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In may I quit my job of 9 years and purchased an auto repair shop. I was previously employed as a field mechanic for Cummins. At my shop we focus on general repair. It's been a whirlwind since I bought the place but i couldn't be happier to be here. I've included some pictures of the shop.
Hi! I'm looking to open a new automotive repair shop and I could use some help assessing a specific opportunity from the experts here. To put this in perspective, I would be a new owner without prior repair shop experience, however, I understand repair work and have done almost all of my own work on my personal vehicles for nearly 30 years. The scope of work I have personally performed included transmissions swaps, suspension, brakes, ignition systems, fuel systems, computer diagnostics and so on. My formal training is in science and management and I've been in corporate positions for 20+ years. I also have experience running my own real estate rental business. I've always been interested in auto repair and I believe this business would be a very good fit for my aptitude, skills and experience. I would plan to operate as the business owner and bring in skilled staff to handle repairs and customer engagement under my leadership.
Here is the scenario I could use help with. I found a 10,000 sq. ft. building which is split up between 6 existing bays (3 front and 3 rear), office space and retail area. The section with the bays has about 5000 sq. ft. , about 1000 sq. ft. of office space and another 4,000 sq. ft. of retail area. The property has not been used for auto repair in a long time but could be converted back very quickly along with opportunity to do something interesting in the retail area. I have many potential ideas for the property. I am running into two primary challenges in evaluating the opportunity. The first is the competitive landscape and the second is how quickly I could ramp up the business along with how much business I would likely do from the location after ramp up.
The property is located on a main road with 20-40k total vehicles/day depending on the day of week. About a mile up the road, in a cluster, there are 6 name brand auto dealerships. On the same road, within just a few miles from the site, there are three tire shops, one local and two name brand, along with a Midas and another local 6 bay garage. Think of this as 5 competitors, each with 6 bays plus the new car dealers. There are a handful of smaller local shops with 1-2 bays locally as well. Also, there is a State DMV location, with inspection services in the same zone. The overall geographic area is in a town that contains a Wal-Mart, Lowes, BJ's and a Costco plus restaurants, etc.. These stores are all within 10 minutes from the potential new location. The next closest big retail areas are 30 minutes north or 40 minutes south of the target area described. The demographics of the area skew affluent and population density is moderate - this is not a big city - however people are drawn in from at least a 30 minute drive time radius due to the shopping and other resources.
I have a few ideas to differentiate my business from the rest in the area although on Google, it appears that most of the competing businesses have decent reviews overall. My shop would do all types of repairs including the heavier stuff and the bays are very tall so we could potentially accommodate trucks too.
So, my questions are:
Is this an opportunity worth considering given the competitive landscape? If I were to open a shop, how quickly should I expect business to ramp up? I am really looking for solid feedback from folks with deep experience in this industry to help me evaluate if this is a business proposition worthy of consideration at this location.
By Ron Ipach
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Could Auto Repair Flat Rate Be Dead?
TECHNICIAN shortage today is real. Last study that I saw said, for every eight shops that’s looking for a technician, there’s only one tech available so I know many of you watching this are experiencing that same thing. And I’ll also say one thing that I found: most technicians, when I mention flat rate, their cheeks kind of pucker up. They hate it. Why? There’s risk. They’ve been burned before. So often in the technicians starved market, what’s a shop owner left to do but put technicians on hourly or even maybe salary? And what that leads to is, really what I’m going to call an “uninspired performance.” Why? They get comfortable, they’re able to pay their bills without exerting a ton of effort.
So what’s a shop owner to do? The answer I’ve uncovered recently in my shop is to have a Win Number. For every single employee. See one of the truths I discovered in my 30 plus years of being a shop owner is that often we don’t get the most out of our employees because we never really sat down and told them what we expect. I know that’s been one of my mistakes.
So one of the things that I’ve done recently is I’ve given each employee a weekly Win Number, and that’s why it’s so important. For example, I recently sat down with each of my technicians and shared with them their Win Number. What do I mean by win number? What I expect out of them in parts and labor production for each employee. The numbers are based on my desired technician cost as a percentage of sales. It’s worked so well with my technicians that I now sent it out and established that win number with both my CSR and my service advisor.
I’ve got to tell you the results have been incredible. Not only are my sales and profits up through the roof lately, it’s led to believe it or not, happier employees. Why? They drive home at the end of the day or at the end of the week knowing that they hit their goals. Knowing that they’ve contributed to a successful week for the shop and that certainly led to a happier shop owner!
So, let me leave you with a question. Does each and every one of your employees on your team clearly know what you expect of them?
If your answer is not a resounding YES, it’s time to put a pencil to paper and figure out each team employee or each team members weekly and daily Win.
By Joe Marconi
Can someone truly have two personalities? A real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—the one you see, and the one everyone else sees? I had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde employee a number of years ago; we’ll call him Dr. J. He was my shop foreman and helped the manager run the daily operations. Dr. J was employed about five years before things began to change.
I first learned about Dr. J’s erratic behavior from a few of my employees. According to these employees, his behavior was destructive, disrespectful and rude. He never acted differently in front of me, so I had a hard time understanding what was going on. I talked to Dr. J about what others were saying, and he looked stunned.
“Joe, I really can’t tell you why anyone would be unhappy with me. I get along with everyone,” he told me.
I met with the employees who expressed concerns and let them know that I appreciated their feedback. I told them that Dr. J had been with us for a number of years and that I had never witnessed any unusual behavior from him. I tried to look at all sides and suggested that perhaps he was going through some personal issues, so let’s try to be a little more understanding.
Out of respect, the employees agreed—but not for long. I was away on a business trip when I got a disturbing text message from one of my technicians. The text read, “Joe, if you don’t do something about Dr. J, we’ll deal with it ourselves.” It was late when I got the text, but decided to call the tech anyway. He told me in great detail what Dr. J was saying and how he behaved. I was shocked by what the tech told me. Could this person be a real life Jekyll and Hyde?
It was early Monday morning, my first day back, when my office manager came into my office, closed the door behind her and said, “Joe, if you don’t do something about Dr. J, people are going to quit.” I knew at this point I had a real problem on my hands.
I brought Dr. J into my office and told him everything that I had heard. I told him that the employees did not like the way he treated them and that the harsh words he used was causing a problem with everyone. Again, Dr. J was defensive and denied everything. However, this time he told me his perspective of the situation.
According to Dr. J, the rest of the employees were not pulling their weight and that all he was trying to do was to motivate them. I tried to explain to him that criticism and harsh words are viewed as an attack. And if this strategy is repeated over and over, people will push back and shut down—the exact opposite of any intended good. I could tell by the look on Dr. J’s face that he really didn’t agree with what I was saying, but he told me that he would take my opinion under consideration.
After that meeting, I paid careful attention to Dr. J’s treatment of others. All seemed good. Then one day, I witnessed the Jekyll and Hyde persona for myself. Dr. J didn’t know I was in the front office as he lashed out at one of the technicians. The tone and the words that came out of his mouth were unacceptable and appalling. I saw firsthand what everyone in the shop was experiencing. After repeated attempts to correct his behavior, his conduct never improved. It was time to let him go.
I never found out what changed Dr. J, but I did feel confident that I gave him every opportunity to correct his behavior. While Dr. J may have fooled me initially, I have to admit that I did see that the mood of the shop was tense and morale was down. With Dr. J no longer employed, morale improved and everything went back to normal.
The workplace environment is a delicate balance between culture and production. It’s also filled with emotions. People want to rally together for the greater good. But, they also need to know that their leader protects them from any threats that attempts to harm the team. It’s also wise not to readily dismiss the concerns your employees express to you. Be on the lookout in your shop. You just might have a Dr. J of your own.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on December 7th, 2018
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