By Joe Marconi
Spring is here! Market you shop in your community. Dollar for dollar, the best marketing you can do is right in your own back yard. This is the time of the year when a lot of outdoor events begin: From youth sports to adult golf games. In addition, there are fund raisers each weekend.
Find out what's going on in your community. Get involved. Sponsor a youth sport's team, sponsor a golf tournament fund raiser or other fund raiser events. Get your shop known for being part of the community, not just another repair shop. The more you stand out, the more people will take notice and stronger your business will become!
I just wanted to share a quick tip that I think is easily overlooked... invest in your community! And not just one. I have to say a lot of our success comes from the local community who have seen our name at the local booster clubs, fundraisers, sponsorships, etc. Don't count out your local chamber or commerce either. Host get-togethers/business functions at our shop, get a little league banner, run a "contest" if you will that will benefit the local food bank. Get involved! You will be better known around the community if you do. It has helped us grow so quickly these last couple of years. I rarely say no to a sponsorship and it has paid off in the end. Here is one of the last community sponsorships we did. We tied it into our local "best of" contest that we have in town: Best Auto Body Shop in Orangevale
Article: Ouija Board Diagnostics - You're doing it wrong if your Ouija board is your go to diagnostic toolBy Gonzo
Ouija Board Diagnostics
I’ve often wondered why a lot of the driving public believes auto repair is something for non-thinking Neanderthals that have no ambition to do anything else in life. For all I know they think we (us mechanics that is) diagnose every problem by breaking out a Ouija board, while humming some ancient automotive chant. It could also be that a good mechanic just makes things look easy to the unaware and uniformed layman. With the right mechanic the whole thing can seem effortless, easy, and somewhat second nature when it comes to diagnosing a problem. To the armchair mechanic sitting at home watching the next new automotive reality show, it’s either – “Repairs are a no-brainer, I can do that”, or it must be some sort of Ouija board magic.
Mind you, the number of individuals who still believe anyone can be a mechanic is dwindling ever so slowly. Mainly because the car itself has gone past the point of parts swapping and a shade tree mechanic’s ability to repair the modern car. It’s no secret good old dad with the typical box of tools from a discount chain store can hardly change a spark plug anymore, let alone find them. Oh sure, you can still do a pad slap at home, and you can probably toss on a set of shocks, replace a bulb or two, but diagnosing a problem, especially one that involves some form of electronics… well… that’s a whole new issue to deal with.
It could be they need to master the Ouija board diagnostic scenario, or they need another round of You Tube videos. Every mechanic has undoubtedly heard the same thing from a well-seasoned You Tuber, “Oh I could have done that.” This usually leads to an even longer explanation of how you’ve done the entire repair wrong, but put the tools in their hands, and the results are pretty consistent. The car is either incorrectly put together, or they’ve lost some parts between point A and point B. Videos are great, but you still need to have some mechanical dexterity.
A good example of this scenario is when I was teaching a brake shoe replacement class the other day. After explaining the type of brake system we were working on, I removed the brake shoes from the car. Next, I reinstalled the same shoes, slowing down just enough so they could see how to use the brake tools. It probably took all of 20 minutes to explain it in detail and install the shoes. All the heads were bobbing and the usual consensus was they all had this repair procedure down pat, because, as we all know, anybody can do brakes. Well, as if it was no surprise, when the students got their hands into the job all I heard was one cuss word after another and the occasional student chasing a bouncing spring or clip across the shop floor. So much for easy, aye?
So, where do most of these unprofessional type mechanics and couch connoisseurs of the automotive world go for any information? Where else, the internet. The one place that doesn’t check the credentials of the person making the video, and the one place where anyone with a box of tools can be a superstar with a wrench. In their video they’re the automotive expert, camera man, sound man, director of content, and editor all at the same time. No need in researching the facts, looking up the proper methods, or any other various procedures, service bulletins, or the latest tools related to that particular job. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a video out there with a couple of guys surrounding one of those Ouija boards asking why the short fuel trim is higher on one of side than the other.
Ouija board or not, there are a few draw backs to internet information, but there really are a lot of super fantastic guys and gals putting out some very helpful videos on car repair. It’s just the few home brewed videos that make me cringe. Some of these back yard magicians seem to consult their Ouija board way too often. As if they conjured up some miracle answer right on the spot. Honestly, some of these videos are about as reliable as fake news. But, then again… that’s what some people think the professional mechanic does every day.
As there has always been, and there will always be, a shortage of trained technicians out there able to handle the job of repairing the modern car. I’m very sure we will never see the day when there is an overabundance of good mechanics who have to change careers because there is no room for them under the hood. It’s never going to happen. What does need to happen is the one thing consumers don’t want, and that’s cost of repairs most certainly need to rise, as well as the mechanics’ wages to keep up with all of these technical advancements. It’s not a maybe, it’s a must or the technology will run right past you. Ask any mechanic what they learned on a vehicle from 10 years ago vs. today’s cars, and you’ll find that nearly half of what they did back then isn’t applicable in today’s diagnostic procedures.
To be a good technician these days takes a lot of training, a lot of time spent reading, and understanding the latest technologies. New information comes from the manufacturers’ engineering departments just as fast as the cars come off the assembly lines, and to stay on top of things you need to study. I’ve heard people tell me, “Yea, I went to an automotive tech school to be a mechanic, but I didn’t learn anything.” Seriously? I’m sure you learned a whole lot. The problem isn’t the school training, the problem is you. Training doesn’t stop with your diploma, it stops when you stop wanting to advance your knowledge in the repair industry. School is a starting point, but to be a modern mechanic means you need to stay focused on the technology, take advanced training classes in your field of choice, and not expect answers from a You Tube video or your Ouija board.
There’s a lot to learn and retain. It’s not a trade where you learn one method and expect that skill to last you throughout your career. It’s an ever changing industry with ever changing technology. Learn the basics, then learn to diagnose the modern car. You can’t guess at a solution or consult that old Ouija board for the answers. It takes practice and a lot of hands on from a dedicated individual willing to get their hands dirty and diagnose an automotive problem. Then solve it correctly. Sorry, no Ouija board diagnostics allowed.
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I am debating on using something like this to schedule out my day. Looking into creating a customer dry eraser board with columns and such. Has anyone used such a tool in scheduling?
Nothing Beats a Full House
There’s days, even weeks (depending on the time of year) when a pair is pretty good. Then there are days when three of a kind ain’t bad. But in my book nothing beats a full house. I’ll bet you thought I was talking about poker, didn’t ya? Nope, I’m talking about the automotive repair business. When the shop is humming, and the jobs are flowing, and business is brisk, that’s when I know I’ve been dealt a winning hand. It might mean coming into work really early or staying late, but at the end of the week it’s a pretty good feeling to know you’ve played your cards right.
There’s been many a day that closing down the shop early is better than being dealt jokers or cards that won’t play. The phone isn’t ringing, the shop is empty, all the tools and service bays have been cleaned, and all the shelves are stocked, but not a single car in the service bays. Those are the days that even a pair sounds good. I’d even settle for pulling one decent card out of the deck on those days.
“It’s feast or famine,” a good friend of mine told me. He’s a realtor, and his business is the same way. One day everybody is calling, and the next day you have to pick up the phone just to see if there’s still a dial tone. (Boy, do I know it, I certainly can relate to that.) There is a pattern to all of this chaos though. It took me years of running a shop to figure it out, and I’m sure the same thing happens in every part of the country, just like it does here in the southern part where I live.
Take the holidays… no, seriously… take them. There a joyous time to be with family and friends, but it’s not that great if you’re making a living servicing cars. It never fails when a holiday is on the calendar you can bet it’s slow. But, the day or so before a long weekend holiday you can guarantee it’s going to be packed at the repair shop. Seems everybody waits to the last minute to get the car ready for a trip and everybody wants their car done… RIGHT NOW! I pretty much know those are the days I’m coming in early and staying late.
Then there’s when school starts… listen close…can ya hear the crickets out in the shop? I know I can. Usually the week or two before school starts everything slows to a crawl. Oh you might get a couple of pair, maybe three of a kind but it’s doubtful you’ll get a full house. As soon as school is in session the cards start to fall in the right place again. It’s a sure bet the shop is going to be full for the next couple of weeks.
Of course there’s Fair week. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Fair, I think it’s pretty cool, but not from a business stand point that’s for sure… it’s the week to fold your hand. Nothing ever happens Fair week. In my early years there was one Fair week that I’ll never forget. I had one car for the whole entire week… yes… one and only one car. However, it was a super huge job that nearly took the whole week to finish. (Funny how things work out that way.)
Temperature and the weather have a lot to do with what cards you’re dealt in this crazy world of auto repair. Heavy snow or monsoon rain means… stay home, fold em’. Now a light rain, one of those steady down pours that doesn’t seem to end has a different affect. The shop slows, but the phone rings constantly. The usual caller will tell me something like this; “Yes, I’m having a problem with my wipers can you fix them?”
I’ll answer, “Why yes, we could get you in right now.”
“Oh it’s raining, but as soon as it lets up I’ll bring it in.”
I know better than to assume they’ll be in on the next sunny day. As soon as the sun comes out they forget all about their wiper troubles. I guess it’s one of those “out of sight, out of mind” things. Although, I’ve learned to get their phone number, and call them the next day and remind them of their previous call and set an appointment to get it in the shop. Surprisingly enough, it works.
Now the temperature, that’s a real fickle issue. Too hot or too cold does some strange things to cars. Usually means it’s going to be busy. Then again if it’s a “room temperature” sort of day… it’s probably not going to be that busy. There are the calls of course, there’s the “stop by the shop and chat about it” kind, and then there are the ones that just want to pick your brain and price check everything.
When it comes to creature comforts in the car, it’s a safe bet on those high or low temperature days those systems are on the top of the repair priority list. Wouldn’t be the first time someone has come in the shop with their brakes metal to metal, but they’re not worried about that… that A/C is a must. Now in the winter months it’s the heater, or the defroster, or the wiper blades that froze to the windshield the night before and they didn’t bother to clean them off… they just turned them on, and now... oops… they don’t work at all.
The one ace in the hole that does take the edge off of the ups and downs of the seasonal changes is to have a back burner job sitting in the corner of the shop. Maybe a restoration project or some personal toy you can pull out of moth balls for the guys to fiddle around with when it’s slow.
All in all, doing this job is a great reward; it’s a great career choice. You meet some really interesting people from all walks of life in this business. A lot of them become regulars, and stop by no matter what the temperature is or whether or not the Fair is in town. Ya just got to play your cards right, know when to fold them and know when to hold them.
When it’s slow you might tend to dwell on things and think you’ve done something wrong, but then things pick back up and you forget all about those thoughts. You’re taking a gamble in just about any career choice you make, automotive repair is no different, and when someone asks, “How’s it going?” I always answer with, “It’s slowly getting busy or busy getting slow.” A couple of cars in the morning, maybe three of a kind later that afternoon, whatever there is that’s the hand you’ve been dealt for the day. But, in this game of auto repair… nothing beats a full house.
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