Alan Kurtzberg, service director at Phases Truck & Automotive Repair in Colorado Springs, Colo., says coaching can make the difference between a shop’s success and failure.Darrin and Chad Barney, co-owners of Barney Brothers, says one of the best things they did for their business was hire a coach to help restructure and rebrand.Doug Bawel, chairman and CEO of Jasper Engines & Transmissions, says shops need to have clearly defined roles for employees so they can meet expectations.Gary Rice (left), service manager, and Corey Swift, owner, have taken employee retention as one of their highest tasks in shop management.

Shop management: Techniques and technology lend to efficiency

Owners and experts weigh in on tips and trends to running a successful shop

Leadership development and business coaching

“One of the things we’ve found while working with shops is that many of them don’t have defined roles for their employees,” Doug Bawel, chairmen and CEO of Jasper Engines & Transmissions, said during a seminar in Stapleton, Colo., one of 11 cities he visited on a speaking tour last fall. “Both your’s and your employees’ roles should be known in the shop so everybody knows the expectations.”

Maylan Newton, of Education Seminars Institute (ESi), echoed that statement when he spoke on specific management techniques and the reciprocal nature of leadership and teamwork at a leadership seminar held in Wheat Ridge, Colo., in May.

“A good leader makes people feel valued,” Newton said. “People quit because they feel undervalued. Analyze your leadership and ask yourself if you’re devaluing your staff. Don’t ever forget where you started in this industry. One of the best things you can do as a leader is treat the person who’s lowest on the totem pole like they’re the most important because they just might be the person who buys your business.”

Darrin Barney, co-owner of Barney Brothers Off Road & Repair in Grand Junction, Colo., with his brother, Chad, said one of the best things he did for his business was hire an Elite World Wide coach to help him re-structure and re-brand his business from only a 4x4 shop into a general repair facility.

“We were struggling to make a profit so I hired a coach,” he said. “It took somebody telling me when my people weren’t answering the phones correctly, and ensuring that I’d set up my accounting correctly to turn the shop around. I would be so much further along if I had hired a coach years ago.”

Alan Kurtzberg, service director at Phases Truck & Automotive Repair in Colorado Springs, Colo., agreed that coaching can make the difference between success and failure in the automotive industry.

“In this industry, you can be busy and still be losing money,” he said. “If you’re lost and struggling, hire a business coach before you run out of capital. It’s not a sign of weakness — it’s a sign of a business owner who cares about their business.”


Tablets and shop software automate repetitive tasks

 Like many shops, Swift Automotive, a shop in Littleton, Colo., averaging 350 cars per month, has its aftermarket suppliers’ inventories uploaded into its shop management software, Mitchell 1, for quick, seamless ordering. “We order 98 percent of our parts online,” Gary Rice, service manager, said. That includes from OE franchise dealerships; he cited OE Connection as an easy way to avoid long hold times on the phone with parts departments.

“If you’re always on the phone with your parts suppliers, how many phone calls are you missing from your customers?” owner Corey Swift said. “We communicate with 50 percent of our customers every day without speaking to them on the phone – it’s text or email, especially with Millennials.”

Parker Branch, owner of Branch Automotive in Highlands Ranch, Colo., invested in Bolt On Technology in 2018 and supplied a tablet for each of his technicians at their bays. He said the digital inspections have helped him increase sales and reduce “busy work.”

“Bolt On Technology sped up internal processes for everyone in my shop,” he said. “My technicians can speak recommended repairs straight into the tablets so the service advisors no longer have to record hand-written data. They can send customers a virtual business card with mobile and landline contact information with one click and, as their car moves through the process of repair, they can send them a link with the results of a multi-point inspection via text message which shows the customer their own vehicle, and pictures of needed repairs, if any. All of those notes are automatically added to the repair order we’ve prepared in Mitchell 1.”

In an interview at AAPEX 2018 with Mike Risich, founder and CEO of Bolt On Technology, he said the platform was designed to “disrupt,” but not “displace” a shop’s current shop software.

“Our platform sits right on top of a shop’s current management software,” Risich said. “All the reports a shop is using effectively, they can continue to use. However, our system is going to fill them with data. More data inevitability exposes areas for opportunity.”

Doug Bawel added to the impact of tablets on the industry as a whole when he said, “I’ve heard across the country that having tablets in the shop increases ARO anywhere from 10-20 percent consistently. Not because service advisors are upselling, but because they’re charging for things technicians used to do for free.”


Website, CRM partners and employee retention techniques

Companies such as Kukui are now offering in-depth online marketing and CRM assistance to shop owners fighting for online relevancy in the digital age. Alan Kurtzberg said Kukui has helped him find areas in the shop that need attention.

“Kukui manages all of our online marketing efforts – Google Adwords, keyword research and our website,” Kurtzberg said. “We can see ARO, email capture rate, new customer count, cars-per-month count, hours per repair order, and phone call answer rates all through the dashboard. It has helped us capitalize on areas where we were struggling, but may not have known about.”

Outreach does not take precedent over employee retention, however, and shop owners, such as Corey Swift, have taken employee retention as one of their highest tasks in shop management. The shop has worked hard to retain its employees with an open communication model and by offering employees a flexible vacation schedule along with developing a “family-like” culture.

“We offer paid vacation and holidays,” Swift said. “But, for a small business, it’s also got to be a family-like work environment. I’ll never ask one of my guys to do something I wouldn’t do myself.”

He added that the shop has an employee barbecue every Thursday, hosts an annual holiday party and puts on a car show event for employees and customers each year in August.

Doug Bawel reminded the group in Stapleton that getting employees to “buy-in” to the business is one of the most important tasks for retention. “Nobody washes a rental car,” he said. “Ask your employees what they want the break room to look like, what color chairs should go in the lobby, how the shop floor should be organized. Ownership is what creates buy-in.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.