Every once in a while I play secret shopper in the automotive aftermarket and visit local shops here in the Toronto area.
Recently I did an interesting experiment in a suburban region of the city heavily populated with general repair shops, major chain repair operations and specialty quick lubes. My experiment was simple: I went shopping and approached individual shops inquiring about a power steering system flush on a while-you-wait basis. The major chain repair operations could perform the service, but not on a while-you-wait basis. A typical wait time was described between two hours and a day to perform this maintenance service. Independent repair shops were willing to do the service, but were simply too busy to get me into the line.
Most surprising were the quick lube operations. I tried four. The first one couldn’t do a power steering flush as they had never heard of the process. The second said they might be able to do a power steering flush, but the individual with the expertise wouldn’t be in until the following morning and suggested I return then. The third knew about power steering flushes and would top off the existing system if I purchased an engine oil change, but wouldn’t service the power steering system on a standalone basis. The fourth was similar.
It’s surprising, considering that power steering fluid service doesn’t involve removal of covers, pans and gaskets. There’s an enormous opportunity here not just for power steering system flushes, but for general purpose underperformed maintenance. It’s clear that major chains simply can’t turn vehicles fast enough, and the so-called quick lubes or fast service operations want to focus on very high-turns commonly performed service like windshield replacement, oil changes and auto detailing.
Independent shops I visited universally had the expertise and equipment to do a proper power steering system flush, but were simply too busy to accommodate a walk-in customer on a Saturday morning. What does this suggest?
One answer may be to use less skilled personnel, perhaps a junior “tire buster,” and package a simple maintenance service like the power steering system flush on a special or promotion. Would it work?
In the few operations I’ve seen that market specialty maintenance like this it seems to work well, either standalone or packaged as part of a larger vehicle maintenance promotion backed with proper promotion and advertising. Is it worth it?
Clearly yes, as preventative maintenance like engine oil changes have high customer appeal, are low cost for the consumer and have relatively high sales per square foot through quick turnover for the shop.
It’s a win-win scenario, with a better bottom line for shops, and longer-lasting vehicles for consumers.