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    Posted by Allison Holmes on January 2, 2020 at 4:10 pm


    I am the office manager of a mechanic shop in Virginia. We currently have a boat load of problems to work through but there are a few that I would like the advice of other shops on to kind of see what you all do in these situations. I am a self taught office manager with little mechanical background in the beginning but have learned quite a bit about mechanics in the 12 years I have been here. This year, 2020 will be the 15th year the shop I am working for has been in business and things have been steadily going down hill over the past year of 2019. I’ll list a little of each problem I’d like some advice on and anything anyone could tell me would be appreciated. I have tried to go to local shops for help but they either “don’t like us” or are just unwilling to help because I imagine in their eyes a shop closing would mean more business for them!

    1. Mechanics breaking parts : Some of our mechanics have been breaking quite a few parts, either parts they are installing or parts that are being removed to install what needs to be replaced. Before we haven’t had much of an issue with this but it has gotten out of hand with 2-3 parts a week being broken now because of the mechanics neglect. What should I do about this? Charge the part to the mechanic? “Eat it” and write it off our taxes? To me, that’s just money coming out of our pocket for a broken part that we aren’t getting back in any way.
    2. Mechanics under performing: Our top mechanic is making $1,000 a week salary. The others are much lower than him because of their skill levels and my main concern here is my top mechanic but I’d like a policy I can set in place for everyone. My top mechanic bills maybe 20-27 hours in a 40 hour work week. That is well under performing at his best but when we talk to him on why jobs are taking so long or if he’s having any issues he doesn’t have a really good answer and kind of just shoves us off and says he’ll do better. The fact that he’s on salary is one problem I know, but legally I don’t think that I can change his pay in our state without firing and rehiring, and I doubt he’d go for that. So he’s comfortably making the same pay regardless of what he does and my shop is steadily loosing money because of it. And I know the quick answer is FIRE HIM but that’s easier said than done. We have been advertising and looking for new hires and not a single technician has came through our door in 6 months! Our local dealerships are even advertising for help, and when the dealers can’t get techs it’s not a good supply out there.
    3. Our boss: The problems I listed have had an ongoing trend and for whatever reason the subtle things I had been doing to bring it to the bosses attention have not worked. But now, all of a sudden, he has decided these things are a problem and wants to do something about them. I am glad that he is finally wanting to get these things fixed and put policies in place to make them work out but he’s got a big attitude about it. No one is doing their job, he’s having to pay for everyone’s mistakes no body pays for their own (including me) he’s going to start taking things out of our pay when we screw them up. The moral is very low at the shop and no one is getting along. Our boss says when he’s happy every one is happy but if he has an attitude so does everyone else. Well that’s pretty true because we walk on egg shells when he’s upset because he is very short and has a mean demeanor. It kind of hard to be happy around someone that is acting like that when you never know if what you’re going to say might upset him!
    4. Inventory and time management: I’ve bundled these together because they have the same problem. My techs don’t keep up with them. I have tried so many ways to get them to write down what they are using from the stock room and nothing I have tried worked. I even made it idiot proof, put a clipboard in the stock room with everything on it and just asked them to mark a check beside something when they took it, they couldn’t even do that. So if they can’t help me keep track of the stock room, what are they not writing down on their work orders that their using and I’m not billing for! And I can’t get them to even keep up with their times on jobs so the only way I know what they are producing is by what I am keeping up with on them. I cannot get them to do anything I’ve put in place as far as time keeping goes so I really need some help on this. Because the hours they are working but not producing are a big problem.I’m sure as I sit here and type I could think of so many more problems but ultimately they are no ones problems but my own, I just need a little help figuring out where to start to fix them. I didn’t know where to turn or who to ask because everyone I have has not helped me. When I got an e-mail today from Automotive Management I thought I’d get on here and give this a try. I spoke with Tom a little bit before starting this forum topic and he was very hopeful that some of you will be able to give me some insight on what I can do to help fix this shop!

      Thank you in advance!

    Rick White replied 2 years, 8 months ago 12 Members · 18 Replies
  • 18 Replies
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  • Joseph Taylor

    January 3, 2020 at 9:49 am

    Hello Allison

    My name is Joseph and I have 24 years experience in the automotive industry. I have worked in over 15 independent and dealership automotive shops, in almost all roles from owner to manager to technician to advisor, and I will give you my thoughts on a few of your questions.

    At the moment, we also suffer from a lack of quality automotive technicians in Canada. One of the largest problems I see (both in your questions and in most shops in general) in the industry right now is the lack of ‘care and concern’ by most technicians. With good pay, and very little chance of being fired, most technicians have more power and control in their repair shops than the managers or owners. The main problem with this shift of power is that most technicians don’t deeply understand business principals like revenue and expenses, parts and labour margins, productivity and efficiency, ect. Most technicians simply see the labour rate charged to the customer vs their take home pay.


    The shops that I’ve worked at that have had the best quality while also having good revenue have a few core things in common.

    #1 The technician and apprentices genuinely ‘care’ about the business. They care about what they are doing and how long they are taking. But how is this accomplished?

    #2 Leadership – whether it’s a strong service manager, shop foreman, or lead technician, I believe a great shop MUST have guidance and direction. I also believe a hierarchy is necessary, so the leader has the power and platform to influence and direct the technicians below him and impose (maybe influence is a better word?) a culture of quality and productivity. I have seen too many shops where all the technicians are treated equal, and paid equal, and each technician operates as his own small independent shop within the larger shop (diagnosing vehicles differently, repairing differently, producing unequally). I also believe the individual that is leading your shop MUST have skin in the game. An hourly or salary based individual sees no correlation between their paycheck and the shop’s revenue. A leader must have financial interest, be it a strong bonus structure or small percentage of labour revenue on top of their wage, they must have skin the game to truly care about the reputation of the shop they are leading and to care about the volume of work they are trying to accomplish.

    #3 Shop transparency / educating employees. I’ve found shops that are honest about the numbers, and educate their employees about the numbers, are generally more profitable. Technicians are far less likely to drag their butts if they know the shop has lost money for 3 months in a row. If a technician understands ALL the expenses behind the high labour rates being charged, then perspectives begin to change. But, back to my point earlier, for these numbers to really hit home the employees must also have financial incentives to push that bit harder when the opportunities present themselves.

    I think I could actually go on further but I have already ranted WAY more than I intended. Sorry :s

    Is your lead technician the most experienced and knowledgeable? Is he your diagnostic and driveability technician? If so, maybe his 20-27 hours a week would be acceptable if the licensed technicians below him were producing 40 to 50 hours a week in general labour and maintenance? I think great shops are like great sports teams and you need good players for each position that are best suited to what they do. Every shop I’ve worked at has been unique and required unique solutions to their problems. Solve the problem of culture and attitude first, get everyone invested and caring. Once you all work as a team, as a well oiled machine, the quality and revenue will build up on it’s own.

  • Rick T Genin

    January 3, 2020 at 10:18 am

    It’s on the OWNERship, not you. After the owner the next sit down needs to happens with the “top mechanic.” The reality is if you can not make changes with the Owner it’s time for you to look out for yourself. All Shops have these types of issues/concerns but most Shops choose to Manage them daily.

    This is sounding like a run away freight train already.

    You must have stong owner support.

  • Rick T Genin

    January 3, 2020 at 10:37 am

    Forgot to mention the ‘help’ available thru this site and many other Automtive avenues is endless and priceless.

    Best of luck


  • George Smith

    January 3, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Flat rate commission is the only way to go when paying technicians in my opinion.  Then put bonuses on top of that for:  a. hours booked  b. lowest policy  c. fixed rite first visit  d.goal hitting…or whatever you feel will push the techs to work in your shop.

    Techs are going to break things, but it sounds like to me, your guys are at the pure “don’t care” mode, this is hard to get out of without changing two things : 1. the tech that breaks the most must go and the shop needs to know why 2. once you have set up a bonus plan take the cost of breaks out of that bonus, not their regular pay.

    The owner needs a reality check it sounds like to me, set down talk it out, show him the issues on paper, give him your recommendations and if he’s not receptive, be looking for a new job!

    Best of luck, it’s gonna be tough, I’ve done it once in my 21 year career, hope to never have to turn a shop around again!

    One last thing, if and when you get your shop turned around, stay on it, have that boring meeting reminding them of how YOUR shop works……we have ours weekly!

  • Allison Holmes

    January 3, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    You guys have given great advice so far! Seems like we need to change the pay scale on these technicians and give them a little more incentive. Being honest with the numbers isn’t a problem here, we’re honest about everything with our employees and customers. And I know it may be a lost cause but I’ve invested many years here and enjoy the job. I really care about it all and I really want to help turn things around. The problems I’ve outlined haven’t always been there. The shop used to run very smooth and things were great, it just has seemed to get worse and worse over the past year and its really hitting rock bottom right now. I appreciate all the advice and look forward to more! Thank you very much!

  • zack little

    January 7, 2020 at 8:20 am

    Sounds like a case of the “law of the lid” in john maxwells book it says that a business can only grow to the height of its leader, beyond that it will hit a lid unless others have been put in place and allowed to develop the business to greater lengths.

    personally I found myself in the same spot except the owner is my dad if you can call me or text I’d be glad to help answer questions with answers that would be helpful as they helped me


    take care



    January 7, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Hello Allison,

    Let me start by telling you that I have owned Auto Repair Centers and New CAr Dealerships. I have always been in fixed operations and I can tell you that you are not alone with these problems. They exist in every type and size of shop.

    The first thing that comes to mind for me is the need of better communication between management and the tech force. Weekly lunch meetings go a long way. The techs are your life support base and they want to feel needed and heard. These meetings are your opportunity to calmly explain the business needs of the shop and how only the tech’s can help you reach your goals. Secondly, set goals for the entire team (yourself included) and make the results public. Tell them you will review everybodies results at the next weekly meeting and the best performer will get some type of fun prize. This is team building. But don’t forget to ask them what they need to do a better job. I imagine none of the tech’s consider it fun at work these days. What can we do as a team to make this place fun again. Also reinforce the need to communicate with your team. Ask them if there is anything that you need to do (or stop doing) that will allow them to produce more on a regular basis. You need to allow them to have input.

    Now, that being said, when it comes to a bad attitude in the shop. The worst thing any manager can do (and we are all guilty of this) is hesitate. You know where or who the problem is. Do not hesitate another minute. Call him/her in for a sit down. Take notes. There maybe something going on that you don’t know about. Schedule a follow up face to face. If tensions are high, ask the owner to join you. He probably needs to hear anyways. DOCUMENT EVERYTHING!!! Then in the follow up meeting, read back the notes. Let him see you taking more notes. Record what plans you have both agreed to for improvements. Again, go over in the follow up. This will let him understand how serious you are and that you are now building a file should you need it. Nobody likes to go through this but it is part of the job. Remember, in the long run, it is far cheaper to turn around a miserable tech than it is to replace him. But, there are times where this does not work. This is why you need to start discreetly canvassing for a new lead tech right away. Tell the owner you want to utilize a head hunter. Your time spent trying to rejuvenate your head tech should allow you to find a suitable replacement. Get the owner to ok paying at dealer rates. If the time comes to say goodbye then you are well covered through all of your documented attempts. If he turns the corner and gets back on the same page then you are good to go.

    Good luck


    Bayview Moore Auromotive

  • Rick T Genin

    January 7, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    Gerry Well thought out resonse. Job well done.

    “Get the owner to ok paying ” one must PAY in todays market.

    Thank you


  • Aaron Klosterman

    January 10, 2020 at 2:24 pm

    Hi Allison,

    Look up a guy named Paul Maskill. Paul is a small business coach that specializes in service based businesses. I know Paul and his father from servicing their vehicles for years. I was kind of a “beta test” for Paul’s course when he first got started in helping small businesses. I’m a 3rd generation auto shop owner and a few years ago had some of the same struggles you are going through. I took Paul’s course and experienced an amazing transformation. My techs are happy and making more money than they ever have, My service manager and service advisors are killing it and making more money than they ever have, our customers are happy, I make more money than I ever have and we have a super star team in place that runs like a well oiled machine even when I’m not here. Do yourself a favor and take a look at Paul’s course. Then tell the shop owner to get off a little money to pay for the course:) Even if you don’t decide to take his course, the phone call with Paul will be well worth your time.

    Tell him Aaron Klosterman sent you!

    If you have any questions feel free to contact me anytime.

    Link to Paul’s website:

  • Allison Holmes

    January 10, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    Thanks for the responses everyone! I’m getting some really good ideas on what direction I need to go in. I do have a question about finances too if anyone could help there…… we are pretty strapped and we can’t seem to figure out where the money is going. We can’t figure out if our overhead is too high, if we don’t mark up parts enough to bring us profit on the parts, if our labor rate is high enough to cover the cost of our techs????? We’re just stumped with the financial aspect of the business now too and I don’t know where to turn to try and get help with these answers either! The owner is willing to pay (not much of course) but is willing to pay for some help as long as it will actually help. We’ve been in contact with a few different companies and they basically want all the money we have now to tell us what we’re doing wrong and we just don’t trust them to pay that much money to find out if they really can help us or not. Like i said, these problems have been on going for years but I just haven’t ever found the right place to go for help. I am really glad I decided to talk to Tom and post on this forum because so far, all the responses that I have received have actually been really helpful in moving forward with our tech problem and this “free” advice has been more insightful than any paid advice that I’ve ever received!

  • Allison Holmes

    January 10, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    Hi Allison,

    Look up a guy named Paul Maskill. Paul is a small business coach that specializes in service based businesses. I know Paul and his father from servicing their vehicles for years. I was kind of a “beta test” for Paul’s course when he first got started in helping small businesses. I’m a 3rd generation auto shop owner and a few years ago had some of the same struggles you are going through. I took Paul’s course and experienced an amazing transformation. My techs are happy and making more money than they ever have, My service manager and service advisors are killing it and making more money than they ever have, our customers are happy, I make more money than I ever have and we have a super star team in place that runs like a well oiled machine even when I’m not here. Do yourself a favor and take a look at Paul’s course. Then tell the shop owner to get off a little money to pay for the course:) Even if you don’t decide to take his course, the phone call with Paul will be well worth your time.

    Tell him Aaron Klosterman sent you!

    If you have any questions feel free to contact me anytime.

    Link to Paul’s website:

    Aaron – Can Paul help with figuring out our finances too? That’s another problem added to all the others we’re facing right now!


  • Aaron Klosterman

    January 10, 2020 at 4:01 pm


    Yes, Financial planning/ budgeting is one of the modules in his course. He breaks everything into to modules so you don’t feel like you’re trying to tackle everything all at once. That’s one thing I really liked about the course when I took it. We didn’t move on to the next module until we mastered the one we were working on.

    Some of the modules I remember are:

    The initial evaluation.

    Building the foundation.

    Strengths and weaknesses of the company.

    Culture and moral with the employees.

    Culture and brand with customers.


    Creating systems and procedures.

    This just scratches the surface but it’s what I could remember off the top of my head. I’m sure he has added to the course since I took it. Paul still checks in with me on a regular basis to see how things are going.

    I’ve taken several automotive industry specific coaching programs that I was less than impressed with. They were very expensive and I did not feel they were worth the money I spent on them.

    Paul’s course far exceeded my expectations. I’ve referred several local companies to him and they had great results with him that I did.  I will tell you that his course is NOT easy. It will take some hard work and you and your shop owner are going to hear some things from Paul that you may not want to hear about the company but in the end it is very much worthwhile and those things that you don’t want to hear are necessary to facing and fixing the problems of the company.

  • zack little

    January 10, 2020 at 4:57 pm

    The most important question to ask before getting the help is: is the owner really ready for change? They are going to make or break any attempt from outside sources to help. My dad signed up for ati re-engineering program and didn’t do a single thing they asked because he assumed out advisor at the time would do the work. Well when him and the advisor got into an argument and he left, my dad was already in the program. I learned a ton from it while he says it was a waste. I knew I needed to change because before ati I didn’t know anything about the car world I came to help my dad. Before that I was breeding reptiles .  However he has changed too, just not moving forward but rather slowly sliding backwards.

    so it’s really a question for the owner. Are they ready to commit to change regardless of how uncomfortable the beginning might be? Putti nag full trust in the coach to guide you and the shop we’re you ultimately want to be

  • Max Att

    January 10, 2020 at 5:56 pm

    You need to go work for/with someone else. You have surpassed your superior in knowledge and drive, whatever else time you are investing there is wasted. Shop owners rarely change. You need to focus on your advancement and money. I worked for someone for 8 years and started with 0 mechanical knowledge. I was an office manager and eventually turned into a full on tech because most of the guys my boss hired couldnt cut it and I ended up in the shop. In the end all my 70 hour weeks went into keeping a sinking ship afloat for 4 years until I had a physical breakdown. I quit 4 months ago and now work for myself doing mobile repair, at home repair and contracting part time to busy shops and I refuse to work full time for someone in auto industry ever again, even the best shop owner I’ve ever met because I’m so much better off on my own. MAX. INSTA: max_automotive_hi, previous reviews on yelp at Mark’s japanese European, kaneohe, hi. New business ps the guy who replaced me when I left is ready to quit after 3 months. Good luck.

  • Michael

    January 14, 2020 at 10:22 pm

    Hi Allison,

    Have you and the owner taken a look at the P&L statement? This “should” show you where the money is going and allow you to work out your cost of labor as a % of sales and cost of parts as a % of sales. Once you know these numbers you can begin to figure out where you may need to make changes.

    With your systems that aren’t being followed, the owner needs to make the systems “not negotiable”. If there are no consequences for not following the systems then behavior won’t change.

    Sometimes a frank discussion outlining the state of the business and that unless things change we are all out of a job, can shake them out of their “funk”.

    Good luck!

  • David Kellner

    January 15, 2020 at 10:34 am

    Hello I have looked at this a few times and would like to give my opinion.

    First of all the attitude in a shop or any environment is cultured.

    So hence it is cumulative of what is communicated, what is tolerated and what is enforced.

    Communication being the first and most important element of the equations.

    Once bad morale and attitude has set in it is very difficult to change because people are

    very resistant to change.


    I would suggest meetings with staff to explain the situation is of concern and cannot

    go in the same manner. Hopefully you can communicate with them and listen to them

    they will engage in  a helpful or cooperative manner.

    Meetings and reviews and tracking both good an bad behaviour are important.

    If the team becomes more profitable and efficient they should be rewarded plus individuals

    who contribute should be as well.


    Personally as a tech I have left environments when the agenda changes, they become too demanding or too pushy without the management listening.

    It was usually because I only wanted to work smoother to to make it easier to get parts, to get parts on time and to get approval in a more efficient manner. To get the right tools when needed plus to have training and adequate repair information when needed.

    Some shop owners did not see this element or how it fit into the equation, they either could not spend money on it or were unwilling to.


    Allison I am not clear on how much financial information you have or it sounds like you may have too much work load without contributing help from the owner.

    You need to decide on a plan how to turn it around and how long you want to be onboard a sinking ship. The owner should disclose full profit and loss statements.

    Most of the industry operates on a genenerally average model of parts and labor model.

    Lost or unbilled parts are unacceptable. You need to fix or streamline and enforce this.

    Broken parts need to be dealt with on a one to one basis. Was it a problem due to vehicle age or seized ? Could the tech have informed you the part may break before he broke it could you have

    given an quick answer ? Or do the techs not care because the agenda has become speed.

    This needs to be corrected first. Quality and issues need t come first.

    But my question is why are the techs so inefficient ?

    Is the work, parts, repair information and tools available to do the work efficiently ?

    Is the nature of the work consistent ? We cannot work at maximum efficiency when we scramble

    from task to task for multiple makes for multiple vehicle types. There are certain jobs

    I am not able to do myself as efficiently as perhaps another tech due to knowledge,

    experience age and physical attributes.


    The last thought is that you as service manager need to be available to focus on what is going on in the shop to monitor and communicate with the techs to be there first hand to see and deal with the parts and the productivity issue. You need to see if there are needs there and to enforce issues if it is merely based on attitude. You need to know if a part was broken for as a legitimate reason or if it was negligent.

    Also when you are billing and processing you also need to be mindful and look at that.

    For example if a car gets a rad and new hoses. You know it gets two hoses four clamps

    and should have an idea or be able to look up how much coolant it needs how much time it

    should take so that it can be be billed properly.

    If the tech does not bill stuff out or takes too long without proper reason, and it could be they

    do not have sufficient knowledge of that particular vehicle it needs to be communicated and dealt with.


    I dont know if you have a service writer but it sounds like you need to have someone for that and you need to focus completely on the nitty gritty of the operations and financials.


    I suggest checking a book on amazon its in kindle by Lloyd Paulson,

    Auto repair shop first aid, help for a struggling business.

    I would read that before hiring consultants.

    He suggests ratios and a very common sense how to approach as to what

    a auto business generally should be plus has many suggestions to the questions you have.





  • Chris Cotton

    January 15, 2020 at 6:04 pm

    I was going to make a long reply but I think Zack nailed it earlier. The owner has to want to change and unfortunately it might actually get worse before it gets better. Policies and procedures have to be put into place and you need to make sure that you have a cash flow management program and procedure that works for your business as well. Because of the lack of leadership everyone has just kind of done what they wanted to do, it’s time for a new Sheriff in town or at least a re-born one if the owner is willing to put in the work. I would like to commend you on putting yourself out there and looking for help. I think you would be an excellent employee to have. Good Luck!

  • Rick White

    January 21, 2020 at 3:48 pm


    I think it’s amazing that you care about this business enough to reach out for help. If the owner is willing to make some changes, I think you can help him do achieve some truly amazing results. You’ve got some great ideas in these other posts that can help.

    If you’d like to speak to someone one-on-one to come up with a specific action plan moving you forward with no expectation, I’m happy to offer what I call a Test Drive. The Test Drive is designed to see your world through your eyes and offer insights and strategies to help you move forward. If this is something you’d like to take advantage of, please contact me at and we’ll set up a time that works for both of us.


    Rick White