A casual stroll down a computer store’s software aisle will reveal that there is a modest choice of accounting or business management software. Ignoring the ultra-cheap packages there are actually only two – QuickBooks and Simply Accounting.
But before you reach out to purchase such a package for your shop, you should really think if these off-the-shelf packages will help or hinder your business. Will they really reflect the nuances and the specialized needs of a vehicle repair facility?
“The only shop owners that are using QuickBooks, Simply Accounting or similar programs are the ones that are being held at gunpoint by their accountants,” said Danny Lankar, owner and president of Autogence, the developers of Lankar Pro and Lankar Enterprise business management systems. “Their accountant is telling them ‘I know QuickBooks, I know Simply Accounting. I don’t care about your business. I just want you too make my life easy so you use this software.'”
The advantage of the Lankar system is that it is made specifically for automotive repair shops. Danny Lankar is a software engineer and his brother owned a repair shop where he was a hyper-gopher as he describes it. The Lankar system was created to address the failings of the standard accounting programs in a repair shop scenario.
“QuickBooks is what I call a two-tier management system. You have a customer and that customer can have many invoices,” said Lankar. “The thing that is needed for this service industry is a three-tier system. I can have a customer and that customer can have many vehicles; and many different machines. And each of those machines can have many invoices. You can’t do that with QuickBooks.”
“The second thing is that The Lankar Shop Management system is designed so you can record on all the areas of your business,” he said. “Kilometre usage, shop supplies, tax levies. You can interface with the labour guide and do parts ordering online.”
In business for over 15 years, Lankar’s software is used by thousands of shops in over 14 countries according to Lankar. “We’ve been doing this for a long time. The way it works is that the service advisor creates the work order and sends it to the technician. The technician hears a beep on his screen and sees the work that needs to be done. When they are done they make a note and it goes back to the service advisor who can then contact the customer that their vehicle is ready.”
The software will show how much actual work was done and how much bill time was done.
“It could show this by employees where someone might have billed 55-hours a work but in actuality they have worked 37-hours. You can see the margins by employee,” he said.
Based in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Costar offers a similar one-stop system for autoshop management.
“We are a fully integrated program,” said Laine Colman, national sales manager at Costar Computer Systems. “It has a point of sale, payable receivables, inventory management, purchasing and will produce the financial statement in both electronic and paper formats.” Colman added the Costar system is “predominantly found at the service counter and in the accounting office. There are some shops that will take this system to the service bays but we see that they are used primarily up in the front office.”
He said that Costar imports and export data to popular Office formats.
Like the Lankar system the Costar application, “will pull down the appropriate labour times for job that is to be performed. Will track billable or book time versus actual time,” said Coleman. “The product ships with a tire guide information that is built in to the system. That data is updated regularly. Filters and other (part) information comes from NAPA and other suppliers which the system is linked into.”
Both the Costar and the Lankar applications have effective and sophisticated Customer Relationship Management systems built in. Coleman said their system, “will handle multiple vehicles for the same customer, and has functionality for customer follow-up by telephone, mail (or) postcard.
Lankar explained their system’s database could contain a copious amount of information on the customers’ vehicles. He suggests that a telephone call is frequently more effective than an email or postcard.
“Occasionally there will be a technician who is idle. What we suggest is to get these idle employees to make a call for the personal touch. In one hour you will be able to get about twenty calls made,” he said. “They will be able to answer questions and make an appointment right away. This will generate business and build loyalty.
“When you’re talking about Mitchell 1 software, you’re really talking about two platforms,” said Nick Diverde, general manager for Shop Management Solutions at Mitchell 1. “First, our shop management systems, Manager, Manager Plus, and Manager Enterprise, help service businesses to track their jobs from estimate to invoice. Our information platform, OnDemand, helps service advisors and technicians find the estimating, maintenance, and repair data they need to service nearly every passenger car and light truck they might encounter. We can also help technicians service medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.”
“Manager, Manager Plus, and Manager Enterprise are tightly integrated with our OnDemand product,” he said. “So service advisors can accurately estimate jobs and provide their technicians with the service data they need, like technical service bulletins, specifications, or color wiring diagrams.”
Both Lankar and Costar also integrate with Mitchell 1’s OnDemand system.
“OnDemand includes a number of tools to help service professionals find information fast, including a specifications index for every vehicle and a keyword search,” said Diverde.
“The best integration exists between our shop management and information products, which we conveniently bundle for shops in a package we call TeamWorks. Additionally, other shop management providers can interface with OnDemand.”
Another online tool that can help technicians solve repair and diagnostic quandaries is Identifix.
“We are a truly unique service. A stand alone Web Site,” said Aaron Cherrington, vice-president of Corporate and Channel Sales for Identifix, Inc. “We are the oldest and largest repair hotline that serves both the US and Canadian markets.”
Since 1987 they have taken over 3.6 million calls from technicians across North America helping them solve the most difficult diagnostic challenges.
“Today we have 45 guys broken up into five teams that take calls. They are separated by car lines so that if you call about a Ford you will speak to a Ford specialist who will know all the latest tools and diagnostic scan tools and has all the information available. We actually have over 10,000 printed manuals at our site. We created a Web Site because we started seeing the same problems over and over. So we essentially created an archive.”
The archive has over 400,000 individual articles and covers virtually every vehicle that is in service.
“If it happened on a car then we probably have some information on it,” stated Cherrington. “We have our users confirm the accuracy of our procedures.” The archive database is constantly growing and technicians can access it from the shop or from home – wherever it is convenient.