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By Elite Worldwide Inc.
Whenever a customer tells you they can’t afford to do the repairs, and they ask you if you can help them out “this one time’”, you need to give careful thought before you lower your price.
First of all, there is a cardinal rule in sales that says before lowering your price, you need to build more value in your service. Yet as we all know, there are going to be some occasions where no matter how good your sales skills are, the customer simply won’t have the ability to pay for the recommended services. In such cases, you and your advisors will have three options. One, you can let the customer walk; two, you can drop your price; or three, you can follow the proven path we have provided to tens of thousands of advisors over the years.
First of all, if you let them walk, both you and the customer have lost. They’ve lost the time they’ve invested in having their vehicle inspected, and when they leave your shop their problems still exist. You’ve lost the marketing dollars you invested in bringing the customer through your door, you’ve lost the time you’ve invested in inspecting the vehicle and estimating the job, and you’ve lost the opportunity to help someone in need.
The second option you have is to lower your price, and while you may close that sale, you’ll also be sending a message to your customer that if they wouldn’t have asked for a discount, they would have paid too much. If that’s not bad enough, it gets worse, because they know if they ever decide to come back they’ll need to negotiate with you, regardless of the prices you quote. The good news is, there’s a third option, and it’s one that’s used by the top shop owners in America with great success….
Putting first things first, you’ll need to see if the customer qualifies for any legitimate discounts you offer, such as Senior Citizen, AAA or Military discounts. You can also limit the number of repairs to the ones they can afford at the time. Another option (which works well in some cases), is to scale back on some of the benefits, such as the length or terms of the warranty. If you and your customer find none of those solutions to be acceptable, you can consider telling them that you will keep their vehicle at your shop (space allowing), and perform the repairs if and when your time allows (when another customer cancels their appointment at the last minute and your tech has the downtime, for example). What your customer would be sacrificing is the immediacy and convenience.
Please bear in mind that when making any decision to lower your price, you need to ask yourself who is ultimately going to pay for the discount, because the answer will inevitably be your other customers. Secondly, if you have the right advisors, with the right principles, they’ll know in their hearts it’s just not right to charge two people different prices for the same service. To put it another way, I’m sure you would not want your mom or dad walking into any business and buying a product or service when you know the customer right before them… paid less. Never forget, principles, not shell games, lead to two things: higher profits, and the ability to sleep at night knowing you are not playing games… with other people’s money.
Since 1990, Bob Cooper has been the president of Elite Worldwide Inc. (www.EliteWorldwide.com), a company that strives to help shop owners reach their goals and live happier lives, while elevating the industry at the same time. The company offers the industry’s #1 peer group of 90 successful shop owners, training and coaching from top shop owners, service advisor training, along with online and in-class sales, marketing and shop management seminars. You can contact Elite at [email protected], or by calling 800-204-3548.
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Doctor's Orders The field of automotive repair and body work has always been plagued with a few unscrupulous individuals. But, I would say that every trade has their share of them as well. I pride myself on doing the best that can be done for my customers and I don't take kindly to anyone who thinks this job is anything but a professional. This is not a job that can be mastered overnight; it takes years of experience and understanding. Even though I carry the title “ASE Master Technician” I don't consider myself a “Master” of the automotive field. I may have “mastered” the trade but not the technology that continually changes. That's an ongoing education which each and every mechanic deals with. But, with that said, there are still some individuals that still look down upon the automotive trade as some sort of second class job. Recently I received an email from one of those type of individuals. Several years ago I wrote an article titled, “Diagnostics Fee or Diagnostics Free” which was published in a variety of magazines. The article was primarily about the issues of a diagnostic fee for testing and evaluating a vehicle. A copy of one of the magazines was in a waiting room at a repair shop where this guy was getting his car to be repaired. He happens to be a dentist, which I consider as much a professional field as mine. However, this guy... doesn't see it that way. His email went something like this: I read through your 'two cents' on engine diagnostics and I could not agree more. However, I do have a bone to pick. Charging for a diagnostic is fine but where do you draw the line? I am a general dentist. For a new patient I charge $39 for an exam (cleanings from a hygienist are $60). I take roughly 25 minutes to complete an exam on a patient. Some patients take longer as they have a more difficult case and sometimes they just have more questions. I have spent 9 years in college, at a cost of over 200k, and roughly 600K on my practice (I have lots of fancy equipment too, even more expensive than the 'diagnostic computer') AND I am dealing with the actual health and well-being of mankind (screenings for head neck cancer, dental caries, oral path., etc., etc.) If I used your kind of math I guess I should charge more in the neighborhood of $500 for an exam (my education alone was probably more than 20 times yours so the math is still WAY low). But I don't charge that much. A true professional would realize when a charge is ridiculous and when it is not. A diagnostic charge from a mechanic should be in the neighborhood of $20. If you are charging in the near $100 range I would consider removing the self-titled "professional" from your website. Which I found funny that you brought it up anyway. Your computer is a one-time purchase. You don't throw it away when you are done so quit trying to factor in the computer cost like it is a consumable. A mechanic's pay at best is $35 an hour. A $20 diagnostic over 5 minutes is more than enough for that and even overhead. Actually, you just gave me an idea. I am going to tell my patients I now have a "parts, labor, and supplies" fee. That would be great. Imagine the next time you come into my office and I say that my labor fee is over $500 an hour. My patients would leave. I can't believe a mechanic thinks charging $100 an hour or labor is reasonable when everything else is also marked up 300% PLUS!!!! ... It is laughable. Anyway, I agree....but let’s get realistic. This is a junk email and address, no need in trying to contact me with your response. He agrees? Realistically, I find that hard to believe. These are the typical misguided perceptions that still linger in some peoples conceptions of the auto mechanic. Apparently, according to this guy... I'm not worthy of calling myself a professional because I'm “just” a mechanic. It's sad to say that there are still people out there that take this dim view of the automotive mechanic world. It could be this guy is only retaliating from a previous experience with his car that didn't go right, or it could be he was at one of those “unprofessional” shops that tried to tackle a job they shouldn't have been taking on. Maybe he thinks all mechanics alike, and not one of us is a true professional in our trade. Obviously, after reading this, I have come to realize that all dentists are not alike. I know my personal dentist respects my profession... and has a great amount of appreciation for my trade, just as much as I do for his skills and abilities. Even though in the email he stated there was no need in a response, well, there is a way to respond. Here it is. Those years you spent in college almost equals my years of training... your investment into your field is acknowledged and is definitely a part of both our trades. Mind you, the countless changes and improvements in the equipment and procedures in the auto industry (and dentistry as well) doesn't offset the cost of doing business in any shape or form. You'd think it would, but, as fast as the auto manufacturers introduce new systems so does the equipment to diagnostic them change. Honestly, I feel sorry for this guy. He seems kind of bitter. As a mechanic, I work on everything from the front bumper to the rear-end of the car. This guy... using a car as the comparison... only works on the shiny grill that everyone first sees. I mean really... he only has two models to work on and the last time I looked both models have the same 32 components to deal with. But, let's not reduce ourselves to his level of explaining the differences between the two professions. Oh wait… I already did. My bad… I guess it’s a lot easier to be condescending than it is to pull teeth, huh, Doc.? Sorry Mr. Dentist, I don't think I'll be following “Doctor's Orders” as you clearly state them in your email. I think this time you should take my advice and try to be more respectful to the guys and gals that keep your cherished ride on the road. There's no set fee for diagnostics, there's no 300% mark-up on parts, and there definitely isn't any magic one time purchased machine that will diagnose a car. Maybe you should try to be a little more understanding and a bit more professional, because right now... you're not!
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It’s Doing the Same Thing Being on the mechanic's side of the counter, I've often wondered what does "the same thing" really mean? Nearly every time a customer comes up to the service counter, who has no background in automotive repair, or any idea at all on how repairs are made and what's all involved, but tells me, “It’s doing the same thing”, I have to ask myself… “How do they know?” Is it really doing exactly the same thing? Funny, how it turns out (99.9% of the time), that it’s NOT doing the same thing. I hear this rhetoric from customers now and then, but when my wife starts in on me with the good ol' 'It's doing the same thing', now I'm more than a little curious. Here's an example. We were about to head on our vacation when the bulb warning light on the dash came on indicating one of the rear lights was out. It was a side marker light on the driver’s side of the car. Easily changed and taken care of, and with all the commotion and last minute preparations, the warning light problem became a distant memory. So off we went on our little adventure. Several states and hundreds of miles later while the wife was driving, and I was taking a nap, she nudges me and says, “It’s doing the same thing”. Now I understand there is always the possibility that it really is doing the same thing, but really my dear … you’re married to a mechanic. Can we at least re-think how to inform me of such things? Yes, the light on the dash is “doing the same thing”, but let’s try rephrasing it to the guy just waking up from a pleasant-no-stress-day-off. How about: “The warning light is back on, dear.” At least that way I won’t feel like I’m back at the shop trying to decipher the latest “doing the same thing” dilemma. I’m on vacation for heaven’s sake! At the next stop I performed the usual "walk around" and noticed the passenger side marker light that was out this time. Not to be outwitted by a little warning light, I gave the lens a little tap. Low and behold, the filament lit up, and off we went. As we traveled down the road I had plenty of time to ponder how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “Doing the same thing”. Over the years I’ve seen this escalate into complete madness at the front counter or end up with a tap on a bulb lens. As in my wife’s case, the dash warning light could only indicate that a bulb was out and which end of the car it was. However, when a customer lays down a chunk of their hard earned cash their interpretation doesn’t include the possibility of multiple issues controlled by the same warning light. From their perspective, it's doing the same thing. A few weeks ago I had a 1995 Saturn in the shop that had been all over town, as well as to every relative who owned a tool box. No one seemed able to get the air conditioning to cool. Part after part was changed, but still no cold air. When I finally had a crack at it I was surprised at what I found. The connector for the A/C compressor was exactly the same style and type as the low coolant level sensor mounted in the over-flow bottle. Somebody had flip-flopped the connectors. Once I found the problem the cure was simple… just reverse the connectors and “Ta-Da” cold air. All the functions were working, cooling fan, line pressure, vent temperature, everything was great. Even the “low coolant” light was operating correctly. But where would this story be without a 'It's doing the same thing' scenario. A few weeks later I get a call, you guessed it… “Doing the same thing”. Now, I’m no dummy, I know what they meant. They're actually telling me that it's not making cold air again. I informed them it was probably leaking refrigerant or something like that, but I seriously doubt somebody switched the connectors again. They weren’t buying that, they kept insisting that it’s doing exactly the same thing as before. Even after reading the description of the repair on the invoice, and telling me they totally understood it… they still can't break away from the common reply... it's “Doing the same thing”. This follows right along with the typical scenario right after changing out a blower motor for a customer and a week later they're back because their air conditioning isn’t cold. I’ll ask, “When did you notice the air wasn’t cold?” The usual answer, “Right after you changed the blower motor.” I should have a guy in the background with a drum set patiently waiting for me to ask, "So when did you notice the problem?" and when the customer delivers the inevitable punch line, the drummer could bang out the classic drum roll-rim tap and cymbal crash. A priceless moment for every counter person. The way I see it, the consumer brought their car into a repair shop for a professional evaluation of a problem, and expect to never see a related or similar problem ever again. But, as soon as the work is done and some other problem creeps up that seems to be more than a little bit like what they just had repaired, the mechanic is soon to have the same thing happen again. The fact that there are other things that can go wrong can be a huge mountain to climb. But, with some diplomacy, and tact, a good counterman can get through these situations. One thing for sure, as the mechanic, you've got to get in there and solve the problem no matter if it's the same thing or not. Generally, (from my past experiences) the same thing is hardly ever the 'same thing'. The Saturn, was a faulty compressor due to the fact the last shop didn't add enough oil to the compressor, the replaced blower motor problem, was a faulty low pressure switch, and the wife's car, well... she hasn't had to tap on the bulb lens ever since. But to me.... it's all the same thing.
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Looking forward and thinking about business goals for the future, I'm wondering if there is such a thing as a sales volume, personnel, or facility sweet spot for profitability. I'm in a semi-retirement mode already, so having profits to spend is a priority over simply growing the business for growths sake. I really enjoy being in business and planning and reaching for goals, but wondering about what those goals for the business should be. I've reviewed some industry financial data without any clear conclusions, but I'm wondering what folks here think or have seen or experienced.
A little about where I'm at currently. I started this business from scratch 7 years ago. We currently have 8 employees and did 1.3 in 2017. Any wisdom from you who have been doing this longer?
Where’s my 10mm Socket
Deep or shallow, impact or chrome, 12 point or six point, ¼” or ½” drive, it really doesn’t matter, those 10 mm sockets have the ability to grow legs. Out of all the hundreds of sockets in the drawer, only the 10mm seems to be the one that disappears without a trace. Sure, it’s used a lot, and yes, it does seem to be on every car and in every form and fashion you can think of, but why is this most useful socket also the one with the escape artistry of Steve McQueen in the movie “The Great Escape”?
They can vanish without a trace, leave without warning, or fall into an engine bay never to see the light of day again. One time I actually caught a glimpse of one on a mad dash for freedom. I was working under a car installing a few brackets with my trusty (trustee) 10mm socket attached to my ¼” air ratchet when the socket spun off the ratchet. It traveled along the top edge of the crossmember spinning like mad when it came upon a small hole in the center. It hopped straight up, still spinning, did a perfect pirouette and slipped right down the hole. It was like watching a cartoon character sticking their head out of the hole just long enough to say, “See ya!” and disappear out of sight. I never managed to fish the socket out of there, either. The hole was too small for anything but the socket and the ends of the crossmember were welded shut. That one got away, but I saw the whole thing myself. They really do try to escape.
It’s like spotting Big Foot. I mean, who would believe ya when you tell them you just saw your 10mm socket make a break for it and escape down some rabbit hole in a crossmember? Ya might as well call one of those tabloid magazines and tell them. At least they might believe your story. I think the tabloids would put it all down as some sort of conspiracy anyway. It’s the only way to explain it. When I lose a socket the tool truck always has a replacement. For all I know, those fiendish little sockets are sneaking back on the truck, while I’m purchasing one of their buddies. Maybe they’re all out to prove something, or they’re all working with the tool trucks for a cut in the profits.
We should start a 10 mm support group for all those socket sets and mechanics who are missing one. I can just hear it now. “I’m here to tell my story about my 10 mm socket. We were good friends, we did a lot together, but now he’s gone and I’m all alone.” The group could all get a T shirt that says, “I lost my 10mm socket. Can you help me?”, but knowing my luck, I’d probably lose the shir, too.
Maybe I’ll just paint them all bright yellow, or buy them in bulk and keep so many around that I can’t possibly ever not have one handy. But, knowing those 10mm sockets the way I do, I’d bet they’d find a way to have a mass escape when I’m not looking. The next thing ya know, I’ll start a chain gang of 10mm escapees and have them all work on the worst slimy, greasy, dirty, nastiest part of the car I can find.
Here’s the thing I don’t understand. Why doesn’t the 7 and 8mm socket make a break for it? They’re out and about just as much as the 10? As a matter of fact, why not use the 9mm socket or the 11mm a bit more often and give that 10mm guy a bit of break. Maybe then the 10mm won’t feel so over worked and have the tendency to walk off the job.
Way back when everything was SAE instead of metric, I don’t recall having to put posters on the neighborhood telephone poles, “Have you seen this ¼” socket?” Most of the time it was right where I left it, and eventually I would wear it out to the point it couldn’t grip a bolt or nut anymore. But would I replace it? No, of course not. I’d put it back in the rack with all of the other sockets, only to remember how worn out it was the next time I needed it. But, that 10 mm, haven’t worn one out yet, because that guy will use any excuse to leave before it gets that old.
I’m not saying all the other metric wrenches and sockets are exempt from trying to flee the tool box. Heck no. I’m pretty sure I stumbled onto one of their mass escape plans before. I came into work one day and somebody had moved my tool box. When I opened the drawer all the sockets were haphazardly scattered everywhere you looked. I’ll bet that 10mm socket dude got the other sockets all riled up and would have made good on their escape if it wasn’t for the tool box being locked.
Then, there are those two sockets that rest on either side of the 10mm. They don’t seem to do much, they hardly get out of the drawer, and apparently don't take after that 10mm guy at all. You know these two, they're the 9 and 11mm sockets. Every now and then you'll find that one or two odd ball nuts or bolts that are specifically made for a 9 or 11mm socket. They seem to be content living in the tool box with this empty gap between them and they never seem to get lost or go AWOL. In fact, I somehow have a large collection of 9 and 11mm sockets that I don’t even remember buying. But that 10mm socket, that guy hardly ever ends up back in the box and is a bad influence on the rest of them. It’s out all night, can’t find its way home, rolls up under a cabinet and hides, or its favorite trick, finds the one spot in the very center underneath the car that you can’t possibly reach. It's also been known to take the suicide approach of avoiding going back in the tool box. It will take a dive off the edge of a fender and fall into a narrow crevice from which you’ll never retrieve it again.
I’m starting to believe those 10mm sockets got it in for us mechanics. They’ll hide in plain sight or sit there shining up at us from some unreachable spot in the corner of the engine bay. I’m pretty sure I saw one scoot across the floor and under a bench once. Never did find him again, either. Maybe we should get Sherlock Holmes on the case. Maybe he could find the whereabouts of these elusive 10 mm runaway sockets.
In the mean time I’ve got another problem to take care of. My new pocket screwdriver I just got off the tool truck has disappeared. Seems it’s been hanging around those 10mm sockets way too long, and has gotten ambitious about going over the wall on its own. Or maybe he’s stuck on the edge of the driver’s door again, but that’s another story entirely.
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