‘No more pencil whipping’
St. Charles, Mo.—Since taking over ownership of the shop he had worked at as a tech for 15 years, Ron Tinner has always been an early adopter of new technology and products.
“If it makes life easier for my techs and our customers, then why not embrace it,” said Tinner, who has owned Sparks Tire & Auto since 2000.
Serving on a NAPA council from 2011 until 2013 gave Tinner the opportunity to see what was coming down the pipeline from an insider’s point of view.
“We were part of the BETA testing for AutoVitals digital inspections. I implemented the program into my shop in 2012 and watched it evolve into the viable product it has become today. We now do all of our inspections digitally, which is a win for both us and our customers.”
Digital inspections, customer education
Tinner added that digital inspection technology means “no more pencil whipping” when it comes to completing safety inspections. “My techs are required to take, at minimum, 10 photos and sometimes videos of each vehicle if need be to make sure that the customer can see exactly what the issues are. Having that ability to show a customer with no uncertainty that a part is malfunctioning or a tire is worn down is huge for us.”
That transparency with customers also opens up opportunities to help educate them as well. “We are able to show a customer a specific part failure and open up dialogue between them and my service advisors about what that is and what it takes to repair it,” Tinner said. “We also have the NAPA Service Assistant Link on our website which allows our customer to go and watch videos about different repairs and parts from their phone or computer.”
First NAPA Gold shop in St. Louis area
Sparks Tire & Auto has been a NAPA AutoCare Center since 1995 and recently became the first officially designated NAPA Gold Automotive Service Center in the St. Louis area.
“The NAPA Gold designation does a lot for us as far as designating us as one step above, but one of the biggest things it does has to do with continuing education for my shop. I can now send my staff to any training that NAPA has to offer anywhere in the country and it doesn’t cost me anything. With technology changing as fast as it is, this will be a great way to stay up on what is here and what is coming in the future,” he said.
New equipment investments
Tinner has recently purchased a R-1234YF freon machine, new scan tools, a tire tread depth and alignment diagnostic tool, and updated software for the shop.
Tinner saw an opportunity to be proactive when it came to R-1234YF. “We all knew it was coming. I started asking around to collision repair owners about what they were doing when they saw these newer cars coming in with the updated system. In a 10-mile radius they were all sending them to the dealership to be re-serviced. I saw this as an opportunity to make an investment that would also help out my local collision independent shop owners save some money as well.”
Tinner purchased a Robinair AC1234-6 from NAPA in March and estimated it would take 12 months for the ROI. “We are now on track to have it paid off in nine,” he said, adding that they had to update their refrigerant license in order to be able to operate the machine.
Tinner has plenty of diagnostic firepower in his arsenal including a Ford IDS, GM Tech II, and an Autel unit. Recently though, he updated his main diagnostic scanner to the Snap-on Verus Pro. “This thing can do it all. They have a brand new, faster operating system and it covers domestic and foreign models,” he said.
Also new to the shop is the Groove Glove from Tire Profiles, which is a laser-powered tire tread depth and alignment measurement instrument that fits in the palm of a hand. “It scans the entire tire from outside to inside and allows us to print off a report to show a customer the exact location of the wear on their tire, which is good for tire sales but it really helps in selling alignments” with a Hofman Geoliner alignment machine.
Another upgrade has been the implementation of an updated version on NAPA Tracs with an integrated scheduling system that the technicians have access to in the shop. “We added two flat screen TVs in the shop that allow my techs to see the schedule in real time, so they know what is in currently as well as what to expect on any given day,” Tinner said.
Embracing new technology and requiring updated training are what Tinner credits a lot of the success of his shop. “We are operating at 120 percent efficiency for the year because we have the right tools and equipment to get it done.”