Let’s go back to 1976, a much simpler time. I was working at a gas station in the Bronx called Randy’s Chevron. It was a 2-bay garage with two gas pumps and two mechanics. I was 21 years old, single, and loved what I was doing. The boss, Randy, was a World War II veteran, fought in many campaigns throughout Europe, grew up during the great depression, and outwardly expressed his dislike toward foreign cars; especially German and Japanese vehicles. I got along well with Randy. He was a tough guy, a throw-back from an era that believed in good old-fashion values, who loved this country and all that it stood for. Like My father, who also served in Europe during WWII, he attained the rank of Army Sergeant. Come to think of it, he was very much like my father; I guess that’s why we got along so well. I worked for Randy for three years; it was a great experience for me with fond memories that will last forever.
One thing about Randy, he did not like change. I remember one day a Volkswagen rolled up the driveway and parked in front of the bays. I could see the displeasure on his face. He ran out to the car and firmly said, “I hope you don’t expect me to work on this thing”? Then he kept silent and stared at the driver of the car. The driver of the VW said something but I couldn’t hear what was said. Randy just continued to stare and the owner finally put the car in gear and drove away. As Randy stepped back into the shop, he turned to me and said, “We are not a foreign car repair shop… never will be!”
Randy would talk about electronic ignition and how it was going to destroy the tune-up market. He also feared disc brakes, claiming that this brake system would make brakes last longer and that too will hurt business. He hated the fact that cars were mandated to have catalytic converters and other emission control devices. Randy said this will only complicate matters, make cars run worse, and accomplish nothing. Randy was a nice person and a great boss. But, like so many others, he could not accept the change that was occurring in the automotive industry.
As we fast forward to the present, it becomes apparent that our entire way of life is about change and the automotive world we once knew, no longer exists. Forty years ago, in cities across the nation, street corners were dotted with gas stations that not only sold gas but were the go-to guys for repairs and service. There were no quick lubes and new car dealers were content with their healthy car sales. We all know the demise of the corner gas station, the emergence of quick lubes, and other national accounts that make up the auto service industry. New car dealerships now understand that in order to sell cars they need to focus on the customer cycle experience. If they sell a car and somehow retain that customer in the service department, they will increase their chances to sell that customer another car in the future. Because of this, many new car dealerships are very aggressive in their marketing approach to the consumer, attempting to do what independent shops have done since the first Model T rolled off the assembly line…taking care of the customer.
Yes, the world will continue to change and it will become increasingly more difficult to compete in this market. However, if you are total car care facility today, you have a distinct advantage over your competitors; you sell tires and service, and attract the majority of the motoring public to your bays. You are the preferred choice of the motoring public, and no matter how bad things may appear in some parts of the country, you are sitting on a gold mine. Whatever the car makers throw at you, you will be ready. Let’s face it; whether it’s a hybrid, electric, or powered by hydrogen, they will all need to be serviced and repaired.
Thirty years ago, I did not start out selling tires; I was strictly an independent “repair” shop. Five years ago when I began planning to expand and open up a new facility, I studied different business models and found that the model which offered the greatest opportunity for growth, was in tires and service. I watched through the years as many capable repair shops struggled and eventually failed. Not because they were technically inept, but because they did not see the change that was occurring around them. Their focus on heavy car repairs and complicated diagnostic work actually put them at a disadvantage. It’s not that they were wrong to perform this type of work; it’s still part of what we do today. It’s just that in order to thrive today, you need to accept that you need to be profitable, and that means shifting a lot of your focus to preventive maintenance, tires, brake work, and becoming more accommodating to your customer.
My new facility model offers a mix of tires, wheel alignments, preventive maintenance, steering, suspension, brake work, and features express lanes for while-you-wait service. This new facility also serves as a feeder for my old shop where all the diagnostic work, engine work, transmissions, clutches, and other traditional repairs will be performed. This new model creates opportunity for the best of all worlds.
Modern automotive service centers can no longer rely on those traditional repairs that once dominated the business. Cars are more reliable and many of those money-making services no longer exist. But one thing they can’t take away? They all need to roll down the road and that means eventually they will all need tires and service. We will obviously need to stay ahead of the curve by continually training our people and invest in new equipment. But, the work will be there, in some form or another.
I often think back to those days working in that 2-bay gas station in the Bronx. It truly was from a much simpler time. There’s nothing wrong with reminiscing about the good old days, but time never stands still for anyone, so don’t get stuck there, you may not find your way back.