Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2004   by Bob Greenwood

Shop Business Management Skills Is a Development Process … Not Another Seminar or Sales Course

Shop operators from coast to coast are experiencing challenges like no other era ever seen before in our industry.

Shop operators from coast to coast are experiencing challenges like no other era ever seen before in our industry.

Consider the level of development of automotive technology over the past five years. Consider the change in vehicle service intervals. Consider the cost of diagnostic equipment to even begin the process of entering and sustaining this profession. Consider OBDII is standard and OBDIII must start to be embraced. Consider the technical skill level required today to be on the shop floor. Consider the uninformed consumer who likes their “toy” but doesn’t truly understand its complexity. Consider the change in vehicle sales mix with the dramatic increase of import vehicles and the decline of the “Big 3” in North America. Consider the lack of supply of larger facilities which are required to provide the shop the space to hold more equipment then ever required before in the history of our industry to meet complexities of vehicle service. Consider the longer period of time required to properly diagnose and service the vehicle to manufacturer recommended standards. Consider the “blackballing” of proper shop financing by the major banks in this country.

The shop business has changed drastically yet it is not being acknowledged properly within industry. Every level of the industry still talks about car count and the desire to drive more “sales”. The commodity side of the industry has the loudest voice and spends the money on marketing that screams to shop owners “more activity”, “make more sales with our products and programs, and be price competitive”. The commodity side of the aftermarket does not seem to understand at all how the shop business level has really changed and the need to address the real shop issues called “productivity” and “sustained individual client relationships”. They seemingly give this issue lip service only, without substance supporting or backing up their words.

Step back and consider the following: The manufacturer, warehouse distributor, and jobber are in the commodity business and they require sales of their products to survive. All their marketing displays their desired results. The Service Provider, however, is in the knowledge business and does not require the commodities to survive to the same extent, but rather requires proper billed hours at the right rate to survive and prosper. The Service Provider owner is not getting exposed to, or taught, the real issues of his/her shop that ensure proper net income is achieved and retained, allowing them to grow, prosper and enjoy a rewarding professional career. Instead, shop owners are approached by the commodity side and sold on the idea to attend and listen to a presentation that is, 1, 2, or 3 hours, or a 1 or 2 day seminar that preaches more sales, more car count, more activity. These are “motivational” or pep talks only and do nothing to teach the shop owner proper business acumen and best business practices. The shop owner is never introduced to his/her own numbers and allowed to work with them and clearly understand what they mean.

This is an absolute tragedy within our industry.

Consider that 75% of shop owners have grade twelve level education as their last year of formal education. From there, they worked very hard, payed the personal price of sacrifice, and achieved the designation of holding a Class “A” Automotive Service Technician License. They are knowledgeable about the vehicle and the best shops have a concerted effort in place to stay on top of this issue, however, one must ask, “Where were they taught how to read the balance sheet of their own business? Where were they taught how to measure and manage their current business properly? Where were they taught the difference between mark-up and gross profit? Where were they taught the workings of shop efficiency and its affect on the bottom line? Where were they taught how to manage gross profit and measure net profit? Where were they taught how to create a shop team through personnel development? Where were they taught the costs of accounts receivable and the “cancer” it can give a business?”

The facts are, the average shop in Canada today is missing between $45,000 and $80,000 in NET INCOME from their lack of management of their CURRENT business coming through the door. Independent shops don’t need more “car count”, they don’t need more “activity” … they need to learn how to manage properly what they currently have. If their business was managed correctly through the process of learning to develop best business practices and measure and manage “productivity” instead of chasing “activity”, Jobbers in this country would be getting paid in full each month and at better margins! The shop owner would enjoy a professional personal income as well as have the cash to move his/her business forward.

Jobbers and WD’s tell me shop owners are not interested in business management. This is true based on the fact Jobbers and WD’s sold seminars in the past and called them business management seminars or courses. They in fact were not. They were sales courses. This industry does not need another sales course. The Jobber and WD failed their customers!! The trust was and has been broken. They sold the shop owners sales courses and seminars focusing on sales techniques making the shop busier through increased activity and selling more parts forcing shop owners to work harder and not smarter. SALES WENT UP BUT NET INCOME DID NOT. The credibility of these Jobbers and WD’s is gone.

Many shop owners, as licensed technicians are nervous about approaching the real issue of Shop Business Management on their own.

I’ve heard from them “I will not understand as I wasn’t that good at school Math and English”. “I’m a tech not a pencil pusher”, “I would embarrass myself”. “That’s why I have a bookkeeper because business management is nothing but numbers and paperwork that bean counters have to understand”. These reasons are seldom spoken to their Jobber or WD, … instead, they say to their Jobber or WD “it is too expensive”, or the big one … “I don’t have time”,… or “I don’t need another course”, or “no one can show me something I don’t already know”, or “that stuff isn’t worth it anyway”. To all shop owners clinging to these “excuses” … wake up and do the math … you bought yourself a job and you know it, and your covered in debt that has increased your stress to undesirable levels which is affecting your family relationship. Do you want to do something about it or not???? If not, then stop your complaining and whining and accept your future consequences.

Understanding real shop Business Management is easier than you think, however you must work with it because it has not been part of your daily activity in your shop throughout your career. If you are a shop owner and a licensed technician YOU CAN GRASP AND UNDERSTAND PROPER BUSINESS MANAGEMENT!!!, however, the real question is “do you want to learn?” If you don’t want to learn, then KNOW ONE can help you and you should wind down your business and get out now while you can as the next five years are going to be challenging to say the least!!

If you do want to learn then plan the time now and enrol into a proper business course that is independent shop specific. I’m confident, if the course is the right one you truly will enjoy it.

You did not create the current industry issues. This is just reality today.

This business has changed and if your going to be in it you must clearly understand the business management side of it. You can not ignore this any longer. The independent sector of the automotive aftermarket industry is at a critical stage in its development. Without a proper business focus now, the net income will not be produced to obtain the right equipment, to upgrade facilities, to find, keep and pay the best technicians, and to provide management “with a life”.

It is time to stop listening to the emotions that have misled us, or the previous generation who worked under different circumstances. It is time to slow down and do the math of each individual business. Math does not lie. Professional business development and business acumen will not let you down.

Consider where you will be three years and five years from now. Be honest. Will your current business methods guarantee that you will be here in a healthy and prosperous manner? Prove the math right, or prove the math wrong, but take the right look at the math.

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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