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Lang Marketing Reports: Shrinking Repair Shop Population


Joe Marconi

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Shrinking Repair Outlet Population

"Vehicle maintenance is becoming less convenient for Americans. There are fewer outlets repairing cars and light trucks, despite the increasing population and complexity of cars and light trucks on U.S. roads. The number of repair (DIFM) outlets fell by nearly 14,000 over the past five years (2016 to 2021), and future annual reductions are likely."

"Nevertheless, not all types of repair outlets suffered losses. Repair Specialists, Foreign Specialists, and Dealers have grown in number, while the four other major types of DIFM outlets have endured thinning ranks. See the all-new 2023 Lang Aftermarket Annual for a ten-year history of the changing number of all major types of auto repair outlets across the U.S."

Jim Lang Signature

 

14,000 Fewer Light Vehicle Repair Outlets

At mid-year 2021, there were over 211,700 car and light truck repair outlets in the U.S., down approximately 14,000 from 2016.

At the same time, vehicles in operation (VIO) climbed by more than 18 million and grew more complex, increasing the diagnostic and repair challenges faced by repair outlets.

 

Outlet Groups Growing in Number

Although the light vehicle repair outlet population fell by approximately 14,000 from 2016 to 2021, not all outlet types have declined.

Among the seven major types of car and light truck repair outlets, three increased in number between 2016 and 2021: Repair Specialists, Foreign Specialists, and Vehicle Dealers. These outlets groups grew even during the onslaught of COVID-19.

 

Repair Specialists

Focusing on a limited menu of vehicle repair and maintenance, Repair Specialist locations totaled just over 29,600 at mid-year 2021, up several hundred from five years earlier. Repair Specialists are the second largest DIFM outlet group.

 

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Foreign Specialists

Foreign Specialists concentrate on the repair of foreign nameplate cars and light trucks. They achieved the largest outlet gain over the past five years and the greatest percentage growth in locations.

There were just over 19,600 Foreign Specialists nationwide at mid-year 2012, up approximately 700 from five years earlier.

 

Vehicle Dealers

Vehicle Dealers recorded a small (less than 0.2%) increase in outlets from 2016 to 2021. This reversed a trend of declining Dealer locations in the years after the Great Recession of 2008.

Asian nameplates have been the most successful in expanding their Dealer counts.

 

Outlet Groups Declining in Number

Service Stations & Garages, Tire Dealers, Discount Stores/Mass Merchandisers with bays, and Retail Auto Parts Stores with bays all fell in outlet count over the past five years.

 

Service Stations & Garages

Service Stations & Garages were battered by a significant population loss from 2016 to 2021, down by approximately 13,000 locations.

This represented most of the repair outlets lost over these five years. Nevertheless, Service Stations & Garages remain the most prevalent type of DIM outlet.

 

Tire Stores

There were approximately 800 fewer Tire Stores in the U.S. at mid-year 2021 than five years earlier.

Small Tire Stores suffered the brunt of this decline as growing competition from large, multi-outlet operations pushed many of them out of the market.

 

Discount Stores/Mass Merchandisers & Auto Parts Stores with Bays

The closing of hundreds of Sears Auto Centers nationwide contributed to the decline of Discount Stores/Mass Merchandisers with bays, which has been ongoing since 2011.

The falling number of Auto Parts Stores with bays between 2016 and 2021 continued a trend that has been underway for several decades.

 

COVID-19 Impact

Most of the DIFM outlet loss between 2016 and 2021 occurred over the past two years (2020 and 2021), reflecting the impact of COVID-19 and the resulting changes in consumers’ vehicle repair behavior.

Changes in the populations of the major types of DIFM outlets will continue, creating challenges and opportunities for a variety of aftermarket players.

 

Six Major Takeaways

  • The number and complexity of cars and light trucks in operation have continued to increase. Nevertheless, the population of repair outlets handling cars and light trucks fell by approximately 14,000 over the past five years (2016 to 2021).
  •  
    • Despite the loss of car and light truck repair outlets between 2016 and 2021, three of the seven major groups of DIFM outlets expanded their populations: Repair Specialists, Foreign Specialists, and Vehicle Dealers.
    •  
      • The number of Repair Specialists climbed by approximately 350 between 2016 and 2021, and approximately 700 Foreign Specialists locations were added. Vehicle Dealers posted a modest increase in number, reversing a trend of vanishing locations that began during the Great Recession of 2008.
      •  
        • Service Stations & Garages suffered the most significant outlet loss from 2016 to 2021. The populations of Tire Stores, Discount Stores/Mass Merchandisers with bays, and Auto Parts Stores with bays also were battered during these years.
        •  
          • The growing number and complexity of cars and light trucks in operation provide challenges and opportunities for the shrinking population of light vehicle repair outlets across the country. They must become more technically capable and productive to keep pace with the growing volume and complexity of vehicle repairs.
          •  
            • See the all-new 2023 Lang Aftermarket Annual for the only ten-year analysis of the population changes sweeping across the seven major types of auto repair outlets in the U.S.

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      Maintaining adequate production levels is the responsibility of management to create the processes that will lead to high production while holding everyone accountable. 
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