and Service Technician, the knowledge and the skill level required to execute properly and professionally, the things we do for our customer/client base.

We truly are the best kept secret from the consumer today. What are you doing for your part to change our industries direction?

Robert (Bob) Greenwood is President & CEO of E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. and Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. Bob has 29 years of industry-specific business management experience. He has developed shop business management courses for independent Service Providers recognized as being the most comprehensive courses of their kind available in Canada. Bob is the first Canadian Business Management Consultant and Trainer to be recognized for his industry contributions when he received the prestigious Northwood University Automotive Aftermarket Management Education Award in November 2003. E. K Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. offices specialize in the independent sector of the automotive aftermarket industry preparing analytical operating statements for management purposes, personal and corporate tax returns and business management consultation. Visit them at and sign up for their free monthly management e-new
sletter. Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. is a leading edge company devoted to developing comprehensive shop management skills through the e-learning environment. Visit and take the free overview. Bob can be reached at (613) 836-5130, 1-800-267-5497, FAX (613) 836-4637 and by E-Mail: or