Aftermarket must meet challenge to attract — and keep — new industry talent

From l., Service Manager Scott Morande, Owner Steve Eitel and Service Advisor Shelby Henderson average up to 280 units a month and hope to increase numbers with a direct-mail campaign.

Technician Cape Hasselgren pries loose a serpentine belt before replacing an alternator on a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

All technicians are equipped with a tablet loaded with Identifix, AllData and iATN to assist in diagnosing vehicles in their bays. Technician Mike Olsen, who implemented their use, addresses a fuel gauge that doesn’t register higher than three-quarters of a tank.

Denver—The aftermarket needs an influx of gifted workers in its bays and behind its counters, says Steve Eitel, owner of South Denver Automotive. “We must change to attract the right people.”

 

The industry faces a need in drawing young and talented technicians — “I’m fortunate to have the techs I do, but overall, that’s a growing concern in the aftermarket,” he said.

 

While his shop’s hourly rate is high, Eitel said that, in general, technicians should be better compensated and have improved health benefits along with 401(k) and paid vacations so prospective candidates aren’t lured to other industries. “This isn’t an easy business,” he said. “It’s a responsibility of this industry to keep new people coming in. Finding the talent that is so essential to our business will be the task at hand.”

 

Just as important as having good technicians is having them equipped with proper tools, and Eitel said South Denver Automotive has a large investment in equipment, as does his staff. “We keep ourselves tooled up so we can take care of our customers,” Eitel said, who invests between $15,000 and $20,000 annually in tools and equipment, including a recent Robinair A/C machine and a Pro Cut on-the-car brake lathe, supplied by McGee Co. in southwest Denver, which also equipped the shop with its six Rotary lifts and Hunter alignment machine. “The Pro-Cut saves my techs a lot of time — it’s quick and does a nice job,” Eitel said.

 

The 3,750-square-foot facility services all makes and models, features six bays and has been a AAA Approved Auto Repair shop for three years, “which has been very good to us and has provided a lot of credibility,” he said. It is also a CARQUEST Tech-Net Shop and NAPA AutoCare Center.

 

Eitel said much of his three technicians’ training is on the job using Identifix, AllData and iATN. “I also pay for my techs’ ASE certifications and make sure they know they have access to training. We also use the ACDelco online training that is part of being an ACDelco Service Center. We always have to work on becoming better.”

 

He prefers OE parts, which he sources through Factory Motor Parts, NAPA, CARQUEST and WORLDPAC, though he will occasionally use aftermarket brands. “You get what you pay for,” he said. “Our two-year/24,000-mile warranty requires parts that last. I only make money when we do it right the first time. Comebacks only drain profits.” Eitel added he will also use remanufactured parts and often relies on Jasper for engines and transmissions.

 

He said power steering pumps on older Toyotas commonly fail, so as preventative maintenance the shop services them with BG Power Steering Flush from BG Products because “it’s a service that adds longevity.”

 

Eitel said the industry is changing quicker than ever and vehicles need service less frequently, though South Denver Auto stays busy along with keeping up with technology and acquiring new customers. Joining an R.L. O’Connor 20 Group has been beneficial to the shop, which averages a car count of 250-280 units a month. “It’s made a huge difference in how I view my business and the numbers we do,” Eitel said. “From sharing ideas to helping establish baselines and goals, it’s markedly improved shop performance.”

 

Though the shop caters to a well-established area, Eitel said he is amazed at the continuous rate of resident turnover in the neighborhood. “We have to be proactive in acquiring new customers,” he said, adding that he recently contracted Mudlick Mail for marketing. Eitel said that an AAA-provided mail list is beneficial for targeting clients and potential customers with postcards and service reminders. He also recently upgraded the waiting room, which features a flat-screen TV that scrolls available service and maintenance specials. The shop’s motto, “Keeping you rolling,” is indicative of Eitel’s business philosophy — “Our goal is to exceed customer expectations. Nobody can sit still,” he said.