Like personal banking and waiting for aspirin to kick in, there’s a certain amount of lead-time in the magazine business. What you read on this page was written several weeks ago, making “breaking news” impossible. That can be a blessing however, because it forces me to think in terms other than about what’s immediately hot. Which brings me to the point. During a brief conversation with Bob Greenwood recently (check out his column on page 32) Bob asked me a surprising question: ” Do technicians refer to themselves as “Class A” licensed anymore?” It’s a question specific to Ontario, where before licensed auto service techs were qualified as “AST’s” (automotive service technician) they were “Class A mechanics”. Does it matter what you call it? I think it does, for a couple of reasons. One is that “AST” does nothing to recognize the achievement of an apprentice who has passed class work, exams and completed the long hours in the bay to get that “ticket”. The other is more important: Merchandising. Automotive service is just that: a service industry.
And success in a service industry is about perceived level of value. That ‘s different from actual value. You could do customers brakes in stainless and carbon fibre, but if you deliver it with a soiled interior, late and not at the agreed price, to the customer it’s a lousy job. To me, ‘AST” sounds like a computer company. “Class A” sounds like someone I want working on my brakes. Service businesses in this country as a rule don’t think or do anything like enough marketing (check out Gordon Cameron and Ken Keis on page 38). From that perspective, what will impress potential clients more, a shop full of AST’s, or Class A technicians? And then consider the potential for tiered labour rates. When my wife gets here hair done (there’s an industry that could teach us a thing or two about margins and profitability) a “senior stylist” costs more than a junior hairdresser does. She understands this practice, and more importantly, it makes sense to her, because the perceived level of value of the senior operator justifies the price. Could the junior stylist do as good a job? Possibly. But the senior haircutter will for sure well justifying the additional cost. Why doesn’t this principle apply in automotive service? At progressive shops it does, and a think that an official designation such as “Class A” can be a very useful tool. Come to think of it, ASE serves that purpose as well. The “Master” shoulder patch is well established south of the border, and although far less common up here, there’s a marketing advantage to having good technicians that look like good technicians even to the untrained eye. Here in Toronto, when I’m not doing the work myself, I ask for a Class A tech for anything more complex than an oil change. It’s about my personal perceived level of value.