The world has gone through an artificial recession cycle since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Auto repair shops have not all experienced the same levels of lockdown or interference with business. In some areas there were early lockdowns. Other areas suffered longer periods of economic inactivity, while still others managed to maintain nearly business as usual. Hardly any businesses have been completely unscathed, however. Most owners are wondering at this point in time if business is improving, and, if so, how fast? Is the stimulus economy helping your shop?
Is Business Improving?
A recent news piece from Georgia would suggest that it is. Due to the rollout of vaccinations, more and more people are leaving their homes and venturing farther away, whether that means local shopping or vacationing in Florida. The reality for the auto repair industry is that lockdowns meant significantly reduced numbers of cars in the bays. Cars that stay in their driveways or garages don’t need servicing. They don’t wear down as fast, and they don’t get into fender benders.
Now that people are interested in going out again, though, they need service. If they’re traveling longer distances, they need to make sure their cars run well. Even if they’re just returning to the office (and the commute), they will need repairs and maintenance.
For Aaron Clements of C&C Automotive, business in March was good. He saw an increase of at least 15 percent. “The reason is everybody’s been locked up for over a year, I mean they’ve been in the house, haven’t been able to travel,” Clements said. Fewer COVID cases make people more optimistic and ready to travel this fall or even this summer. To do that they’ll need inspections, routine maintenance, and new batteries.
Will this trend continue? As long as governments don’t backtrack and impose further restrictions, the outlook is better for 2021. Pent up demand for a normal life and more normal socializing and entertainment is high. Almost no one wants a repeat of the summer of 2020 when no one went anywhere and concerts and festivals were all canceled.
Clements agrees. “…they want to get back to normal, and their cars are part of normal,” he said.
The Stimulus Economy
The other factor that may be encouraging owners to spend more on their cars is the recent stimulus payments. Americans have received up to $2000 each with additional money for dependent children since late December. With both a desire to go places and an infusion of money, people who have been holding off repairs can get them done. People are also less nervous about having their cars worked on because more of them are getting vaccinated.
Early in the pandemic people were extremely worried about the COVID-19 virus spreading from people touching infected surfaces. This meant large expenditures for cleaning auto shops and new procedures for sanitizing vehicles in an attempt to keep everyone safe. Now we know that surfaces are not the largest vector for conducting the coronavirus. It’s largely spread person to person through the air. Hopefully, this will make owners less nervous and hesitant to get their cars fixed.
The Automotive Management Network has a tip for what to do (or not do) when business does improve: Tip #299: Is Business Improving? Be Very Careful!
“Most auto repair shops fall into the following trap. Business improves. Profit increases. Success! Next step – service worsens. “We no longer have to bust our tail for everyone who walks in the door.” Sales may drop, level off, or grow slower than they could have. Avoiding this trap and maintaining exceptional service when things are going great are hallmarks of top shops.”
In a down economy, businesses step up their game to attract more customers in order to keep their doors open. Every shop that has survived a recession knows the hustle. When the economy improves, though, that’s the time to make sure your customers understand why they chose you – because you are the best. And they will only be persuaded by consistently excellent customer service over time.
Is your auto shop seeing the effect of the stimulus economy? How much more (or less) business have you done since Americans started getting their stimulus checks? Did you see an upswing from the earlier stimulus? Shops’ experiences will differ, but we are interested in hearing from our members about how the lockdowns affected their shops, if at all, and what they’ve done to remain in business. Please leave your comments either here or in our forums.