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Article: There's an App for that - - - The internet may solve the information issues, but a mechanic still has to make the repairsBy Gonzo
There’s an App for that
Technology has a way of surprising us all by surpassing itself over and over again. One day you’re dialing a rotary phone wired to a land line, and the next we’re communicating between micro wave towers and satellites. We now have the capability to talk to anyone anywhere on the planet with a small hand held device just as long as you’ve got a signal. But, talking isn’t enough for our modern world. We want the ability to connect with everyone and every sort of business or hobby we can think of through our magic little smart phone for any reason and at any time we’d like.
It could be for local or world news, maybe to keep in touch with friends across the country, or how to do something you’ve never done before. Book a hotel room, find a new job, check the weather, the possibilities are endless. The technology in our hands is by far more technically advanced than what was used for the Apollo space missions. Think about it, we sent men to the moon with less technology than what you have in your pocket right now. Looking at it in those terms makes me realize the depth and scope of this new technology, it’s truly amazing.
If it wasn’t for museums hardly anyone born lately would have any idea how life was before transistors. Something else to consider is that anyone born a decade ago has never known a world without a smart phone. People born just a few decades earlier have never known a world without the internet. Another decade more and those people have no concept as to how the world made it from day to day without a home computer. Going even further back before the home computer, a computer to those folks was this huge machine inside a climate controlled building with these big reals of magnetic tape spinning randomly around or large stacks of punch cards that zipped through a machine at lightning speeds. Going back to the 30’s and 40’s, a small screen 2 way conversation wrist watches was only in the newspaper comic strips and something that might resemble a computer was only found on a sci-fi movie down at the Bijou.
Now, we not only communicate, but we can source information about anything you can think of right at our finger tips. Need to know the yardage at the golf course, there’s an app. Want to know the ingredients of a chocolate cake, yep, there’s an app for it. Can’t figure out how to fix your car, you got it… there’s an app for that too. Wait a minute… Did I say fix your car with an app? I thought car repair was some sort of highly skilled trade that took years to learn the proper techniques and even longer to be proficient at it? That’s right, the very same.
Anyone with a smart phone can be an expert in any field they would like to be an expert in, and it doesn’t take much to make a “You Tube” video on any subject, especially on how to fix your car, and with a little extra effort you too can make an App on car repair as well. Some are developed, produced, and edited to a high standard and at a professional level. Others, well I’m not sure any thought was put into the content, background, or the poor grammar they used.
Years before the internet a mechanic learned their trade by being in the trade, now we’ve got what are commonly referred to as “You Tube Mechanics”. These are the guys who couldn’t repair much of anything without consulting a You Tube video or going to their favorite App and more than likely never considered going to a trade school or opening a repair manual to find reliable information. Even though the general rule of thumb in the business these days is not to follow a traditional apprentice program but to learn as you go doesn’t mean you won’t learn something from today’s method of watching videos or viewing Apps, it’s just how much knowledge is lost or passed up by not following in the footsteps of our seasoned master mechanics and learning the trade from their well callused hands.
I’ve got to admit, there are a lot of great Apps out there for the mechanic to have on their smart phone. For example, OEM1stop or NATSF where all the manufacturers’ websites are listed. You can find an App for calculating the cylinder volume on an air cooled Volkswagen, or the alignment specifications for just about every car out there, to what type of headlamp fits a certain car. It’s endless. Whatever information you need, chances are there’s an app or some sort of site for it. But, with all this helpful wisdom an App can’t fix the car for you. You still need somebody to get in there and make the repairs accurately.
It used to be (years ago) a car would come into the shop that a friend of a friend spent the weekend under the hood trying to solve their friends car woes. Then, along came the internet and the smart phone which brought a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips. But, in the end, the car still has to limp into a repair shop for a mechanic to get it back on the road. Take this typical internet repair that happens on any typical day at any typical repair shop in any typical town in the country.
The car comes in on the hook and before it’s even on the ground the mechanic notices parts dangling out from the bottom of the car. The repair order only states that it stopped on the customer while driving and that he had attempted to look at the problem himself. Upon further investigation the dangling parts and the condition of the motor showed signs of someone trying to remove the timing belt. The plastic cover had a crack from the top to the bottom and it just so happens to be one of those covers that secured various hoses and wires away from moving parts. It was clear that somebody had tried to take it apart without knowing all that needs to be known on how to remove it. A few words were mumbled by the mechanic that we don’t need to repeat and a call was made to the owner. (On a smart phone of course)
The conversation started and ended with how he watched a video and downloaded an App that showed the timing marks. The App had some great information on it, but the video lacked the complete step by step procedures. The kind of steps that a seasoned mechanic would do without thinking about. You know, checking for hidden bolts, or how you should always give a light tug before reaching for the prybar and damaging something. Things like, cleaning the surfaces before starting so that you’re less likely to miss a bolt or fastener or have a tool slip on the greasy surfaces, to name a few. But, the app didn’t mention any of that. Now the customer isn’t here just for a timing belt, but a new timing belt cover, a harmonic balancer that was mauled into a useless pile of metal because he didn’t have the correct removal tool, and to replace all the missing special timing belt cover bolts the owner let fall into his gravel driveway never to be found again. Not to mention, nothing has yet been properly diagnosed.
Maybe what the automotive field needs is an App that shows a consumer how to dial their smart phone and contact a professional mechanic before they attempt a DIY repair at home, in a gravel driveway, with off shore-poorly made tools, and no proper safety equipment. All the while, trying to balance their cell phone on the edge of the fender watching a You Tube video from a source with no credentials showing their expertise or experience.
Yea, there ought-a be an App for that.
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If anyone was ever to use a cloud based software offering, you generally get redundant hardware in the network which helps uptime. However, with cloud offerings, you are hosed if your internet is not reliable. Also, most of us only have a single wire entering our buildings that provides the internet connection. If it was severed, there is no backup. I've found a router that can help keep your business online if your main service goes down. It is called CradlePoint and the model that most businesses would want is the smaller AER1600. What's unique about it is that it allows you to install a wireless SIM card in the router. The router will automatically track the connectivity of your main internet connection and when it finds that the internet is down, it will automatically switch over connectivity to the wireless network. Then, when the outage is over, it will return you to the main connection. You would only pay for wireless data during an outage or however your wireless SIM card contract reads. I believe this router is approximately
There are downsides to using this in failover mode. If you are reliant on a static IP address for certain services, then those services would go down. Your main internet provider is providing the static IP address, so if your main connection is down, so is your static IP address. This might impact things like remote access, remote security camera viewing and a few other services. Another downside to this is that your external IP address would be different at failover, so if you have any services tied to the external IP address, then these will not work. For instance, my state inspection machines are tied to the external IP address. They would not operate online until the main internet is resumed.
While I'm on the topic of connectivity, shop wireless connectivity can sometimes be dicey. I've found a good wireless access point that is used in schools, office buildings and outdoor venues. It's scaleable to 100's of devices and has a directional signal (vs omni-directional) that puts more power towards the device communicating. Small businesses, typically need 1-3 units. It is called Ruckus Wireless AP Zoneflex R310. It's about $350. It has support for both public and private WiFi networks.
I hope this is in the right forum. Internet connectivity and software go together in my mind. I've not used either of these devices, but will be purchasing both. I've done exhaustive research on them and believe that they are both worthy of consideration. I'm in no way connected to either business. I'd be happy to answer any questions on this subject if desired.
Save a dime, spend a dollar
There’s trend in “out of shop” repairs I’m seeing more and more of these days. It’s been going on since the very first cars hit the open road, but because of the technical advancements and procedural changes there seems to be a lot more cars that aren’t getting repaired properly than ever before. It seems to have more to do with cost than with a general lack of maintenance, and because of the technical and repair procedure changes fewer DIY’rs are adequately prepared to take on those repairs. So, to save their cash they opt for a side line repair rather than a professional shop. Of course, they might have saved a dime by going “rogue” on the repair, but there’s a good chance they’ll have to spend a dollar just to undo the damage done by these back alley repair hacks.
Take the guy who needed a heater core, but didn’t want to pay the professional shop that diagnosed the problem. What he wanted was a cheaper alternative. The next day while at work, he casually mentioned his predicament to a co-worker. The co-worker said he knew a guy who knew of a guy who has a friend of a friend that’s a really good mechanic and would even come to your house and fix it. So, the guy called this traveling tool box connoisseur and a deal was struck up that he would be over by the weekend to change it out, as long as he had the new part waiting for him.
About half way through the repair the “friend of a friend mechanic” found himself with connections and parts he had never seen before. He then tried to start the car only to find out it wouldn’t. Of course, the wiry mechanic friend had neither a clue, nor an educated guess as to what was wrong. All he had to his credit was a vague knowledge of how to remove a couple of bolts and screws and hopefully not to leave a pile of miscellaneous parts under the seat when he was finished.
Outmatched by the new technology and his lack of taking the trade of automotive repair serious enough to warrant any training or certifications, our weekend nut buster and his little cohort (aka “his tool box”) took off for parts unknown (pun intended), never to be seen or heard from again. Which left the owner of the vehicle high and dry with an even bigger problem than he originally had.
It never ceases to amaze me that even with various repair manuals, internet sources, and parts available at the corner parts store, somebody would be willing to tear into a car without a reasonable understanding of what lies behind the dash. That seems to be the perpetual gap between how a professional mechanic tackles repairs and how the “friend of a friend mechanic” does the same job.
There’s something to be said about being in the trade on a daily basis. Most pros will tell you that even a year away from the business can leave you far behind your competition. More often than not, the professional mechanic has to stay up with the ever changing industry, as well as adopting a few tricks of their own or at least finding easier methods than what the engineers originally anticipated. (No offense engineers.)
However, even then, those tricks and short cuts are often omitted in the corner parts store repair manual or YouTube video. Whether it’s due to space, or because some of those mechanic “tricks” aren’t approved by the manufacturer. The manual writers often have to stick with what is “engineeringly-correct” rather than what professional mechanics have found out in the trenches.
Let’s face it, years ago when most systems didn’t use miles of wire with interconnecting information and calibrated components, a good shade tree mechanic could get by without knowing the inner workings of the actual systems. All they needed to know was what part was bad and where it’s located. That’s not the case anymore.
There’s going to come a day when these backyard mechanics are going to reach a tipping point, and not following all the warnings and directions printed in the repair manual will to lead to a catastrophe. Even those repairs that seemed simple in the past will require extensive training to accomplish. With some of the latest systems in production now it’s safe to say we already have reached that tipping point. But, the dollar is still the deal breaker when it comes to professional automotive service. Then again, the typical person who decided to go the route of finding the cheapest ratchet slinger or rely on a friend of a friend carrying a rusty tool box to do their repairs may find themselves still standing in their driveway with a broken down car.
Sure, there’s still a lot of ways to save money on service repair costs just like you can with any type of service work, and not just the family car, either. The question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I willing to take the risk of a failed repair by not calling a professional, and do I understand that it will probably cost more for the professional to straighten out the mess from the last guy?” If not, you might be stuck on the side of the road like the guy with the heater core looking for another “friend of a friend”.
Save a dollar. That’s always smart thinking. Having diagnostics and service work done by some guy you met at the corner parts store who is moon lighting as a mechanic...? Hey, it’s your dime.
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By Joe Marconi
The Internet Has Changed the Way We Do Business
The other day, Mike, one of my service advisors, gave a customer a price on tires. She then reached into her pocketbook, pulled out her Ipad, and said, “Give me a minute”. After a few minutes of surfing, she said to Mike, “Well, the price you gave me is ok; there is one tire shop in Danbury that has those same tires for $15.00 less per tire. Can you match the price?”
Sound familiar? You bet. We have all been down this road, and that road has no end to it. Look at your new car dealers. The days of the traditional car sales are over. Many new car dealers no longer pay commissions to sales people. Why? The margins have shrunk due to competing dealers giving prices online, and so many car dealers competing for a share of the same pie.
While, I don’t think the internet will have the same impact on our industry, it has impacted us to a degree. And we must learn to deal with, not fight it. You need to bring value to your customers. Don’t enter the price game, you will lose. You need to be competitive, but you need to be profitable too. Making a sale for the sake of a sale, without turning a profit is financial suicide.
Promote benefits, not price. Create your unique value proposition: Ask yourself, "Why the customer should buy from you." Let those shops that don’t understand this engage in a price war. As they fail, it will only make us stronger.
How did Mike handle the question about “Matching the price?” He simply said, “Well Miss Smith, let’s review some of the benefits. Our tires come with a road hazard warranty, road side assistance, lifetime tire rotation and flats fixed free. Plus, Danbury is 45 minutes away, if you ever have a problem with the tires, do you really want to travel to 40 minutes to shop where they don’t know who you are?
She looked down at her Ipad, looked back up at Mike, and said, “Ok, makes sense, put the tires on."
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By Joe Marconi
If there is one thing that doctors and dentists do very well, it's that they book the next appointment for their clientele. I have heard every excuse possible why many auto repair shops don’t do this. But the fact remains that everyone in your shop today will need future service and repairs. And the question is, “Are they coming back to you.”
Another reason for booking the next appointment is that there are times when not all the recommended services were done today. Some were postponed due to budget and prioritizing what’s most important. So, before that customer leaves, make sure the customer commits to a future date to have the work done. After all, why did you recommend it in the first place?
Car delivery is the time to review all the work done today, continue to build the relationship and to inform your customers of upcoming work and services. But don’t leave it to chance that the customer will remember. Be proactive, discuss future dates and put those dates in your calendar.
Lastly, call customers a few days before the appointment as a reminder. If the appointment has to be moved, then move it.
By Joe Marconi
In my opinion, competition is actually good for the industry, and good for your repair shop too. It keeps us focused and forces us to maintain pace with other repair shops. It drives us to take a look at our own business to see where and how we can make improvements.
Don't worry about the competition. And never compete on your competition's features. Find what sets you apart; your differentiation factor. Deliver world class service and promote your culture to your employees.
So, how do we handle the competition? Learn from them, but don't copy them. Become the best you can be. Promote a culture of customer caring with your employees. The rest will take care of itself.
By Joe Marconi
We sell service, not products. Yes, we sell water pumps, brake pads and air filters. And yes, those are products. But it’s the service we sell, the customer experience, which lives on well beyond the customer leaves your shop.
Think of it this way; when you buy a watch, or a new cell phone, the experience of what you purchase continues after the sale. When we replace a customer’s water pump or air filter, there is very little about those items that lives on beyond the sale.
But, what does live on is the customer experience. The better the experience, the more likely the customer will return to you. So focus on the customer experience, not the products you install.
By Joe Marconi
Here's a tip I have posted before, but it's worth repeating.
One job that goes unnoticed most of the year is the job of the part's driver. You get part deliveries all day long, every day, all year long. Many times, these part's drivers take all the abuse due to wrong parts, the parts took too long to be delivered, on and on and on. Those drivers may not say anything, but they take it to heart.
So, here's what you are going to do. Buy small gifts, such as small boxes of candy or chocolate. Nothing expensive. During the holidays, give all the drivers one of these small gifts and say "Thank you, I appreciated what you do."
Two things will happen. First, the driver will be stunned and will not know what to say, and they will be very thankful that you thought of them.
The second thing that will happen is this: The very next time those part drivers have three delivers to make at three different shops, what shop do you think they will want to go to first? Yes...Yours!
By Joe Marconi
Shop production is a hot topic these days. High production results in higher sales and profits. But there seems to be so many obstacles to overcome to achieve high production levels.
I was discussing production with a few shop owners, and one shop owner mentioned that he recently hired a shop foreman; an “A” tech in his early 50’s. The foreman uses his knowledge and skills to organize the work flow. For younger techs, it’s even more important that they know how to work and keep productive.
What are your thoughts? Does anyone else have a foreman or similar position? And how does this role affect production?