Auto Service World
Feature   January 1, 2001   by Jim Anderton

Selling ourselves short

It's an issue that's talked about across the country. It comes up every time I talk to service centre owner/operators, and also when consumers ask for my advice. Of course, I'm talking about money, an...

It’s an issue that’s talked about across the country. It comes up every time I talk to service centre owner/operators, and also when consumers ask for my advice. Of course, I’m talking about money, and specifically about the labour component of the automotive repair. Yes, it’s been beaten to death in both the consumer and trade media, but I’m going to render my opinion once, and leave it alone for 2001, I promise. My opinion? Pick a pricing policy, and stick with it. The vast majority of consumers don’t give a damn about your door rate, they want the cheapest possible quality repair. If someone feels that they can get the service cheaper at a dealer with a $58 rate, ask them one question before they leave: why not bring in the invoice after the job, and compare at the bottom line. Why? Because if you’re priced correctly, meaning a rate that reflects the efficiency of your operation, both in technology and the skill of your technicians, you’ll beat the discounter nine times out of ten on serious work.

My point is this: walk-in trade that bitches about your need to see a return on a seven-figure investment is also the customer who will cherry pick the brake, exhaust, tire and battery service from wherever and whoever is giving it away that week. That is not a lost customer, it’s a customer you never really had, and never will. Your regular clientele, however, also read the papers, so at some point, they’ll at least wonder if they’re getting a reasonable price. Want to dispel any doubts? Get one of those low door rate shop’s invoices, and then compare it to the customer’s bottom line price using the “book”, and your current door rate. Then post the results in some prominent place where your customers can see it. And while you’re at it, why not post a “laundry list” of capitol equipment installed in your shop. This is especially important now, as massive diagnostic test benches are being replaced with excellent handheld units. Unfortunately, consumers can’t see the five grand investment inside a cabinet, so something like “We use XXX test equipment for fast, accurate diagnosis” is a good idea. Talk to your jobber or equipment rep for the signage or point of purchase displays. It’s amazing how often I see banners trumpeting a brand of motor oil, and nothing describing how that shop can troubleshoot effectively. The same goes for modern maintenance equipment for engine or transmission flushing.

Can bargain hunters be weaned from the $14.95 oil change? I think so, mainly because I used to be one myself. Now, for example, I never spend less than eighty to a hundred bucks for an alignment job. Why? Because I don’t want the tech setting the toe with a sledgehammer, and I want to know if there’s an issue with the vehicle’s suspension and steering with enough lead-time to do something before I wear out a set of expensive tires. If they resist that sort of logic, then you probably don’t want them anyway.

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