With consumers putting off car repairs for longer periods of time and increasing competition from dealerships, independent repair shops must work harder and smarter in order to stay ahead of the curve. Along with updating customer service skills and investing in staff training and up-to-date diagnostic equipment, shop owners need to take a more proactive role in educating their customers about both the financial savings and safety benefits of following a regular preventative maintenance program.
The fact that vehicles are made better and lasting longer has resulted in more and more vehicle owners turning a blind eye to regular maintenance issues. The Automotive Industries Association (AIA) has been actively involved in educating consumers on the long-term benefits of following a regular automotive maintenance program. The AIA-sponsored “Be Car Care Aware” program has been operating successfully for 10 years now, and just over a year ago the AIA held meetings with the federal and provincial governments to propose a tax-incentive program designed to encourage consumers to follow a regular vehicle inspection regimen.
“When we first floated the idea last spring, we used the inspiration of the highly popular Home Renovation Tax Incentive program that was announced four years ago,” explains Marc Brazeau, president and CEO, AIA Canada.
“When we had discussions with Jim Flaherty’s office and his advisors about a year ago, the response was very positive. They like the idea of tax incentives. If you look at the last few budgets, there have been a number of initiatives aimed at providing tax credits to Canadians. For example, if you register your kids in sports, cultural programs, or you buy a transit pass, you are eligible for tax credits,” explains Brazeau.
Under the AIA’s proposed Vehicle Inspection Tax Credit, a consumer would have a defined vehicle inspection done that would include things like brakes and other safety-related items. The vehicle owner would then be entitled to a tax credit.
“We have found that an informed consumer is more likely to be an engaged consumer. When someone knows what is wrong with their vehicle, they are more likely to take action. If they don’t take action, they are more likely to plan that action, meaning if they cannot afford to do it now and it’s not an absolute requirement, then they can actually start planning to have it done in the coming months,” says Brazeau.
The AIA is in discussions with the Canadian Automobile Association, a large, influential consumer group with chapters across Canada. “We have had some very positive discussions with the CAA as well as their chapters across Canada. While we can’t announce anything official as yet in terms of their support, our discussions with them have been very positive,” adds Brazeau.
The AIA has also spent a great deal of time meeting with provincial governments. “We continue to have very good dialogue with the provinces on the issue of government support for the need to have safer vehicles on our roads. Again, all this is as a result of the data we keep seeing, which not only shows more and more older vehicles are on the road, but also reflects the fact that these vehicles are not being maintained to the standards that they should be,” explains Brazeau.
The AIA is cognizant of the fact that its tax-incentive proposal is one that needs to be continually promoted. “The federal government has a rigorous austerity program going on now and we have to be mindful of that, but I can tell you a lot of politicians understand the importance of safe vehicles, and how this affects Canadian families on a daily basis,” he adds.
The AIA has a third annual report on underperformed maintenance coming out later this summer, and it is expected that this report will show that the amount of underperformed maintenance on aging vehicles is continuing to grow. The AIA believes this trend will ultimately receive government reaction.
“We have to make sure the vehicles on our roads are safe, and I think the government has an important role to play to ensure Canadians are taking proper steps to do that,” says Brazeau.
According to the first Canadian Automotive Aftermarket Demand Study, prepared by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants for the AIA, the total retail value of automotive parts and services in 2010 was $18.49 billion. But if vehicle owners were more diligent in their maintenance routines, that number could grow to over $30 billion – that’s $11 billion worth of underperformed maintenance from which service providers could certainly benefit.
But how do independent auto repair shops go about convincing customers a regular preventative maintenance program will save them money?
One key element that has to change is the perception many consumers have of the auto repair industry. Many consumers fear that taking their vehicle in for a repair estimate will result in being told they require hundreds of dollars of repairs that need to be done that day. Changing that perception and eliminating client anxiety requires changing your approach to vehicle inspections. Proactive auto repair shops that are focused on service and ensure the customer’s experience with the shop is positive from start to finish are finding success.
Roy’s Service Centre, located on Highway 10 between Orangeville and Shelburne in Ontario, is a prime example of the gains that can be made when a shop takes a proactive stance and makes the necessary changes that allow their team to find efficiencies and work smarter.
Located 15 minutes from Orangeville, with a population of 30,000, and about 10 minutes from Shelburne, with a population of about 5,000, owner Roy Hinbest’s shop is proof that people will go out of their way for good service.
“We’re located basically in the middle of nowhere with swamp and bush all around us, yet we have been successful here. It’s taken a lot of years and a lot of hard work, but people are willing to drive a little further to receive professional service and have their cars fixed right the first time in a timely manner,” explains Hinbest.
Hinbest works hard to ensure every customer gets his or her vehicle back on the day he says it will be done. “I don’t overbook the day, and we focus on keeping our clients in control of their money and keeping them informed on the progress of the service on their car.”
Hinbest has a team of well-trained, well-paid technicians and he has invested heavily in diagnostic equipment to help his staff be as efficient as possible.
“We have regular staff meetings to review systems and procedures, to find new ways to make it easier for clients to keep up with their maintenance while reducing their stress,” he says.
Hinbest has been in business for 31 years, and has been a NAPA Autopro member for just over six years. He became involved in the T.A.C.T. (Total Automotive Consulting & Training) program in the spring of 2007. “We have participated in every monthly Proshop meeting. I have sent our entire eight-person staff to the SIP training course twice, and I have personally been to it four times. My business and I are committed to this program, because we have seen results that are directly attributed to the T.A.C.T. program,” he explains. “It has been a long process year after year, but the T.A.C.T. group have supported us and continue to support us the entire way.”
Roy’s son and shop general manager, Stephen Hinbest, explains, “The paperwork we use to do inspections and track repairs came from Dave Meniere’s T.A.C.T. training program, and we combined that with the NAPA Autopro 10-year, 400,000-kilometre warranty program, to round out the preventative maintenance program we provide to our clients.”
When customers register for the warranty program, they receive a booklet that is kept on file at the shop, to track everything that is done to their vehicle. This detailed booklet corresponds to the inspection forms used in the shop.
“We show them the value of our 10-year maintenance plan. We explain how it saves them money by keeping their vehicle on the road for 10 to 15 years, and explain how unplanned breakdowns are much more costly in dollars and in time. Also, when they decide to replace their vehicle, it is worth more money because they have a detailed track record of how it has been maintained. We have to get our clients to believe in us and believe that we can do it. Having a detailed file on each customer’s vehicle history adds to our credibility,” explains Roy Hinbest.
Hinbest will even take a client’s vehicle to the dealer for warranty work and recalls.
“Our next step was to train our technicians on how to do an inspection properly, and to understand when an inspection ends and a diagnosis starts. Unlike many auto repair shops, we are not doing inspections to diagnose problems; we are doing inspections to make sure we don’t have any problems,” explains Stephen Hinbest.
“What a lot of repair shops have gotten wrong for many years is the approach taken when doing vehicle inspections. Most shops do ‘free inspections’ to find problems. We conduct thorough inspections to reassure the customer that the vehicle is safe and that all maintenance is up to date and to notify them on what maintenance is coming due in the future, so they can budget for that repair. It’s a much better approach to do a proper inspection as part of a proper maintenance plan, than just doing an inspection to find work,” he adds.
“We put a maintenance sticker on their windshield that has their next appointment on it. If we know they are going on a holiday we put a little blurb in there – ‘have a great holiday.’ We always try to do something a little bit personal to let them know we care,” adds Roy Hinbest.
“We don’t surprise them by telling them that there is hundreds of dollars of work that needs to be done today. We’re telling them it’s X number of dollars in three or four months for this work and it will keep your car on the road and keep your family safe and keep your vehicle lasting longer. And the price we quote is the price they pay. We never go over our stated price,” adds Stephen Hinbest.
The biggest thing the Hinbests have found since moving to this program is that technicians want to do their job and do it to the best of their abilities. This is in stark contrast to repair shops that continually tell their technicians the customer doesn’t want to spend any money, so just do the minimum amount of work. But then when something is missed this same tech is then dragged up to the office and asked why he missed something; yet he has no proper inspection form to follow nor any inspection training to go with it, and the shop is not billing for the time he spends to do the inspection.
“Changing this mentality wasn’t difficult,” says Stephen Hinbest. “By having this process in place and making everyone accountable, they understand that their job as a technician is to identify any concerns, issues, or upcoming problems the vehicle may have, regardless of how much it will cost.
“The service advisor’s job is to inform the customer of everything that has been identified, and the customer makes a decision on what they’d like to do. Nowhere does it say the technician makes a decision based on the consumer’s budget or the age of the vehicle, nor does it say the service advisor makes a decision on that information. We reassure our technicians to do it the right way and write things down. Don’t ignore things because you think the customer won’t spend the money on it,” he adds.
Roy’s Service Centre delivers more than a fixed car to its customers. They deliver a positive experience, from the way they answer the phones to the detailed file they keep on each customer, to the washed car they deliver back to the customer, with a reminder note on the dash for an upcoming appointment and a candy on the seat.
“Our main goals and objectives are to save the client both time and money. When you break down anyone’s buying habits for anything, there are only two things that matter – the timeliness of the purchase and whether they have the money to purchase it. We are saving them money by doing regular maintenance so they can avoid the costly breakdowns that will occur without proper maintenance. We are keeping them on the road longer by having the car last 400,000 kilometres, and avoid the need for new car payments for a longer period of time,” explains Stephen Hinbest.
“If you buy a car every five years or every 10 years, there is a significant savings there, but you can’t get to 10 years without a planned maintenance program that will keep you on the road,” he adds.
Hinbest currently has over 25 2012 vehicles and five 2013s in its 10-year preventative maintenance program.
“When a technician picks up an invoice at the front counter, he knows how much time he has to do the job. He gets the time allowance to do that inspection. We let the technicians stand there and tell the service advisor, ‘I can’t start this job, because I don’t have a solid time for this job.’ Everyone is accountable. Same thing goes if the inspection isn’t done, the service advisor can say, ‘Bring that car back in here and inspect it.’ It’s about holding each other accountable. One person can’t watch everything all the time. But if we work together, we can keep everything on track,” explains Roy Hinbest.
By taking the time to explain the benefits of a comprehensive maintenance program, and by allowing your clients to control their money by letting them know what regular maintenance and repairs are coming up in the next few months (along with an accurate cost estimate), you can eliminate a lot of customer anxiety and gain their trust. The end result is a confident, loyal customer who will tell their friends and neighbours about you.
Spring Ride Control Inspections Keep Sales Rolling
After a winter season of nasty freeze-thaw cycles, spring is the perfect time for technicians to be on the lookout for signs of suspension wear. As customers come in to make the transition back to summer tires, keep an eye out for different wear patterns on the tread. If the summer tires are cupped and you are putting them back on, and the ride control was not serviced over the winter, those tires are going to get worse. More importantly, if your service provider customer noticed the cupped tires and sold the client new tires, but didn’t look at the ride control, the new tires will wear out prematurely.
“It’s very important when technicians begin doing the transition back to summer tires to inspect the tires for signs of wear, and also to look at the shocks at the same time. Also be sure to check the mileage on the odometer,” advises Bill Dennie, director of ride control channel management for Tenneco’s Monroe Brand.
“The first thing every technician should check is the vehicle’s odometer,” explains Kevin Fleury, sales director for Transbec Auto Parts Inc. “Ride control wear is so gradual, it often goes undetected so when a vehicle reaches the 80,000-kilometre range, that’s a good indication for the technician to inspect the shocks and struts.”
“Once the tires are off, it’s a good opportunity to take a look at the other suspension parts like ball joints and tie-rod ends. If they seem worn out, it could also indicate worn shocks and struts, since these can have a direct correlation to excess wear on other suspension parts that wear prematurely. Ride control parts are under the car and not seen, so are often not thought about, and what consumers need to be educated on is the fact that all these suspension components are interrelated and work in tandem,” adds Fleury.
“We call it the safety triangle: steering, stopping, and stability,” explains Dennie. “If you compromise any one of those three things, it is going to affect the safety of the vehicle in terms of optimum performance. Jobbers and technicians need to have a dialogue with consumers to educate them on the safety ramifications of ignoring the signs of worn-out ride control components.”
Most consumers tend to think that shock absorbers are there for ride comfort, when their main purpose is to keep the tires on the ground. If you are not keeping firm tire-to-road contact, that’s when you get into issues like longer braking distances and instability when cornering and your drivability becomes a serious safety risk.
With spring now in full bloom, savvy jobbers and technicians should be harvesting the bounty of ride control repairs sown by our particularly harsh Canadian winters.