Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2000   by CARS Magazine

PROFITS are no accident

If you're an automotive technician, you've no doubt sat through hundreds of hours of technical training. Even now, as a working tech, you likely take hours of training every year in order to keep up w...

If you’re an automotive technician, you’ve no doubt sat through hundreds of hours of technical training. Even now, as a working tech, you likely take hours of training every year in order to keep up with the latest developments in automotive technology. Most in the industry acknowledge the importance of keeping technical skills sharp. What we seem to be saying is that you can’t run an automotive business without the requisite technical know-how.

Agree? Sure you do.

Beyond Technical Training

But what about some of the other skills that are required to run a profitable operation? You or your staff might know everything you need to know about Kelsey-Hayes RWAL braking systems…but do you know how to play with margins to increase profitability? What about that customer who walked away disappointed last month? Are you skilled enough in the art of customer service to win him back from the guy down the street? We can be myopic, sometimes, when it comes to the so-called ‘soft skills’. Today’s retailer or wholesaler is a different breed. He or she must have a whole toolbox full of finely honed skills to remain competitive.

Let’s start by scrapping misleading terminology. “Soft skills” is such an unfortunate turn of phrase, isn’t it? Look in the dictionary. Soft means ‘giving way easily under pressure’…’weak, not vigorous’. No one wants to be soft. Soft doesn’t pay the bills. Soft won’t buy you that retirement property down south. Scrap soft.

Are you squandering your potential?

The skills required by today’s auto retailers and wholesalers are anything but soft. Today’s owners and managers need finesse when dealing with customers: they need sophisticated conflict resolution, communication and customer service skills. He or she also needs high level operations-oriented skills: you might be a genius at drawing customers through the door, but do you have the skills needed to generate as much profit as possible? Are you still going through that annual hell-day known as “inventory” blissfully unaware that newer techniques could very well save you hours of grief? The world is a smaller place these days. If a customer doesn’t like what she sees when she looks at the level of service you offer, there are a dozen other places willing and able to step in and help her out. You need hard-edged competencies in business management if you’re going to a) hang onto your customers and b) translate their patronage into a profitable, long-term enterprise.

It’s one thing to recognize a need. It’s an entirely different matter to find a cost- effective, easily integrated means of satisfying that need. CARS (Canadian Automotive Repair and Service) and the AIA (Automotive Industries Association) have teamed up in recent months to explore the possibility of addressing this ‘forgotten’ skill set. CARS has had great success over the past year with our line up of technical training. Comments from viewers and business owners have been overwhelmingly positive. Now that our technical training is off to a flying a start, it’s time to turn our attention to providing the same high quality, low-cost training option in the management skills area.

“Business skills training is not a luxury: it’s a necessity”, says AIA’s Deborah Moynes-Keshen. “We’ve done research through focus groups and conversations with members, all of which indicates a need for business skills training. The issue hasn’t been addressed fully and there is a growing recognition that to make your business viable and healthy in the long term, you have to have on-going business skills training”. Both large and very small jobbers and WDs felt the need for skills upgrading that would help them better manage their operations to remain competitive, Moynes-Keshen says.

Smaller installers win

Initially, CARS IDL training focus has been on auto service and repair facilities, catering mainly to the training needs of the back shop technician. As CARS enters its second broadcast year, that focus will expand to accommodate a more diverse audience. Jobbers are a natural fit for IDL training and a number of forward thinking companies have decided to offer IDL access to their installer customers as a value added service. Under ordinary circumstances, the smallest owner-operator wouldn’t be able to afford high-quality, ‘on-tap’ style training. By partnering with CARS, a jobber or WD can become the hub around which its installers’ training strategy revolves. It’s the ultimate win-win: the installer gains those crucial business skills that will ensure survival in the face of increasing competition, and the jobber benefits from the loyalty and increased sales volumes generated by a more sophisticated and profitable installer customer.

Fleet management companies are another potential candidate for IDL. With responsibility for dozens, even hundreds of vehicles, fleet companies must ensure that their techs and managers are at least as sophisticated as those of the competition. Mistakes and inefficiency at that level can become a profitability nightmare.

Next steps

Owners and managers expressed their training needs through AIA’s recent training needs survey. We think they have a lot of good ideas. Check out some of the courses you might be able to see on the CARS Network in coming months:

Handling the Difficult Customer

Business Management

Customer Service Skills

Profitability and Current Revenue


Understanding Financial Statements

To accommodate the new course offerings, CARS recently built a second studio at its Richmond Hill, Ontario facility.

We all know that running a profitable operation requires more than just guts and good intentions. CARS ensures that its subscribers have access to high level yet cost effective technical and business skills training broadcast daily. Can you afford not to keep up with your competition? Intrigued by the concept of interactive satellite technology? Want to know how CARS can improve the profitability of your operation? Call Linda Brown at (905) 709-1010 or catch us at our new toll-free number: 1-888 224-3834.n

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