New service center meets demand
Lakewood, Colo.—Even with around-the-clock service hours, Larry H. Miller (LHM) Lakewood Ford was experiencing a backlog in its 31-bay service department. To solve that problem and offer quicker service, LHM officials opened a second 21-bay off-site service facility in early October.
LHM Lakewood Ford is one of 13 dealerships in Colorado, and 67 nationwide, covering 20 nameplates in seven western states, so the group is no stranger to dealership expansion, said LHM Lakewood Ford Service Director Richard Minges.
Despite technicians and detailers working in two shifts, the dealership’s service department was beyond capacity, Minges said. “The store has done a phenomenal job at breaking the mold,” he said, referring to expanded hours. “But we’ve finally hit the wall and need to grow again.”
In the new arrangement, customers still drive into the original indoor service drive, Minges said, and vehicles are then allocated to four separate teams of four to six technicians in either the two service centers. Most repairs are completed during normal business hours when parts are available, he said, with reconditioning, tinting, and clear bra installation performed during off hours.
The dealership currently employs 40 technicians, but needs to expand to 60, Minges said, and eventually employ up to 12 service advisors.
“We’re challenged at the moment with low unemployment. Skilled, dealer-level techs are hard to find. We’ve accepted the fact that we have to train and grow our next layer of technicians, rather than comb and find them,” Minges said, stressing that this is why each group of techs has varied skill levels. Local vocational technical schools are also a source of apprentice-level hires, he added.
Entry-level techs start in the express bays, known as “Ford Speed Bays,” which will expand from four to 10. In this setup, two technicians service a car on a single lift, focusing on a car’s first three oil changes and other initial maintenance items, before they get into a wear cycle. The new shop’s techs now specialize in diesel and medium-duty truck work including F-450s and F-550s.
Service retention in the initial three to four years of vehicle ownership is important, Minges said, so the dealership currently has a need to hire all types of technicians to meet the service demands of an increasing vehicle population.
Reaching the desired 10,000 billable labor hours a month may take some time, he said, but the dealership’s primary market area will be able to support the added bay count. Now with 52 service bays, LHM Ford is among the larger-sized dealerships in Colorado.
Parts Manager Steve Albertson pointed out that two Ford dealerships closed on Denver metro’s west side several years ago, leaving a void for LHM Ford to fill. “We have a responsibility to our Ford customers.”
McGee Co., of Englewood, Colo., outfitted the building, which formerly housed an automotive repair shop, with a variety of Rotary in-ground and two-post 12,000- and 15,000-lb. lifts; a 18,000-lb. four-post Rotary drive-on rack coupled with a Hunter Hawkeye Elite alignment machine; a Quincy air compressor; a Cuda parts washer; Grayco fluid dispensers; and more. McGee’s Dean Mohnhaupt was instrumental in assisting dealership personnel with layout and design, Minges said. In all, it took approximately $1 million to retrofit the facility.
LED lights provide ample lighting throughout the shop, including a well-lit enclosed bay dedicated to clear bra and window tinting, said Service Manager Shawn Casement.
The new shop also contains a parts department with a dedicated countermen and a parts puller, Albertson said, adding that in all he hired four new people to support it. The parts department houses up to $60,000 in fast-moving inventory, which includes ample diesel maintenance parts, though it will soon increase in value. Bulk Motorcraft oil is stored on site in six tanks, supplied by SC Fuels.
To adequately and efficiently handle the increased volume, Minges said the entire service department has a morning meeting to discuss the day’s work.
In three to five months, Minges estimates that the shop will be running near capacity with operational efficiency. However, he and his colleagues remain humble during the process. “We know we have to grow into it.”