Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2006   by Jean Bouchard

Why cheaper in Qubec?

I've been operating a five-bay Certigard (Petro-Canada) service center since 1991, with five technicians, one apprentice and two advisors. Our shop performs a wide-range of services on everything from...

I’ve been operating a five-bay Certigard (Petro-Canada) service center since 1991, with five technicians, one apprentice and two advisors. Our shop performs a wide-range of services on everything from cars to light trucks. Our costs for doing such services are pretty much the same here in Quebec as they would be for anywhere else in Canada. So, why is it that our door rate is lower here than in Ontario?

Whenever I travel to Ontario, I’ve comes across door rates of $92 an hour. But in Quebec, most of the time, that door rate is under $60. Are Quebec’s door rates lower because our technicians are less skilled that their counterparts in Ontario? Do our technicians work on different cars? Are our Quebec technicians buying cheaper bread?

Well, the sad fact is that here in this province we simply don’t value our technicians enough. They are underpaid, and as a result, it is becoming more and more difficult to find a new technician when you really need one; it can take months. And things are not going to look better next year.

The hourly rate is, most of the time, a reflection of how well you pay your workers. A low hourly rate may very well mean that the technician, no matter how skilled, dedicated and hard-working they may be, are not being properly remunerated for those skills and the hard and dedicated work they put towards maintaining a customer’s vehicle.

If you want to keep your skilled technicians and if you expect to attract new ones, you must:

* Pay them well.

* Build an enjoyable work environment.

* Invest in continuing education.

If you don’t provide your best technicians with a challenging work environment and commensurate pay for their skills and hard work, don’t be surprised if competitors, or even the neighborhood dealership, makes them a better offer and they leave you. Our industry needs to do more to keep talented and hard working technicians, and one way may be to pay our technicians better, to value their skills with salaries that reflect those skills. In that way, we can keep our industry healthy.

But if keeping qualified and skilled technicians is difficult, why I sometime wonder as well, is it increasingly difficult to get the right part when you need it?

This headache may be caused by a chronic lack of hearing or attention at the Jobber’s level to what we in this industry need for day-to-day operations. It can also be the catalogue is listing a wrong application for the part in question. It may stem from understaffing at the distributor’s level, particularly at such critical times such as April, May or October, which means orders cannot be fulfilled quickly. Or it can simply be that the folks working for the Jobbers and distributors happen to lack the necessary experience, or are under-trained and, therefore, have difficulty meeting a shop’s needs. As a result shops, distributors and Jobbers all loose time and money.

Adding to this difficulty, many shops today have seen their profit margins decrease significantly over the last few years. But the prices being charged by the distributors have either remained the same, or have increased in some cases. So maybe the first step that can be done here is making sure parts suppliers have trained, knowledgeable and efficient staff that can answer question quickly both over the phone and by email. Those front-line sales and order-taking staff are the best assets, your first line of communications with the installers and technicians, and Jobbers and distributors must invest in them to help all of be successful.

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