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Growing Alligator Skin

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Growing Alligator skin


If there is one thing I find hard to deal with in this topsy turvy world of the auto repair business is the way some people will react when they are at the repair shop. It's the way they conduct their selves at the shop when it comes time to get their car repaired.


Over the years I've been praised, and degraded. I've been called a saint and I've been called the devil (or worse). I've heard the shouting and the stuff I probably wasn't suppose to hear (walls don't always block sound you know). After awhile you've heard it all before, and the attitudes that you see at the front desk become a part of the daily grind. Coping with all this is what I call; "growing alligator skin". I try not to take things so personal, I'll let the alligator skin handle it, and then take off my protective coat before I get back home to the wife and kids.


What gives with the need for such a thing as "alligator skin"? I believe there a several factors inherent to the automotive industry that brings on this crocodile coat of protection.


Mistrust of the automotive repair world in general is what I believe is the number one factor. But what brings on that mistrust? … Is it the incompetent mechanic? I doubt that is always the case. Is it the money out of their pockets which they were not expecting when they drove down the road to the repair shop? I believe it's more in the hands of the unknowing consumer who reads and watches to many evening news reports on the unscrupulous business practices of the few out there that really are rip offs and not the normal operations of countless decent shops in this country.


If you tie that into the other part of the equation it starts to make some sense. What is that other part? … The customer, their car, and what they do or don't do with their family transportation.


As I try to tell my customers; "Maintenance on a new car doesn't do much to the value of the car or its current condition. It's when it's older and the miles are creeping up that all the previous maintenance pays off". The inevitable degrading condition of the car doesn't happen all at once, it takes time and miles for that to happen. And, sometimes some old failures will cause new failures to occur.


"General Maintenance" isn't a guy in the Army reserves… it's something we all need to do. But it is almost always overlooked. And a lot of times we will avoid or put it off, till it's too late. That's when the raised voices or mistrust starts at the service counter and that alligator skin becomes a necessity again.


Of course, there are always those TV scammers that will try to tell you they have the latest greatest product to aide in the diagnosing of your vehicle. And let's not forget about the internet and the "wonderful" sources of information out there that the customer will no doubt inform you about when they show up with a complaint.


I'm sure there are doctors, lawyers, and many other professional trades that know who's the best and the worst in their field. We sometimes here about those on the evening news, just not as often as the car repair business seems to be focused on. But cars are needed by everyone, no matter what the condition. Think about it, you may not need a lawyer tomorrow morning to get to work, but I'll bet you need your car.


Educating the customer should start from the time they sign on the dotted line and purchase their vehicle. No recourse is given to educate the new owner on what needs to be done in the future with their new found horsepower. It's up to the owner to deal with the maintenance issues and any repairs that come up. I personally have never bought a car and had the salesman walk over to me and mention… "Now you know, you'll need to set some money aside for general maintenance and the usual break downs." But without the needed "know-how" the car is left to its own demise and the maintenance is left for another day. So, once you add up all these factors there is only one thing that is going to happen at the repair shop….a disgruntled owner with an issue about their car.


Now we are back to the original problem, how do you deal with all of this? Start with a bit of Alligator skin, be prepared for the customer to tell you their life story about their car. They're going to tell you what they think no matter what you say or do. Let them get it out and keep your alligator skin intact. Stay calm, but professional.


Most of the time, if you explain the diagnostic procedures and the results of the repair in terms that they can understand. Things will go a lot smoother. Sometimes I might have to go thru it a few times but it's worth the effort.


So the key to this whole ordeal is to do a good job, be prepared to back up what you do with an explanation that can be understand by the typical driver. As long as you do that you can keep your wits about you and you won't lose too much skin for your efforts. But keep in mind; it can be a little rough around the water's edge. You may have to stand your ground and make your point known. Keep it as calm as possible and explain as best as possible.


These issues usually don't apply to the person who keeps up with their maintenance schedules or comes in on a regular basis. They understand the need and respect the work you do. It's the ones that only show up when their car has reached the water's edge and can't go an inch further without falling into the crocodile infested water. They will stammer around trying to find a way to get their car repaired without stepping off into the deep end and risk losing money, time, and their temper. We've all been there… and we can all understand the problems involved.


Let's not forget….. Explaining things can only go so far. You don't want to have to resort to their tactics… that's not good business. But, remember one thing, the customer is still dealing with an alligator… and they can bite back if they're not careful.

Edited by Gonzo
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Gonzo, words of wisdom. Just this morning I had a retiree drop off his 05 Chrysler minivan for power sliding door diagnosis. Had it another shop intown for a harness replacement on the right side and now the left side wont close fully. The "other" guy refered him to me because they know I have the computers and the Chrysler backround. I wrote him up and explained to him we charge $$ an hour for computor work. I instantly went from being an Expert to a crook. I showed him the tools we would be using and explained to him the reason that shop xx sent him was because they did/had not invested in the tools or training to fulley diag this problem. And that is why they only charge $ and we charge $$. Dont make no diff. He only has 60 to spend till the next SS check comes in and he wants his door fixed. Ok I am broke and need to buy gas to get home tonite soooo, I agreed to look at it for his price. As in my other post this is where we are in this area. But hey its work for today.


Good points Jeff... I'm glad my little stories help bridge the gap between gas money and closing the shop... keep your chin, but keep your head down.. dodge those bullets... Oh I guess I shouldn't use the term "Dodge" LOL... glad ya like the article. Gonz

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Once again Gonzo, valuable words of wisdom. Consumer education, while needed, takes a lot of time and effort. Some people can't get beyond the price. I have never met a person who has told me, "No problem, go ahead with that 4 wheel brake job, I budget money every week for car repairs."


People would easily spend a few hundred bucks at the mall, but hesitate for set of quality wipers. Staying calm is another issue. If a person truly can't afford a repair, just tell me…I will work with that customer. But it's hard to tell the difference. If a person wants it cheaper because it just doesn't want to pay the price, then we have an issue. Either we are not showing the customer the value of our service or the customer truly does not want to let go of his money.



There ya go again Joe... ya see right thru my little stories to the real issues. It's still that customer and his wallet that comes into play.

You know I probably lose 2 or 3 good jobs a week do to prices... because either the other guy is far cheaper or they just haven't got that kind of cash in their budget. I wonder sometimes how these cheap secondary parts stores stay in business when I have a customer come in and tell me they just exchange a starter or alternator for the 5 or 6th time... they can't figure out whats wrong but now they are convinced it's something other than the quality of the part that is wrong with the car. But, you know, it's a cheap part.. it wasn't made to last.. it was made to sell. AND sell they do.... so, until the consumer teaches themselves the difference between quality and price they will always be searching for the cheaper alternative. That's where the alligator skin comes in handy... listening to them tell me how they can get the same part cheaper, and those "cheap" parts are as good as my high quality part.... you can guess the rest of the conversation...

Go figure....

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You make a valid point and I think most of us has grown that alligator skin you speak of. What bothers me is that the customer who wants the job done cheaper will find someone to do it. Now the problem is...the customer can't tell the difference...how in the world are we ever going to change that?



Keep that thought... and watch for my next article from Brake and Front end... your comments would be perfect for my next story


Actually you might already have it.... page 168 of my book...

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  • 5 years later...
  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Got your attention? Good. The truth is, there is no such thing as the perfect technician pay plan. There are countless ways to create any pay plan. I’ve heard all the claims and opinions, and to be honest, it’s getting a little frustrating. Claims that an hourly paid pay plan cannot motivate. That flat rate is the only way to truly get the most production from your technicians. And then there’s the hybrid performance-based pay plan that many claim is the best.
      At a recent industry event, a shop owner from the Midwest boasted about his flat-rate techs and insisted that this pay plan should be adopted by all shops across the country. When I informed him that in states like New York, you cannot pay flat-rate, he was shocked. “Then how do you motivate your techs” he asked me.
      I remember the day in 1986 when I hired the best technician who ever worked for me in my 41 years as an automotive shop owner. We’ll call him Hal. When Hal reviewed my pay plan for him, and the incentive bonus document, he stared at it for a minute, looked up, and said, “Joe, this looks good, but here’s what I want.” He then wrote on top of the document the weekly salary he wanted. It was a BIG number. He went on to say, “Joe, I need to take home a certain amount of money. I have a home, a wife, two kids, and my Harly Davidson. I will work hard and produce for you. I don’t need an incentive bonus to do my work.” And he did, for the next 30 years, until the day he retired.
      Everyone is entitled to their opinion. So, here’s mine. Money is a motivator, but not the only motivator, and not the best motivator either. We have all heard this scenario, “She quit ABC Auto Center, to get a job at XYZ Auto Repair, and she’s making less money now at XYZ!” We all know that people don’t leave companies, they leave the people they work for or work with.
      With all this said, I do believe that an incentive-based pay plan can work. However, I also believe that a technician must be paid a very good base wage that is commensurate with their ability, experience, and certifications. I also believe that in addition to money, there needs to be a great benefits package. But the icing on the cake in any pay plan is the culture, mission, and vision of the company, which takes strong leadership. And let’s not forget that motivation also comes from praise, recognition, respect, and when technicians know that their work matters.
      Rather than looking for that elusive perfect pay plan, sit down with your technician. Find out what motivates them. What their goals are. Why do they get out of bed in the morning? When you tie their goals with your goals, you will have one powerful pay plan.
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