Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2002   by Bob Greenwood

Greenwood On Management: It is time for competent shops to turn up the heat

The title of this article may appear as if I am talking about the temperature of the shop since this is a February article. Not so. I am referring to the fact that if you are a competent maintenance a...

The title of this article may appear as if I am talking about the temperature of the shop since this is a February article. Not so. I am referring to the fact that if you are a competent maintenance and service shop, it is time to flex your muscle and exude confidence in what you do and who you are. You are better than the real competition because you are an “Independent”, and it is time you pointed that out to your clients.

Why is it time to be aggressive? Why should you take that extra five to ten minutes with each client? Why should you solidify your relationships within your marketplace? Because the competition doesn’t get it yet and you do. You are three years ahead of them and you should realize it and feel very confident in it.

I must share with you a real life experience to back up what I am saying.

My 2001, 4.0 Oldsmobile Aurora had 49,800 kilometres on it when it developed a severe hesitation, sometimes on acceleration, and other times cruising at 100 kilometres per hour, forcing the check engine light to come on. This concerned me of course as I felt this is still a “young” car for such a problem, but, after thinking the situation through, I made a “Management” decision, not to take the problem to my client, who is exceptionally competent, but to do some market research by taking my problem to my local dealership.

I decided I would get some basic service (oil change, “tune-up”, rear burned out fog light bulb changed, and a burned out heated seat lightbulb on my centre console) done as well, to really see if I would enjoy the experience as the advertising leads me to perceive in how important my business is to them, and how enjoyable the visit to a dealership would be because they really care.

I phoned the service department of the dealership where I bought the car, to explain my problem and to see when I could come in. They said they would need the vehicle for the day so I asked if it would be possible to have wheels to get around town? “No problem, we will reserve you a free rental car from across the street.” The following morning at 7:30AM, when they opened, I was first in line anxious to enjoy “my experience”, as I hadn’t been back since my first “free” oil change at 5,000 kilometres.

The service writer greeted me, and asked for my name, and proceeded to put my name in the computer. “I” wasn’t there. “Have you been here before he asked?” “Yes, but try my office phone number”. Bingo, my company and vehicle appeared coupled with the problem that I described the previous day and other services I desired. “Do you need anything else Mr Greenwood?” I said, “not that I know of.” “No problem,” the service writer replied, “I recommend along with your tune-up, our winter special package for $89.99 which includes lube, oil and filter, tire rotation, fluid level check, brake, exhaust, electrical and front end system inspection, and cooling system flush and fill.” “Go for it.” I replied, as I could clearly see this is what he was taught to sell at “service writer school”.

Near the end of the day, I called the same service writer to see if my car was ready. He checked and told me the car would be finished in 20 minutes as they were just replacing the rear bulb, but they had a problem with my console heated seat bulb in that the technician cracked the mahogany frame trying to remove it, but one would be here within two days, they would call me, and they would fix it then. “I’m sorry, I apologize for that” was his comment. I was not impressed.

I dropped off my rental car, walked across the street, ready to pick up my car. The service writer reviewed what was done then proceeded to say “sorry, I apologize for that” referring to the inconvenience of having me come back, then gave me the 3-page invoice to take to the cashier. I paid the robotic cashier $381.29 taxes included, opened the door to my car, removed their dirty paper floor mats (I hate someone else’s garbage, they think it shows me they care) and to my shock, the passenger side of the carpet was covered in grease. I went back in and got the service writer to come out and look at it. “This is MY car, and this is unacceptable” I said. He replied, “I apologize, I’m sorry for that, let me get it back in for a quick clean-up”. After waiting 15 minutes, he brought the car back out and stated the cleaning fumes are quite strong and recommend I drive home with the window down. I started my car, and proceeded to drive off the lot, when, guess what?… the car hesitated and the check engine light came on. Needless to say I was “pi……..” . I immediately backed up, got the service writer out to the car, showed him the light, and of course he was just as confused. “I’m sorry, I apologize for that,” he proceeded to say one more time. The shop foreman was called out, hooked up a scanner, then decided to take it for a test drive. After a ten minute test drive he came back in, and told me the technician had forgot to clear the codes, the light is off, and everything is OK. I’m not a technician, but I have been in the industry long enough to think to myself, that doesn’t pass the smell test, but I said (like a consumer) “OK, thanks”. Then, the service writer stepped in one more time and said “Sorry, I apologize for that Mr. Greenwood”. I was snickering to myself and proceeded to drive off.

Less then 2 kilometres from the dealership, the car hesitated and the check engine light came on, and I was shaking my head. I got home and decided to check my light on the back of the car, and guess what?.. they forgot to change that too. I couldn’t believe it. I checked the invoice, and it clearly said “replace fog light left rear warranty”. “Oh boy”, I thought, “I wonder how many times this happens”.

I got on the phone, and asked to talk to the “head” of the service department. As soon as I said my name, he interjected and said, “Mr. Greenwood I heard about your problems and when your car comes in for the panel replacement, we will do a full interior shampoo and clean up at no charge. What happened was unacceptable.” I then proceeded to discuss how they treated MY car in such an unprofessional way, but when I explained the real reason I was calling (check engine light and rear fog bulb), there was a huge silence on the other end. “God, I’m sorry Mr. Greenwood, you certainly don’t have a good impression of us and I will correct that when you come back in, as this is not the normal way we service our customers”. I had to be sarcastic and say “Am I special?” The manager then said, “this is Tuesday, your part will be in tomorrow some time, can we schedule you for Thursday morning?” “I will be there,” I said.

On Thursday morning at 7:30 AM the manager greeted me and gave me his personal car for the day. Everything would be ready by 3:30 that day, I was told.

At 3:30 I arrived to pick up my car, and it was clean, very clean, inside and out. The manager clarified that it was another problem causing the hesitation (crank angle sensor failed), problem resolved, the new panel had been inserted, and the light bulb now replaced. He proceeded to say “I’m sorry, I apologize for your experience”. I had to ask about the bulb, as to why it wasn’t caught, and he explained that the technician read fog light bulb which to him meant at the front of the car and reported it was OK. I asked “Did he not walk around and see that possibly another bulb was burnt out?” “They don’t do anything they are not told to do.”

Well if this story doesn’t have you falling off your chair by now then I don’t know what will.

This is my Management research hard at work.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Independent sector, it is time to get fired up about who you are and the type of business we do. We are the Independent sector. We are competent, we have great staff, we understand our clients, we truly care, and we show it every day. Don’t you dare feel inferior to the dealerships. Your labour rates should be higher because we are competent, IN EVERY WAY. We have them beaten, and believe me I know it; my continuous detailed market research keeps telling me so. If you feel I’m a littl
e worked up about this, I am, because there is no need to feel like, or be, a second class shop, but I recall that “service writer 101” first lesson: “I’m sorry, I apologize for that”.

Robert (Bob) Greenwood is President and CEO of E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. and Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. Bob has over 27 years of Business Management experience within the automotive industry, counseling individual shops in Ontario.

E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. offices specialize in the independent sector of the automotive industry, preparing analytical operating statements for Management purposes, personal and corporate tax return completion, Business Management consultation and Business Management and Employee Development Courses. Visit E. K. Williams & Co. on the Internet at and sign up for their FREE monthly management letter sent to you by E-mail.

Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. is a company devoted to developing Automotive Shop Business Management skills through the E-Learning environment over the inter-net. Students learn at their own speed, and at a time, and place, that best suits their needs; available 7 days a week 24 hours a day. Visit Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. on the Internet at

Bob can be reached at (613) 836-5130, 1-800-267-5497, FAX (613) 836-4637 or by E-mail; or

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