Service centres will have a bright future, provided they adapt to changing needs and expectations.
Dino Hatz started his career as an automotive service technician. He’s also been a service advisor, factory sales agent and currently serves as Business Development Manager for Hunter Engineering Company. With a wealth of knowledge and experience in automotive service shop operation, CarCare Business asked him what some of the biggest challenges are currently facing shops and technicians, particularly around core areas of operation such as vehicle inspections, alignments, tire changing and connectivity. Here’s what he had to say.
In your view, what have been some of the biggest changes in the vehicle inspection process in terms of the shop, the vehicle and the customer’s expectations in the last 15 years?
What vehicle inspection process? Even when it’s mentioned or even sold as part of a maintenance package, it doesn’t happen as often as you might assume and there are a several factors to account for this.
Complacency, for starters, has grown through the learned experience that today’s vehicles, in general, tend to be more reliable. Today’s daily commuter rarely needs to get hooked up to a tow truck for their next visit to the repair shop.
The mass media’s exposure of some of the less than savoury portions of the auto repair business, has taken a toll on the psyche of the timid technicians and service writers out there that already feel uncomfortable with anything that might be interpreted as “sales” related. In general, the aftermarket repair industry in Canada, more often than not, is forgoing the inspection process in favour of minimizing any potential exposure to online reprisals or pushback from their customers.
According to industry data, most shops strategize to earn the bulk of their annual average revenue around the tire rush touch-point with customers. As a result, many shops tend to take on too many tire changeovers while leaving too little technician time aside to properly check vehicles.
Where do you think efficiencies can be still be realized in the bay when performing alignments both for the technician and the shop overall?
First we should take a look at the efficiency of actually selling alignments at the service counter. According to the market numbers, there are an average of less than two alignments per day sold per Canadian facility.
As far as bay efficiency goes, the first thing that comes to mind is the misguided practice of performing repairs or parts replacement on an alignment rack that can run at over $80K in equipment investment alone, that could have been more practically performed on the empty two-post lift worth $6K just next to it.
The most successful operators use the alignment rack solely for final adjustments. The rest of the time they keep the path clear to scan the axle geometry of every vehicle coming in for any service, for potential road safety concerns as well as to help boost the sales of the most profitable service they have to offer.
How has the growth in demand for larger wheel and tire sizes impacted tire installation, wheel balancing and rim longevity/protection?
Larger rims and receding sidewall heights are proving to be a serious challenge for the industry. The time for a tire changeover has typically doubled for shops equipped and trained with traditional equipment and processes. The added pressure to make up for the time crunch becomes even more costly when a wheel, tire or TPMS sensor gets damaged in the mix. While auto service centres are floundering just trying to keep up, their missed steps combined with our deteriorating inner-city infrastructures are feeding a flourishing wheel repair industry with a steady diet of damaged low profile, tire shod wheels.
With more consumers choosing winter tires—how can shops efficiently manage demand in terms of training and equipment?
Training is a never-ending issue especially when “Tire Busting” is not strongly considered as a permanent career choice by many.
Like many other industries, where skilled manual labour comes at a premium or is hard to come by, automated and perhaps even autonomous machines will eventually be the norm. We are already experiencing considerable growth in this market segment in our own business.
What are still, some of the biggest issues shops face when it comes to tire installation/replacement and wheel balancing and how can they be tackled?
Training and high employee turnover are by far the biggest issues as mentioned above. Investment in some level of automation will at least help address this portion. Investing in wheel lifting devices at every station, including at the vehicle, will also help to open the doors to a larger pool of potential human resources that might have been previously overlooked due to gender or the physical size, strength or age normally perceived as requirements to fill this post.
As vehicles become ever more sophisticated and connected, how is that going to impact the shop, technician, equipment and customer when it comes to vehicle inspection and maintenance schedules and procedures?
Shop connectivity and integration are crucial elements in any shop’s business plan going forward. The new wave of consumers, hitting the marketplace right now, does not appreciate dealing with paper or anything that doesn’t include “an app for it”.
Building more efficiency around everything from the customer write-up experience right down to the delivery method and payment is going to have to be adapted sooner than later to this new reality.
In your view, how do you think aftermarket shops will fare in the future when it comes to service and maintenance given the rapid advances in vehicle technology that’s emerging?
As long as the pneumatic tire is still the basis for highway transportation and the freeze / thaw cycles continue to beat up our roads, the aftermarket shop will continue to be a viable business model. The future is bright and exciting for those that are ready to accept and embrace change rather than stick their heads in the sand and continue to rely on the standards of yesteryear.