Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2014   by Steve Pawlett

The Three Rs Of Success Relationship, Response, Respect

Insights From Our Third Annual Shop Survey

The speed at which we conduct business has increased dramatically, thanks primarily to the computerization of every aspect of daily life. For example, if you need a new serpentine belt or a set of brake pads for your car, you can simply call up an app on your smartphone and find the best deal in your area.
Smartphones are creating customers who are now better informed and thus more demanding. For repair shops, this translates into dealing with more knowledgeable customers with higher expectations when it comes to making choices on name brand parts, and due to the speed of life, customers now expect a quicker turnaround time on repairs.
What this means to repair shops is that the key factors that are most important to them when it comes to dealing with a first-call jobber – parts availability; a superior working relationship with the jobber; qualified, reliable counter staff; and fast, efficient delivery service – are even more important than before, and any first-call jobber that can’t meet this criteria risks falling by the wayside.
In our third annual shop survey, we asked shop owners what they were looking for in their first-call jobber.
What respondents told us – 206 in all, over a one-week period – was that parts availability is still the number-one factor in their decision on whom they call first. The second key factor was their relationship with the jobber, followed by the brands sold, and the skill level of the counter staff. Price remains a significant yet distant fifth.
As one respondent put it, “Service, service, service. What can you do to make my business better? It is not price.”
While this may not be a huge revelation for most, it’s worth noting that price alone will not keep you in the game. Another respondent said, “We need quality parts, not cheap offshore imitations.”
Parts availability and delivery naturally go hand in hand, and while there are several factors that can affect what is considered prompt service, there were a number of comments on the need to improve delivery time as well as the quality of the delivery drivers.
“Pay drivers a fair wage so you can keep good people. In my opinion, delivery time is an important part of the service, and I believe poor service is related to poor wages for drivers. Most drivers in our area only last a few months at best. Poor delivery service for our parts translates into poor service from us and that is not acceptable. We strive for same-day service.”
Not surprisingly, “Relationship” still remains the second most significant factor for shops.
As these respondents put it:
“Have good counter staff. Don’t lie about mistakes and follow up on parts that are delayed,” says Dennis Rennie.
“Hire counter staff who know the business and always, always, always have them ask the right questions that are on the screen for the different part possibilities for the same vehicle. We can’t stand getting the wrong part, then hearing them say there is another option.”
“Go the extra mile when I need help to get parts, don’t just say that’s all we can do. Treat us like we treat our clients,” says Pat from St. Pierre Autopro.
“Keep in touch with your customers, offer prompt ­payment discounts, and notify customers of upcoming ­promotions.”
The second year of our dealer purchase question shows some interesting results. Just 31.2% indicated they purchase 5% of their parts from dealers, while 25.6% stated they purchase 10% of their parts from dealers. Some 12.1% of respondents purchase 15% of their parts from dealers and 9.5% purchase 20% of their parts from dealers. This is consistent with last year’s survey results. Overall, 56.1% said they have not increased their purchases from dealers, while 43.9% indicated they have increased their purchases from dealers.
The reasons shops are doing this brings us back to the core value they are looking for: parts availability. When their preferred jobber, or the aftermarket at large, cannot supply a part – yes, there were also issues of price and quality mentioned – they would go elsewhere.
While most respondents reported improved aftermarket availability, some shops are starting to talk about pricing differences and the availability of late-model applications, and they are concerned about the capability of the aftermarket to supply electronics going forward.
“Check on your prices. Make sure that your price is cheaper than the dealer price, because today the customers do check on the prices from the dealer, and if they find the same part cheaper at the dealer, it may well be the last time we see that customer.”
“I can see with the newer vehicles and all the new technology that is in them, we could very well be buying more parts from dealers.”
Jobbers need to watch this issue closely to ensure that customer confidence in their ability to deliver parts remains high.
“It seems to me that the price of an aftermarket part is creeping closer to the price of an OEM part. That being the case, I would prefer to have an OEM part. This isn’t always true, but generally it is my perception.”
“Demand better quality from manufacturers. Your business depends on it. I see a trend and it’s not in your favour.”
“Listen and respond to customers’ concerns. Most shops wouldn’t abandon a jobber without sharing supplier problems.”
“Service, service, service. Help me make my business better and business will be better for both of us. My prime jobber, Barton Auto Parts, has put together a best-practices focus group of which I am a member. The owner, Stephen Kreiger, has a travelling technician who we can get to work at our location if one of our techs is out of commission. He [has] a family-owned business so he understands us.”
Given the accelerated speed of business these days, we decided to look at the number of shops ordering parts online, and we found some surprising results. While 41.3% of respondents said they order up to 25% of their parts online, a surprising 25.4% claim they are ordering 76-100% of their parts online now. This was closely followed by 21.7% ordering 51-75% of their parts online. These figures indicate a strong trend in online parts ordering that jobbers should be aware of. Jobbers that have not put much focus on this aspect of their business may want to revisit their approach to online sales and improve on the usability of their website.
Along with convenience and time savings, respondents gave several interesting reasons for moving to online parts ordering.
“Counter staff are not well educated in the art of listening. It becomes faster and in most cases, easier to order online.”
“I try to do everything online now. It’s so much easier than sitting on hold.”
“I would order more online if the sites were more user-friendly.”
Some 89% of respondents place their online order throughout their working day. Another 24.3% do so after hours, and another 10.3% of shops say they place their parts orders in the evening from their home office.
Given the increasing demands of consumers, customer service will always be the dominant factor in your business. In closing, we leave you with some sage advice from a few survey respondents:
“Be willing to go the extra mile to answer questions regarding product warranties, [and] details regarding parts included in a kit or a gasket set. Proceed as if it is your personal vehicle at the shop when you are looking up parts, prices, and availability. Proceed as if you are the shop owner when you are sourcing tools, equipment and stock.”
“Keep in touch with your customers. Have regular, scheduled meetings and offer prompt payment discounts. Notify customers about upcoming promotions,” says Bob Ward, owner, Auto
guys, St. Thomas, Ontario.
“When you can’t seem to find the part, think outside the box. Every time I hear, ‘I can’t get the part,’ I somehow come up with it myself.”
“When things go south for whatever reason, don’t give me excuses, just make it right ASAP.”
“Let your customers know the background and experience level of your new counterpeople. We try to be fair to new staff but, honestly, most of them struggle for a couple of months, so give us a heads-up or risk losing a steady customer.”

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