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Are you guys charging your techs for parts they break? In the past we have never made our techs pay for something they broke, the shop did and talked to the tech about what they need to do to prevent this in the future. It's getting old though. 2 weeks ago one young tech back a mirror into a pole so we bought a new mirror. This week, a different tech while removing a fuel tank, didn't discount the fuel lines on top first and ended up dropping the tank too fast and broke the fuel sending unit. On this truck that is a $300+ part that we are now eating on a $500 ticket. I want to tell the tech he is responsible, and will have to pay the shop back for the part. What say you?
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I have never met a shop owner who didn’t have the desire to be successful. People go into business with dreams of changing the world and to make a positive influence in the industry to which they have dedicated their lives. They’re devoted, sacrifice time away from family and, at times, drive themselves to exhaustion—all in an effort to become the best they can be and make their mark. However, all too often, something happens along the way and the business begins to suffer. While shops owners may start their business with passion and vision, they tend to create a world in which everything revolves around them. When the business is small, the owner pays careful attention to every detail. Every car is repaired with the highest degree of excellence. Quality time is spent with each customer and a bond is created, which gets stronger and stronger as the years pass. As the business begins to grow, the owner realizes that the amount of work to be accomplished each day is overwhelming and hires more employees. Everyone is working, but not necessarily with the same culture the owner has. They do their job, but they are not really aligned with the goals and vision of the owner. The shop owner continues to work on his or her skills, learning everything that is needed to run a successful business. After a number of years, the shop owner becomes skilled at running a shop and proficient in nearly every aspect of business, except one: the area of people. And that is when the downward slide begins. The owner recognizes that, in spite of the dedication to excellence, things are not right. The shop owner has established the goals of the company and put everything in place. Everything is attainable. But it’s not working. Frustration sets in, and it’s not long before the owner begins to complain about the lack of performance and drive from the employees, which is the perceived root of the problem. Well, the root of the problem is the owner. We all know that running a business is not a walk in the park, but if your business is struggling, you, personally, are struggling. If your people are not performing the way they should, then you are not performing the way you should. Granted, there are employees that are a problem, and if that’s the case, they need to go. But even superstar employees will turn sour under poor leadership. There are endless issues and problems you encounter each and every day, and some of those problems are out of your control. But, excluding a cataclysmic event, you can trace most of your problems back to you. You are the shop owner, you are the leader. The strength of your business begins and ends with you. Given two equally talented ball teams, the difference between winning and losing is usually leadership. Employees need to know you care about them. The people you employ have vision and goals, too. Not the same as yours, but real nonetheless. One of your jobs, as leader, is to align their goals with yours. We throw this leadership term around a lot these days, and for good reason. It’s the most powerful skill you have in terms of getting the results for which you are looking. The horrible truth is there are too many bosses and not enough leaders. Anyone can be a boss. Bosses order people around. And people will follow, but not for the long term. A leader motivates others by understanding what drives the individual. A leader gives credit to others, never seeking gain at the expense of others. Next time you walk through your shop, pay attention to the mood of your employees. Are your employees laughing and talking to each other? You know, having a little fun at work. Do your employees look to engage in conversation with you, or are their heads buried under the hood of a car as you pass them by? Even worse, does everyone stop talking when you are around? These are signs that your employees are not engaged, which means they are not aligned with the goals and vision of the business, and you are not aligned with theirs. A leader finds out what’s important to others, and works to help them achieve it. Aligning the goals of the individual with the goals of the company will achieve great things. When employees are respected as people, they become motivated and perform at their best; not because they are told to, but because they want to. This is the highest form of team spirit and becomes your driving force toward success. This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on October 1st, 2018
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"The Car Count Fixer"
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We are a general repair shop operating in a large mountain West city. The shop has been in business since 1964. Four bay shop soon to be six. We have a second small two-bay shop. Both locations have a high demographic of Subaru owners. We are in the process of moving towards becoming a 100% Subaru service and repair. I welcome all thoughts and ideas on the following questions and them some. 1. Has anyone attempted and or succeeded at converting from general repair to specialty? 2. Best practices in specialty marketing. I must launch this fast? 3. How to handle telling folks we will no longer be servicing their vehicle? 4. Specialty technician recruiting ideas. How do I get guys out of the dealer? 5. Any Subaru specialty shop owners out there willing to get together? I will come to you. Thanks in advance.
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Growing Up With Wrenches
Unlike kids of today, my childhood was long before video games and color TV. Most of my free time was spent climbing trees, playing in the crick (creek, to you city folk), riding my bike, and tinkering with anything that had a motor. Wrenches, sockets, and screwdrivers were just part of growing up. I would tear apart an old mower just to see what was inside. Most of the time it would end up in a pile of parts. But, by the time my dad came to see what I was doing, he would stand there in disbelief and just shake his head. Then dive in and show me how to put it all back together. Good times for sure. There was no You Tube, no on-line help. Just dad and son, and I’m sure it’s the same way my dad learned his tinkering abilities too.
These days it’s all about the computer with their programs and the internet with its billions of websites. There aren’t as many kids that I know about who spend their summer vacations building tree houses or turning an old horizontal lawn mower engine into a homemade go-kart like I used to do. Times have changed, but the need for those wrenches are still as important as it was back in my youth. However, now a lot of those early learned skills have to be developed through a trade schools or at a high school shop class. That is if the economy hasn’t budgeted the shop class out of existence.
Growing up with wrenches was just something I did. Which is probably what led me to enter the automotive field as a career. It’s a good living, and you get to meet a whole lot of wonderful people every day.
But, as it has been for decades, there’s still a big shortage of mechanics out there. As I see it, the big problem isn’t so much a people shortage, but a shortage in “qualified” mechanics. I look at it this way. Back in the day of carburetors and vacuum modulated transmissions a lot of guys and gals didn’t go to any school to learn the trade. Most picked up bits and pieces of how things worked through on the job training. The older mechanics would teach the younger ones and so on and so on. But, all of a sudden the average age of the “qualified” and “experienced” mechanic is well over 50 years old. Somewhere along the line less and less of the younger generations wanted to pursue a career in the automotive field.
What happened? From my point of view, I see a few things that might have been the cause. First off, the computer age. Cars went from points and condensers to electronic ignition, then onto the full blown electrical nightmare we have today. The older generation of mechanics all had a similar background working with hand tools and could understand the basic principles of an automobile. But, as the industry changed to more and more electrical systems their knowledge base dwindled.
The smart guy who wanted to stay up with all of these changes did what was needed, and that’s study as much as possible. While the other guy who was still stuck with the learn as you go method would just slap part after part on until they got it right, and yes, there are a lot of “guessers” still in the business today. Now, the car wasn’t as simple as it was before, and the average dad wasn’t able to tinker on his family car as past generations could. But, the change to the computer age isn’t the only reason that caused this shortage of qualified mechanics. Ultimately it comes down to the amount of time and effort to learn these new systems, the amount of investment one has to put into it all and most importantly their overall income.
The average professional mechanic has well over $100,000.00 invested in personal hand tools, tool boxes, and testing equipment over the course of their career. But, the pay varies as much as the diagnostic fee does from shop to shop. So, maybe part of the problem for the new techs coming into the business is NOT making the decision to start a career in the automotive repair trade but, making the investment in the tools when the pay isn’t all that great.
So, where does all this low wage, high investment come from? The investment into tools is an easy one to figure out. But, the wage side of it is a bit more complicated. Let’s face it, all those shops that feel the best way to keep work in the shop is by having the lowest hourly rate is the real problem. Nearly all consumers make the general assumption that all mechanics are the same and that price is their only factor to be concerned with.
In my opinion, right there is the real problem. Instead of shouting about a shortage of mechanics, which by “body count” their certainly isn’t a shortage we should be talking about doing something for the consumer. By starting at the bottom with those low rate/low skill shops and pulling them up to a more qualified level of expertise.
Look at the attendees of any one of the trade schools or college based courses and you’ll see that there is a turnaround in the quality of the mechanic field just waiting to happen. But, nothing like growing up with wrenches. It’s the tech schools and the attrition of the parts swapper shops that’s going to make the changes. The tech schools allow an individual not only to learn those same skills I learned growing up with wrenches but an even more importantly the skill needed to be a qualified mechanic and whether or not this trade is right for you.
It not going to be easy to make sense of all the information and skills that the future mechanics will need to know. They’ve got to be a whole lot more aware of so many different systems than what a few hand tools can help with. But, there’s still a place for the right person with the right kind of natural mechanical ability especially if they have those growing up with wrenches skills. There still out there, but some of them don’t know they have those gifted skills because they didn’t have the opportunity to experience any of it in their youth. Then again, the trade schools have their hands full teaching the basic hand to eye coordination, as well as bringing the students up to speed with the latest greatest electronics, so someone with that natural talent will likely shine through.
Eventually, all those shops and mechanics that try to undercut their prices will fade off into the distance. Fewer parts changers and guess-until-ya-get-it shops, because the cars are getting smarter every year and the mechanic will have to do the same. Maybe, the days of growing up with wrenches is a thing of the past. Now we need more and more trade schools, conventions, seminars, and podcasts to keep upgrading our skill levels. Hopefully, in time, the trade will have the respect and salary to go along with the advanced diverse knowledge the modern mechanic needs to have. Even if they didn’t grow up with wrenches.
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