Independent repairers must stand united in education efforts to compete with dealerships
Greenwood Village, Colo.—As the calendar turns to 2018, Larry Brown has three primary objectives as the new chairman of the Denver NAPA AutoCare Elite Business Development Group:
Training, training and training.
“We’re all about becoming more educated,” he said. “If we can lift up all the shops, then customers will be better served and everyone will profit. We’re not really competing against one another, but the dealerships and the chains.”
BDG training, which holds four or more classes each year, is sourced through NAPA, ASA and CARQUEST, among others. BDG also supports ASA Colorado’s annual Summit training event in January.
Brown, owner of Davis Repair in Greenwood Village, will help lead 44 NAPA AutoCare Elite Business Development Group (BDG) members along the Front Range, who are dedicated to both improvement through training and the synergy of networking.
“Every quarter, we visit one of our members’ shops for a tour and fill out a form for ideas for improvement. Sometimes, a shop owner will have a specific issue or challenge they’re seeking input on. It’s always fun and I always learn something, too.”
While much of BDG’s present training focuses on technicians, service advisors and management, Brown seeks to establish a “bottom line group” to specifically examine business financials and spreadsheets to improve numbers.
BDG also conducts monthly online meetings to plan for training and outreach to schools for graduate hiring opportunities, as well as take an active role in discussing curriculums for industry needs. School partnerships include Emily Griffith Technical College, Pickens Technical College, Lincoln Technical Institute and Warren Tech.
There are several barriers to entry into the industry, in addition to an image problem, that present challenges in attracting qualified talent, he said. “If there’s a young person who is sharp and has a passion for cars that’s interested in the industry, it costs $50,000 for a tech school program and another $50,000 in tool investments — and then they’re going to start a career by making $12 to $15 an hour?”
Shops fine-tune scope of brands serviced
As vehicle technology advances, the all makes/all-models service and repair business model continues to be a successful independent shop business model, though as proper tooling and equipment and training for each manufacturer becomes increasingly cost prohibitive, Brown said shops will gradually move away from all general repair offerings.
“To a certain extent, one could say the independent model is moving more toward brand specialization, but it might be more accurate to say its moving away from generalization.”
While Davis Repair works on all makes/all models, it declines service on Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Land Rover and Jaguar, which can be difficult and problematic. It also doesn’t work on anything older than 1996 because those vehicles aren’t equipped with OBDII.
“Eventually, we might adjust that to only 2000 and newer,” he said. “We have plenty of customers, and the newer the car, the easier it is to work on.”
While an argument might be made that technology is making vehicle service and repair more formidable, Brown says that as car computers advance, vehicles become easier to diagnose.
“They give us more information, which allows us to drill down to a solution. The challenge is knowing how to access it and having the proper scan tools to use them with an analytical mind.”
Based on his shop’s vehicle inspections, their average service opportunity per car is $1,000, of which an average RO of $400 is realized. “We’re not really ‘hard-sell,’ so that’s one of the challenges. There’s a fine line between not being a hard-sell and making sure the customer understands the consequences of not performing a service.”
OEMs are extending their vehicle warranties from three- and five-year warranties up to 10 years/100,000 miles, and they are also offering maintenance agreements at the time of new-car purchases. “They make the agreements very attractive,” Brown said, “but we have customers who we’ve built relationships with that bring us their cars from the first oil change to the last. They trust us, and many of them have had poor experiences at dealerships. They overschedule service appointments so a customer has to wait unnecessarily and, because they have so much overhead, they also oversell unneeded maintenance and service, which they will often charge twice as much for.”
Spirit of giving
Davis Repair partners with radio station KBPI 107.9 for “Cars for Christmas,” where DJ Willie B gives away vehicles for the holiday season. Last year, the station donated 14 cars to people in need with the help of Davis Repair to refurbish two of them. “He brings us the cars and we fix them with the help of donated parts from our suppliers,” Brown said.
This holiday season, Davis repair completed three of 23 cars for Christmas.
His daughter, Hannah, added, “If Willie B could get a bunch of other shops to participate it would be great.”