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Friday, July 23, 2021
The pandemic has shrunk the workforce, and that’s bad news for the auto repair industry. Jobless claims have dropped significantly since last April, but there are still seven million fewer people with jobs than before the pandemic.
Many businesses are hoping that there will be an influx of job seekers when schools open and unemployment benefits shrink. Those things will certainly bring some younger workers back into the job market. But more Baby Boomers retired in 2020 than in any year in history, and they aren’t coming back.
For the auto repair industry, it’s especially unlikely that hiring will suddenly become painless in September. Technicians were already hard to find before the pandemic, due in large part to a shortage of young workers interested in the job or the industry.
Dealerships, franchises and independent shops are even more desperate for the small stream of newly trained technicians entering the industry than they were before the pandemic. Whatever it took to attract new employees in 2019, it’s likely to take more now.
And that’s why it might be time to look outside of the industry for hires.
Many employees in restaurant, retail and hospitality jobs weren’t considering different industries before the pandemic. But after those jobs evaporated overnight, many were forced into rethinking whether those high-stress, off-hours jobs were worth the low pay they offered.
Even though these employees aren’t likely to have experience in the automotive industry, they might be a great fit for a service writer or customer service role. They’re accustomed to providing customer-facing service, staying on their feet and keeping things moving in environments where margins depend on it.
For restaurant, retail and hospitality workers looking to change careers, a job in an auto repair shop offers things their current occupation probably doesn’t. Independent repair shops, for instance, can offer reliable hours and a low-turnover environment with a positive culture. Employees coming from these industries tend to be younger than the average US worker, which means they have plenty of time to grow into their roles and continue supporting your shop for years (or decades) to come.
Unfortunately, it’s more difficult to fill technician roles with employees from other industries. To provide value to the shop, technicians need at least enough experience to handle the most basic jobs that come through the doors. That means technicians with little or no experience are likely to slow your shop down at first, rather than speed things up.
That doesn’t mean hiring a novice can’t work out well for your shop. If an employee is interested in the work you do and motivated to grow quickly, they can become one of your best performers over time.
Once you’re able to train someone to handle basic jobs like changing oil and replacing tires, you can free up your more experienced technicians for higher-value roles while making money off of your new hire each day they’re training. And unlike an auto technician program at a community college, they can get paid while they learn the job, instead of going in debt to do it. That’s a major draw for anyone considering a job in the industry.
It’s true that many franchise oil & lube shops already offer these “no experience necessary” types of roles. But unlike those shops, technicians who choose to start at an independent repair shop can gain exposure to more advanced work whenever they’re ready to take it on.
Believe it or not, there are still kids in high school who are more excited about jumping right in to the working world than spending four years at college. And there are also plenty of gig-economy workers who gave up on that career during the pandemic and want something more stable and reliable. If you’re willing to take on the responsibility of mentoring someone who is new to the industry, it’s a great way to skip the line full of other shops willing to do whatever it takes for another experienced technician.
Another benefit – you won’t have to retrain them to do things the way you do them at your shop.
To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help you bring more vehicles into your shop (and advertise your job openings!) call us at 855-294-6397 or email us at Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com.
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
We’re halfway through the year, which is a great time to measure progress toward your shop’s annual goals. This year might be an outlier, however; many business owners didn’t set annual goals for 2021 because it was too uncertain of a time to be putting together year-long business plans.
Fortunately, the United States is in a much better place than it was six months ago. Coronavirus cases are down nearly 95% from their peak, masks are off, and people are anxious to get out of the house.
Those things are great for our health (and our sanity), but they aren’t filling up every auto repair shop’s bays. A shop’s car count still depends heavily on the local economic environment.
Most urban areas are doing well. People are moving around even more than they were in 2019 – and they’re using their vehicles to do it. Offices, restaurants and retail establishments aren’t quite as busy as they were in 2019, but parking lots are far busier than they were in 2020. Those things are enough to keep many auto repair shops busy – but a vehicle shortage and a year’s worth of delayed vacations are also bringing people to repair shops, flooding short-staffed garages with more vehicles than they can handle.
In areas with fewer resources, however, economic activity remains depressed. Many towns in rural America were already suffering from outflows of money and people before 2020, resorting to measures like selling water systems to make ends meet. People in these areas are keeping vehicles parked at home to keep costs down. That’s hurting shop revenue, keeping them from hiring or making new investments.
So what’s the best strategy for your shop for the rest of 2021? That will obviously depend many things – one of these is your area’s economic climate. If your area faces a tough economic climate, you may need to shift strategies more aggressively to stay profitable. Meanwhile, a bustling shop comes with its own set of challenges. It’s difficult to keep employee morale high and meet customer expectations when a long line of work starts taking over the calendar.
The strategy will be different depending on how busy you are. But the focus is the same.
Whether you’re trying to figure out how to get customers into your shop or how to get them to leave you alone until you’re up a few technicians, positioning yourself for success requires understanding these three groups.
Why do customers come to your shop? It’s easy to assume they come in because they need a vehicle repaired – but unless you’re the only shop in the area, that’s not the full story.
Different customers probably choose your shop for different reasons. For some, your shop is the closest or easiest option. Others may say it’s the most affordable. Still others may trust your shop (or an employee in your shop) to give them an honest opinion of what needs to be done.
When you understand why customers come to your shop, you can make sure they’re getting whatever it is they value most out of the relationship. It’s hard to provide great service (the key to continued long-term success) without understanding that most-valued trait.
Even if you’re flooded with customers, you need to know what customers value – because, if you can’t provide them with anything else, you want to make sure they always get that one thing. If you really disappoint a customer, they might not care how busy you were. And if you disappoint enough of them, you’ll soon find yourself with far more spare time than you ever wanted.
Workplace cultures have a feedback loop. Ideally, it’s a positive one, where employees have learned to trust and respect one another over time. During a bad week, employees can lean on those relationships to motivate them towards success.
But when things go south, it can seem like every interaction makes things worse. Small disagreements can turn into petty and aggressive behavior, killing productivity and morale. That’s when employees start assuming the worst possible reason for every uncertainty.
Negative feedback loops are especially dangerous when the shop is “unsteady” – when things are too quiet or too busy. When things are quieter than they should be, employees want to know what changes you’re planning to get business back. When you’re too busy, employees want to know when things are going to calm down so they can get back to their lives.
In either case, it helps to project a sense of calm and to provide some insight on how you plan to smooth out the workload going forward. If employees don’t like what they’re hearing (or if they don’t hear anything), they may assume the worst and try to find employment elsewhere. And whenever you can, contribute to a positive feedback loop by making the shop a great place to be.
The word “community” casts an intentionally wide net. It includes other businesses, schools, churches, local governments and even competitors in your area. It’s also the source of your customers and employees. Each positive interaction you have with community members will have a small impact on your shop’s reputation – and over time, the support you earn from your community can be a vital element of surviving tough weeks, months and years.
If you’re trying to get customers in the door, sponsoring or participating in events with opportunities for face-to-face interaction (like festivals or sports tournaments) can help! Sponsoring free events at your own shop, such as training new drivers to ensure vehicle safety, can also build goodwill.
To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help you attract the best customers to your shop, call us at 855-294-6397 or email us at Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com.
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
The biggest automotive story this week is the combined $65 billion GM and Ford have promised to invest in electric vehicles (EVs) by 2025. Tightening emissions laws and changing consumer preferences are forcing manufacturers to make huge investments in EVs if they want to survive the next decade.
But that doesn’t mean EVs are important to most independent repair shops. Even with the recent rapid growth in sales, plug-in electric vehicles still represent only 2% of vehicles sold each year.
What is important to independent shops is the increasing complexity of vehicles. It’s been a challenge for years.
Each year, a larger investment is required to fully serve new vehicle models. And each year, the differences between vehicle brands increase. New microprocessors are introduced. Diagnostics become more expensive. Training becomes more comprehensive – and more important. And massive manufacturer investments in electrification put shop owners on notice that these trends are only going to accelerate.
All of this complexity makes the “general repair” business more difficult and less profitable, and it’s leading some shops to move away from it. Some general repair shops may choose to focus exclusively on certain makes in the future, especially if many of their technicians are already familiar with them. Other shops (especially those in rural areas) may continue as general automotive shops but stop servicing lower-volume makes and models.
Specialization isn’t just about makes and models, however. Shops specializing in engines, transmissions, air conditioning and other automotive systems have been operating profitably for decades. Here are three categories of specialization that may become more attractive for some shops in the near future.
When an Auto Care Association executive testified to Congress about vehicle technology late last year, he pointed out that a 2001 Chevy Suburban had nine electronic control modules, and a 2021 Suburban had 103 modules. That’s 11 times the complexity – and 11 times as many points of failure.
Newer vehicles’ engines and transmissions are more reliable than ever. But when control modules fail, and dashboard warnings arise, drivers will need someone to diagnose the problem and fix it. And with so many cameras and sensors supporting safety features in newer vehicles, fixing a problem requires more than simply replacing broken components. They also need to be calibrated.
Providing specialized services for corporate fleets isn’t a new idea. But the rise of ride-sharing services gave rise to a new type of “fleet” – one with many owners and a wide (but not too wide) variety of vehicles. While the pandemic demolished the ride-sharing industry, it lifted the food-delivery industry to new heights – and in 2021, both services are doing well.
The long-term business models of the Transportation-as-a-Service and Delivery-as-a-Service industries are yet to be determined. That means we don’t know whether drivers will be employees, whether they’ll be using their own vehicles, or even whether they’ll select their own auto repair shop. But these two industries will be putting billions of miles on vehicles well beyond 2021 – and someone is going to be keeping all those vehicles on the road.
Electric and hybrid vehicles aren’t big players in the US auto market. But unlike plug-in vehicles, manufacturers have sold hundreds of thousands of hybrids yearly since 2007, representing 2-3% of annual light-duty vehicles sales. In cities and states where hybrid vehicles are most prevalent, specializing in hybrid vehicles can allow your shop to offer high-margin services that others can’t.
To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help you attract your ideal customers (whether you specialize or not!) call us at 855-294-6397 or email us at Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com.
Monday, May 31, 2021
Before my time working at Repair Shop Websites, I conducted business research in the pharmaceutical industry. I interviewed some very smart people along the way. Some of the best bits of wisdom I received were the ones that seemed the most obvious.
One quote that stuck with me came from an executive who helped small companies that were being acquired by some of the biggest names in the industry.
“When you want something, just ask,” she said. “The worst that can happen is that they’ll say no.”
The truth is that it can be uncomfortable to ask someone for something they might not want to give you. People miss opportunities for first dates, salary increases and lower car and home purchase prices because they’re too scared of rejection to ask for them.
Whether it’s the shop owner, service advisor or another employee, this can happen a lot in auto repair shops too. Here are three things repair shops want (or should want) but often don’t ask for.
It’s a well-established fact that people rely on online reviews to decide where to buy local services including auto repair. And Repair Shop Websites’ own research has proven that customers are over three times more likely to leave a review if they’re asked to do so. Despite this, many repair shops don’t ask for reviews from customers they know are happy with the service they received.
The reasons vary. In some cases, the service manager frequently forgets to ask. In others, shop staff don’t want to make the customer feel pressured into saying nice things about the shop. But one of the biggest reasons shop staff don’t ask for reviews is that it feels awkward to ask a customer for a favor right after they paid for service.
It shouldn’t. For most customers, it’s a much smaller request than asking them to part with a few extra dollars for high-mileage oil or upgraded wiper blades. And even if they don’t intend to leave you a review, they probably aren’t going to tell you that.
If you feel like a customer had a good experience (or if they tell you they’re happy with the shop), take the extra ten seconds to explain that great reviews help bring more people into the shop. Tell them it would help you out if they could post a review about what services were done to their vehicle and what the experience was like. We’ve even put together this quick guide on how to ask! And we provide a tool to our customers that makes it really easy to email their happy customers to ask for a review.
If just 10% of your customers give you positive reviews, there’s a good chance you’ll be the most-reviewed (and best-reviewed) shop in town within six months. That will have a major impact on your shop’s search results.
There are some places where it makes sense to be careful advertising your need for additional employees. If a Help Wanted sign is the biggest one on your shop window (or on your website) customers might assume you’re too busy to handle their vehicle and take their business elsewhere. Competitors could also try and use your staff shortage against you when talking with potential customers.
With that said, you shouldn’t miss any opportunities to let people know you’re hiring new technicians or service writers. As you are probably well aware, there is a major shortage of auto repair technicians in particular – if someone can get the word out to an interested technician that your shop has an opening, it’s probably worth the risk you’re taking to advertise that information. So be sure to let friends, family, business associates and anybody else who might be able to help know that you are looking for somebody.
Don’t be afraid to ask your employees for referrals, either! If your employees are having to work extra hours to keep the doors open, they’re not going to be upset that you’re trying to fix the problem. In fact, offering a sizeable referral bonus to any employee who helps you find a technician is a great way to show them that you’re willing to put money towards solving the problem. Over-worked employees will appreciate that fact – even if they don’t have anyone to refer at the time you ask.
Nobody enjoys the dreaded upsell.
When you buy an electronic device at the store and the employee at the checkout has to offer you a 3 year “replacement plan”, you can tell they hate asking if you want it. You can tell they know your answer, too; they already have their finger above the button to take them to the next screen.
If your shop offers a service that your employees loathe selling this much, don’t ever ask your employees to sell that service to your customers again.
But you probably don’t have a service like this. If you run an independent shop, you offer services that you believe are a good value to your customers. And if you’ve invested in training or equipment to offer a new service, it’s because you think it’s valuable, too. Ideally, your service writers and technicians have been trained on that value, and they believe in the service as well.
So don’t upsell customers – educate them! The best way to make those investments worthwhile is to make sure your customers know about your new services. If you were excited enough about a new service to buy the equipment required to offer it, let that excitement come through when you tell your customers about it.
If they don’t take you up on the offer, that doesn’t reflect poorly on you for offering it! You’re just doing your job, which is telling them what you think is best for their vehicle. Even if they don’t take you up on the offer today, they could always come back and ask for it when the problem it addresses becomes more obvious or more significant.
If you really want to avoid the perception of an upsell, there are even more laid-back ways to educate customers. You can tell them about the service after you’ve given them the receipt for today’s service, which makes it a nearly pressure-free interaction. You can staple printed material about the service on their invoice, which lets customers read about it when they aren’t face-to-face with you. But don’t be shy about letting customers know all about your new services. That’s the best way to earn a return on your investment – and to allow you to keep investing in new services, so your shop can keep up to date with fast-changing vehicle service requirements.
To learn how Repair Shop Websites can bring more business to your shop, call us at 855-294-6397 or email us at Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com to learn more!
Thursday, 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.
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.”
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.
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 Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com to learn more!