A favorite of many members – short, to-the-point management tips. New tips are added regularly. Premium Membership is required for access..
#119 No Time For Inspections With Waiters
Problem: Customer is waiting for an oil change (or other quick service) and it takes too much time to do the inspection that you want performed on every car.
Solution: Pare down that inspection to include only the most critical items.
Sure, it’s a compromise, but it’s far better than skipping the inspection entirely due to time constraints. Remember, you want a solid policy to perform some type of inspection on virtually every car that you service. You will benefit and your good customers will appreciate it.
#118 Does Your Parking Lot Make Any Sense?
Is there any rhyme or reason to your parking lot? Every shop, regardless of size, should have a clearly drawn parking plan posted for all staff to see. It’s a rule of auto repair…you will attract more of whatever type of car is most visible to people driving by. Preferred cars out front, least desired out back, and the rest in the middle. Each car backed into its parking spot. Fresh striping (repainted at least once per year) making it obvious where to park. Remember that what is obvious to you is not obvious to a first time customer. This is one of those simple and low cost marketing items that you can do which can make a significant difference in the appearance of your shop
#117 What Does Your Customer Area Look Like?
Most shop owners underestimate the importance of their customer lounge or waiting area, and most shop waiting areas reflect that. In general, they tend to be dated, sparse, cluttered and tacky. Drop by several of the local higher end car dealers and check out their waiting areas. If you want to do business at that level, then duplicate what you see. For less than the cost of many scanners you can have a first class waiting area that will pay for itself. Also, if your waiting area has not been fully updated within the last five years, it is due.
#116 Yet Another Great Use Of Email
Part of the morning routine at some shops is firing off brief thank you emails to everyone who picked up their car the day before. When you do so, it is important that you avoid a form letter format. Instead, mention something in reference to their visit that makes it obvious that it is a personal thank you. Benefits include solidifying the use of email communications with your shop in the customer’s mind, and giving them a simple way to quickly respond to you with any feedback. Plus, marketing ideas like this will not put a dent in your budget.
#115 Dumping Your Dumpster
It doesn’t matter where you put them or how fresh the paint is; dumpsters are an ugly nuisance. But, some shops no longer have dumpsters. Instead, they have in their shop several of the large wheeled plastic trash containers which have become the norm in residential areas. No more emptying the trash, no more eyesore out back, no more nasty trash cans in the shop, no more trash running over into the parking lot, and no more worry about being the free trash receptacle for the neighborhood. And in some cases, the cost can be significantly less. Call your hauler right now and have them make the swap tomorrow.
#114 Any Plans For Your Sign?
If not, now may be a good time to think about it. If you have plans, consider moving them to the top of your to do list. It seems that in many areas, the local board in charge of regulations spends most of its time figuring out new and creative ways to make doing business as difficult as possible. Signs are normally high on their hit list. There are plenty of shop owners out there who wish they could turn the clock back and put up the biggest, tallest and best lit sign they could afford. Find out the maximum allowance for signs at your shop; then get the permit and order process underway as soon as you can. If digital reader boards are still allowed where you are, get one now. As fast as sign regulations are being created, a month from now may be too late.
#113 How Is Your Website Working?
For far too many shops the answer is “Not very well.”. If you have a website (and you certainly should), someone needs to go through it end to end once a month and test the most popular items weekly. Does the scheduling feature work right? How about the contact form? Are there any broken links? Is the information up to date? There is nothing quite like a “Get ready for Winter” promo in March that expired three months ago to make you look less than brilliant to a potential customer. I’m guessing that a lot of readers are checking their sites right about now!
#112 Now Where Did I Put Those Customers?
You know, the ones we all refer to as “Lost customers”. Most shops just let them wander off. But, many better shops don’t give in that easily. One item on their marketing schedule every 90 days or so is to run a report on customers who have not been in for over a year. These lost customers are contacted and asked why they have not been in lately, and offered an incentive to return. While it is true that many of them are lost for good (moved, quit driving, married a mechanic, etc.), there are usually enough who will respond and make the effort worthwhile.
#111 Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!
Everyone likes to be thanked and that certainly includes your customers. Always make a point of communicating a sincere thank you to anyone picking up their car. They could have gone to dozens of shops, but they chose you. Next, some type of thank you follow up is in order. It could be an email, regular mail, a phone call or maybe a text message. A common mistake is to think that people get tired of you “bothering them”. There may be a few here and there, but the vast majority who appreciate it offsets that quickly. All that thanking may get old to you as you do it over and over, but your customers only hear it from you once in a while. They know which businesses appreciate them. Keep thanking them and never stop!
#110 Do you Want To Know What Customers Are Thinking?
All you have to do is ask. They will tell you a lot if you survey them. However, avoid the typical type of survey with multiple choices. Also, a survey requiring written replies will be ignored by many who have good input. You want to make it as effortless and nonthreatening as possible for your customer. Create a survey with open ended questions where the replies can be anything that comes to their mind. Then have a third party perform the survey by phone where all your customer has to do is talk to an unknown voice who he or she will probably never meet. The more replies you get, the better. You will need at least fifty or so to gather solid results. Avoid cherry picking the ones to call and make sure to include customers who have not been to your shop in a year or more. Very few shops perform a survey like this because it is not a small project, but the information that you gather will be invaluable.
#109 If Referrals Are Number One…
…then why do so few shop owners put much effort into getting more of them? Ask any group of shop owners what is the best way to get new customers and the number one answer is almost always referrals. Yet, most shops devote the majority of their marketing money and effort to other areas. Shops which have focused on getting more referrals generally report good success. Some shops develop specific rewards programs, others participate in local business groups (some of these are devoted specifically to gaining referrals) while others simply make it a habit to ask for referrals from their existing customers. Ask yourself how you could get more of the type of good referrals that you currently get. Then move some of your marketing budget and effort to doing so. Odds are good that your return on your marketing investment will improve.
#108 Looking Up The Same Information Over And Over
A significant time waster in many shops is unnecessarily looking up information that has already been looked up in the past. Anytime that an oil change occurs on a vehicle for the first time, the part numbers for the oil and filter, oil capacity, and the light reset procedure should be saved in your software with that vehicle. Once you locate where the owner stores the wheel lock tool, note that in your software. Some shops also save brake and alignment specifications and details for all of the fluids. This can be a big time saver on vehicles that you end up servicing for many years, and also for certain ones where the information is harder than normal to find.
#107 Of Course We Inspect Every Car!
At least, that’s what many shop owners will tell you. But, what does that mean? Often it means if there is time, if we constantly remind the techs, it comes last in the initial process, it is what the tech decides to inspect, there are quite a few exceptions, etc. In other words…”No, we really do not inspect every car.” Try this. Use a well developed form every time. Perform the inspection first before the sold testing and services are performed. Do not give the tech the next RO until the inspection on the current car is fully completed. Finally, eliminate all exceptions and excuses to keep that door shut. If your techs are not finding $500 to $1,000 or more of legitimate work on the average car coming through your shop, much of your potential income is being ignored every day.
#106 Problem Car Tying Up The Shop?
Move it out! Tell the tech to stop working on it, move it outside and work on his or her other jobs. Then call the customer and let them know that the car will not be done today because it is turning out to be a bigger job than anticipated. If needed, get them loaner car, rental car, ride or whatever they require. When the tech returns the next day, make the car his first job. Since yesterday he has had time to think about it, do some research and maybe discuss it with others. Also, he is now fresh and probably in a better mood. Odds are that the issue will now be resolved much sooner than it would have the day before.
#105 Wasted Time Dealing With Vehicle Information
Many shop owners do not realize how much time evaporates because of incomplete vehicle information. Make a new rule. Get all of the information during the first visit, every time, no exceptions. This prevents the person doing an estimate during the car’s sixth visit from having to dig around in the snow, hopefully on the right car, on a particularly cold and busy day to find the tire size when the tech is gone on a long test drive. Sound familiar? There’s ten minutes you will never get back. Also, expand the list of what information is collected to cover almost every situation that commonly occurs. Does it have rear heat or rear air conditioning? Wheel base for trucks? Build date? Finally, consider designating one employee (the one who is great with details) to get the information from every vehicle when it arrives for the first time.
In many shops one reason that additional legitimate work is often not sold is because it does not always get estimated. A solid system will normally increase how many things are fully estimated and improve the odds that the service advisors will make the sale. Have your techs look up the labor for each repair or service that they recommend, note the book times and any adjustments that they feel are needed along with the reasons why. Assign one employee, preferably your most detailed and efficient one, to do the parts estimating (and ordering, pricing, inventory, etc.). You should soon find that more estimates are being created causing the average RO amount and overall sales to increase.
Here’s a simple plan to make it better. Write down your specific goals about how you want it to look and be maintained. Discuss your goals at a staff meeting and ask for input. Divide the shop into areas and assign each one to an individual employee. Create a detailed checklist for each area of what you want them to do. Set a weekly deadline for each person to turn in their checklist. Pay employees accordingly for time spent and adjust the pay in relation to how well they perform. Remember that if the shop is messy, it’s because you allow it to be that way.
It didn’t happen. This phrase is more important today than ever, but it is also easier than it has ever been to make it happen. You’ve already made sure that everyone at the shop has their own computer work station and can type reasonably well, right? If not, put those at the top of your to do list. Once these are in place, the recording of information and documentation of what was said and what occurred becomes much easier. In addition to making sure that everything relative to the job is written on every RO, use email, instant messaging, and computer documents to communicate and save information. The demand for this is only going to increase. Don’t get caught behind this technology curve.
#101 Are Your Techs Flying Blind?
Techs need information that is both plentiful and readily accessible. This means that, with the exception of certain private and financial information, techs should be able to quickly access almost everything that you have available. In addition to repair information this should include vehicle service history, relative websites, email, instant messaging and so on. To make access both fast and easy, techs should have computers as close as their tool box and have them hooked up to high speed internet. Remember that the most common reason that techs are inefficient is due to the environment that they are working in.
#100 How Much Time Am I Allowed?
A common complaint among shop owners is how often their techs go over the allowed time, especially for testing. Do you always make it crystal clear how much time is allowed? Are the times clearly written on the RO next to each labor operation with a big red circle around them? Is a reasonable written explanation mandatory when the time is exceeded by more than a tenth or two? Has it been made clear that any and all information that the tech has which may affect the time is welcomed and encouraged? Putting these systems in place will typically achieve two things: Less time wasted and improved labor estimates. In this economy most shops could use both.
Do you have a solid system for handling RO’s? If anyone in your shop is asking where an RO is more than once in a great while, your system needs help. Create a written “road map” of where every RO is supposed to be at every point in the service process. Be specific, but also keep the plan no longer than a double spaced single page. Anyone in your shop should be able to find any RO almost instantly. Failure to do things like this exceptionally well wastes a little bit of time each day and ends up costing hundreds of dollars (or more) over the period of a year.
#98 Key Tags Every Time – No Exceptions
“But, the car will only be in the shop for a few minutes!” True, but a few minutes is all it takes to “lose the keys”. While it may not occur all that often, when it does it really throws sand in the gears and, worst of all, it’s very embarrassing when the customer watches you and your staff do the key search dance. Those little vinyl key tags (or similar) are cheap. Use them every time and prevent just one or two more fires this year.
#97 Label Makers And ROI
When we buy equipment, we always (at least in theory) calculate our ROI (return on investment). A label maker can pay for itself very rapidly…in a matter of hours in some shops. However, pride keeps a lot of people from stooping to the level of “labeling everything”. We are smart! We know where everything is! The most labeled shop I’ve ever been in was a one man operation where the need for labeling would seem to be the least. But this guy wanted peak efficiency and profits, and he was getting just that. Remember that the next time you wish that your efficiency was a bit better or when you are wasting time looking for something that is lacking a labeled location.
#96 Homeless Parts Not Allowed
Many shops seem to be inundated with homeless parts. They lay in odd locations, often for extended periods of time, and eventually may just disappear. Some get reordered (now we have two, but no one knows that). When a part arrives at your counter, send it immediately to its proper home. If there is no specific home yet, then create a home (you could even label it “no specific home yet”). Create homes for every part in your building such as: Waiting for approval, Technician Fred, Cores, Returns (one for each vendor), Needs to be added to Inventory, etc. You get the idea. Stop homelessness at your shop today!
#95 Did You Get Paid For That Defective Part?
Too often, the answer is no. Here are some ideas that should help. 1: When the part to replace a defective one arrives, immediately place a defective (or warranty) sticker on the box so everyone in the shop knows to put the old part back in the box and save it. 2: Put all defective parts in a specifically labeled location (a large plastic bin works well). 3: Create files for each vendor that contain the necessary claim forms before a problem occurs. 4: When a parts vendor picks up a defective part, place a copy of the receipt in those same files until you get paid. 5: Assign the job of checking both the bin of defective parts and the appropriate files weekly and handle them as needed.