Making the Most of Too Much Work

May 27, 2021

After a year of crazy ups and downs, the US is finally turning the corner on COVID-19.  Case rates are declining throughout the country, schools and businesses are opening back up, and families are booking summer travel.  All of those things mean that once mostly-idle vehicles are being used more regularly and for longer drives. And that’s causing more customers to visit auto repair shops for repairs and maintenance.

Unfortunately, there can be too much of a good thing.  Most people received large checks from the US Treasury, and some are using that money to pay for major vehicle repairs.  An unprecedented processor shortage is idling vehicle manufacturing plants, driving up new and used car prices and causing people to repair vehicles they’d otherwise sell.  And home sales were at their highest levels in recent history at the end of 2020, meaning more people than ever are looking for a new shop in a new town.

For many shops, all of these factors are leading to too much of a good thing: business.

Of course, if your shop is in one of the many areas still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, then too much business is a problem you’d be happy to have.  But just because shops with too much business are in better shape than those with too little doesn’t mean that customer overflow can’t hurt you in the long run.  In fact, in many industries, a small business facing a sudden barrage of demand is a potential deathblow.

If you’re getting more repair requests than you can possibly handle, here’s what you can do to make the most of all those requests while protecting your shop’s reputation over the long term.

Be Thankful

When you’re overbooked, it’s tempting to let that call from an unknown number ring a couple extra times and hope the customer gives up and calls someone else.  The last thing you need is a customer giving you a minutes-long description of the squealing sound they’re hearing before you can even tell them how far you’re booked out.

The problem is that every caller considers themselves a customer – even if they never even talk to anyone in your shop.  If a caller can’t reach anyone, or if a staff member seems disinterested or rushed on the phone (or in person!), there’s a good chance that the “customer” will tell others about that experience.  They might even give you a negative review online.

It’s really important to meet or exceed customer expectations – and that means it’s really important to set them.  If you’re too busy to give customers the level or speed of service you’d typically provide, it’s better to tell them right away than to wait until it’s time to deliver the vehicle, or worse, when it’s time to pick it up.

Most important of all, be grateful!  Many businesses are struggling to keep the doors open right now. If the person on the other end of the line works at one of those businesses, they may be resentful if they feel like you don’t appreciate the fortune of “all the customers you could want and then some.”

Be Selective

The ideal repair job differs from shop to shop, based on technician expertise, available tools, facility layouts and shop processes.  But no shop should value every job equally.  Some jobs are simply worse than others.  Some jobs come with low margins.  Some jobs require variable labor hours that are difficult to estimate.  And some jobs (and customers) are just really demanding on your staff.

The easiest thing to do when you’re booking work is to say yes to more customers until you have to start saying no.  But it’s not the most profitable thing to do, it’s not a morale booster, and it doesn’t help you get the best customer base.

If you (and your technicians) are already working overtime and you’re still turning away work, there’s no need to put low-value, low-margin jobs on this week’s calendar unless it’s a customer you really want to impress.

That doesn’t mean you can’t help the customer at all. You can offer them a time slot some number of days or weeks in the future when there aren’t that many jobs already booked.  You can also refer them to another shop who would be happy to have that business (ideally, that shop will also refer customers who are better fits for your shop than theirs).

But if you’re fairly certain that accepting a less profitable job now means deferring or rejecting a better one later, it’s probably best to take the small chance that the calendar slot won’t get filled.  The most likely worst case scenario is that you lose a low-margin job and give your team members a chance to catch their breath.

Be Strategic

There are plenty of reasons for auto repair shops not to specialize.  It shrinks the potential customer base.  It increases the risk that specific car makes fall out of favor or that specific services are needed less often in the future.  It may also require shops to purchase additional equipment to better serve the narrower market segment.

When you have too much work, however, the equation changes.  If you’re managing your calendar well, elevated profits should make it easier to afford new equipment.  Focusing on specific services can help you further grow the percentage of your jobs that result in more profit.  And shrinking your customer base a bit over the short term isn’t likely to present much of a risk when you’re turning away work anyway.

Greater specialization isn’t the only strategic shift that might make sense for shops.  Considering a larger shop (or an additional one), giving the shop a facelift to create a more “premium” image or adding new staff are all easier to do after a period of higher revenues and greater customer exposure.  Just don’t commit to any long-term expenses without considering whether the newly increased workflow is permanent or a short-term post-pandemic surge.

To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help you bring in more of your shop’s favorite work, call us at 855-294-6397 or email us at to learn more!