The Canadian independent automotive sector is a booming market. But it’s one with several challenges on the horizon.
To look forward, let’s reflect on the past. With the introduction of airbags, hybrids, controller area network (CAN bus) or other multiplexing systems such as Ethernet or FlexRay, some believed each would lead to the end of the industry. Of course, that wasn’t the case.
The goal is to learn how to steer our businesses to defy the hardships and succeed despite of them.
When I started as an apprentice in 1991, all the seasoned technicians around me were telling me I was in the wrong trade. Fast-forward 30 years, some of us adopted that same attitude.
But the shortage will now come from emerging electric vehicle brands such as Rivian, Polestar and Vinfast, to name a few. They will demand technicians and staff. Dealers will always be a threat as well.
You as a shop owner are also a threat if you don’t act strategically. It all begins with you by providing direction for your team through strong vision and leadership. And if you’re investing in better facilities and training, your shop will be tough to beat.
Remember: People leave people, not companies.
Myth: As the advances in EV and technology speed up, our perceived gap to the market increases.
In reality, this should be considered an advantage for the aftermarket. While our technicians are in the field learning about the product, the dealer is behind dealing with the warranty issues.
When a dealer technician goes to training, they will learn that brand’s way of diagnosing and repairing. That is great, but a luxury few of us can afford.
Properly trained technicians are empowered with a sense of accomplishment. You aid in their retention by ensuring this happens. Furthermore, independent tech training focuses on the principles of the technology that can be applied to all vehicles. This gives your tech a sharper knife in their pocket when it comes to diagnostic skills.
In time, practical and online training will steadily improve to compete on the same level as franchised dealers. You need to be ready. As the shop owner, employ enthusiastic and curious staff and set aside a budget for training for approximately 10 days per year.
‘Right to repair’ and the accessibility of the manufacturers repair manuals for independents is a constant and ongoing challenge. However, we are looking in the wrong place for the threat. Companies such as Alldata and Mitchell are pretty good, and we have all turned to Google for a spec or an answer.
Cloud-based vehicle updates and data streaming that automatically send data to the manufacturer when there is a problem or fault is the focus here. The vehicle has the potential to alert the dealer to contact the customer for diagnosis, repair or simple maintenance such as brake pads.
What could this mean for our customers in the aftermarket? We must give them a good reason to turn to us instead by building not only repeat customers, but loyal customers.
Shop owners and staff must home in on building the relationship with the customer through CRM platforms and social activities so that as these topics arise, customers will think of them first.
Your training as a shop owner is just as important as your team’s. This appeals to others to join our journey while supporting them as we tackle the problems together. Now is the time to change your mindset.
Greg Aguilera is a director of IARN Canada, an organization dedicated to management development of independent repair shops in Canada
This article originally appeared in the June issue of CARS magazine.