Auto Service World
News   September 8, 2015   by Allan Janssen

WHAT I’VE LEARNED: Going digital

Winnipeg shop contemplates a new tablet-based inspection system to streamline shop processes and increase productivity.

Jeff Rempel (left) with business partner Richard Janzen.

Jeff Rempel (left) with business partner Richard Janzen.

The techs at George Rempel Auto Service in Winnipeg have had a lot of processes to learn.

Under the ambitious and progressive direction of Jeff Rempel and Richard Janzen, they use some of the most detailed and thorough systems in the aftermarket… and there are even more coming.

If the owners’ plans come through, they’ll soon be digitizing the inspection process with a tablet-based workflow system. They’ll collect all vehicle data in one place, eliminate double data entry, and improve communication both within the shop and with clients.

“I think it’s the direction we have to go,” says Richard, one of the partners in the business. “This gives us more precise data, without having to go back and forth between the front and the back several times. We’ll be able to find out instantly where every job is at.”

Going digital offers a long list of benefits. Among them:

– instant communication between the service advisors and the technicians;

– smooth integration with their shop management system;

– easier parts identification and ordering;

– streamlined estimate building;

– built-in labor tracking;

– access to manufacturer TSBs and recall information;

– a comprehensive archive of vehicle histories; and

– the ability to send emails to clients that contain full inspection results, pictures, videos, and even audio files that tell customers what’s going on with their cars, or how vehicle systems work.

“We’ve always been very progressive here,” says Richard. “This is just one more way we can improve our workflow and build trust with our customers.”

Paul Wertwyn does a rear brake job on a Pontiac Vibe.

Paul Wertwyn does a rear brake job on a Pontiac Vibe.

He and Jeff are still working out the details, figuring out what hardware and software they’ll need, and getting input from other Canadian shops using the same system (see Sidebar). If they get the answers they need, they’ll make the leap to digital inspections and paperless workflow this fall.

“The biggest thing for us here is service,” says Jeff. “We really focus on that.”

In fact, service is one of the hallmarks of Rempel’s – a legacy that started with Jeff’s father, George, who founded the business in 1987. George believed in systems and processes too, having started in the business when he was 18 and rising through the ranks of Gulf Oil (later PetroCanada) to become something of a ‘super manager’ sent to troubled service stations around the country. Ultimately, he settled in the Charleswood area of Winnipeg, to concentrate on raising a family and setting up his own shop.

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 3.39.43 PMJeff has been involved in the business since the age of 12, doing odd jobs around the shop until he went off to Red River College, and made his way through his levels to become a journeyman.

After seven years in the bay, he started working the front counter. In 2006, he started getting his first taste of managing the business as he sought to put his mark on the company.

“You had the youngest guy in the shop helping to manage people that had been there for a long time,” he recalls. “That was trying. When you’re working with very intelligent people, they ask a lot of tough questions.”

He found answers in a series of management courses from Bob Greenwood, and found innovative business ideas as a member of a ProShop management group.

Randy Janzen checks fluids on a GMC Sierra 4x4.

Randy Janzen checks fluids on a GMC Sierra 4×4.

Eventually George retired, and Jeff and Richard purchased controlling shares of the company.

The processes they implemented touched every aspect of the business, from technical training to customer retention.

“We incorporate so many new ideas in our shop, always trying to adapt and adapt and adapt, that sometimes my guys are like, ‘OK, when are we going to stay still for a minute or two?’ I understand what they mean. But the way I look at it, it never hurts to learn about the latest technology.”

He says he never brings in a new system without doing his homework first.

“None of these are my ideas. I’ve picked them up from other places. They work if you’re disciplined enough to insist on doing them,” he says.

Eric Sawatzky does an oil change on a 2002 VW Jetta.

Eric Sawatzky does an oil change on a 2002 VW Jetta.

He’s always had a very progressive approach to building shop skills and offering his customers the most competent service in the aftermarket. That includes investing in ongoing training and the electronic tools to help his techs do the job properly. And, of course, he has learned to charge fairly for his shop’s expertise.

“We don’t take ‘quick peeks’ anymore,” he says. “We do diagnostic inspections. And we charge for that. You have to. We have to hook up electronic equipment, we have to take the vehicle for a drive, we have to have an experienced tech on the job, and it’s going to take time. A lot of people don’t understand what it takes to diagnose a problem vehicle.”

In some ways, he says, the price goes hand-in-hand with the competence they offer.

“If you go to a nice fancy restaurant, you expect to pay more than you would at a McDonald’s drive through. You’re getting more for your money.”

The processes that are put in place support the end goal of meeting his customers’ needs.

“People are surprised to hear that we have four service advisors for five technicians,” he says. “But if you’re really looking after the client, it takes a lot of manpower.”

He has a yearly review with each of his guys and a monthly staff meeting to discuss what’s working and what’s not.

No doubt those meetings will focus on the new workflow system once that is up and running.

Rheal Michaud works the tire-changer.

Rheal Michaud works the tire-changer.

“It’ll be a huge change, losing the workflow rack that everyone’s so used to,” he says. “But it’s the next step toward going paperless. I don’t want to go into this halfway. It’s inspections first, and then paperless as the next step.”

He’ll be watching the results carefully.

“If productivity increases the way I expect it will, this will pay for itself very quickly,” he says. “I know productivity will go down for the first six months to a year. I get that. You have to allow for that. But if it doesn’t increase in time, it won’t continue to be around.”

It’s all part of making sure George Rempel Auto Service continues to ride the wave of technology.

“In Europe, they’re way ahead of us. If we want the automotive repair industry to have a good name, we have to be aggressive about technology,” he says. “We have to be seen to be leading the way.”

Allan Janssen is the editor of CARS magazine. You can reach him at 416-614-5814 or

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