By Brian Cruickshank, AAP
Panelists separate the facts from fiction in automotive service and repair.
DETROIT — Manufacturers and distributors devote a lot of thought, research and energy into trying to understand the mind of the shop owner. Some of the conclusions are true, while others are not. A Wednesday afternoon panel discussion at GAAS in Detroit attempted to separate the truth of these perceptions from the myths.
Panel participants were Aaron Clements, C & C Automotive; John Cochrane, Cochrane Automotive; Denny Kahler, Kahler’s Werkstatt and Betty Jo Young, Young’s Automotive. ASA President Ron Pyle served as moderator.
Myth number-one: Shops don’t take responsibility for their training.
All panelists said that they stress training in their businesses, and credit much of their success to their dedication to it. In order to fill training courses, panelists advised attendees that course descriptions must be accurate, courses must have quality instruction and, perhaps most importantly, they shouldn’t be “infomercials.”
In addition to the need for technical training, panelists also addressed the great need for shop management education, termed “critical” by Kahler.
Myth Number-Two: The industry suffers from a technician shortage.
“Without a doubt, there is a shortage,” said Kahler. “You need much more than mechanical capabilities to fix today’s cars and that’s really created a void.”
Canada has a formal apprenticeship program, administered by each province. As a Canadian shop owner, Cochrane discussed this program, but added that while the program is good and necessary, he advocated the need for more high-tech training. After all, high-tech industries such as auto repair require high-tech training, and that’s what today’s technician needs.
Myth Number Three: The independent repair shop cannot adapt to new technology.
Panelists all agreed that shops can, and do, adapt to increasing new vehicle technology. Kahler mentioned, however, that this requires a significant commitment by both the technician and the shop owner. Kahler said that shops must understand and utilize the resources that are available out in the market.
“The resources are there, but unfortunately, a lot of shops don’t know they’re there,” he said.
Many of the panelists talked about their shops’ equipment, and how understanding and investing in this equipment is a requirement for keeping pace with technology.
“You need to get those technicians involved in the purchase of equipment,” said Clements, who noted that equipment purchases, like training, is an on-going process.
Many of the panelists discussed the importance of on-line resources, such as iATN (www.iatn.net). Kahler has taken the unusual step of giving his technicians their own laptops to access many of these resources. “It’s made a huge increase in productivity,” he said.
The discussion then turned to the issue of brands, dispelling the myth that brands don’t matter.
Cochrane said that his technicians provide definite feedback on the brands they want. He noted that technicians have long memories, and when they have a problem with a specific brand, it is very likely they won’t want to source that brand again.
As to the topic of technicians having a preference for the OE brand, Cochrane said that sometimes his technicians prefer the OE brand, but there are lots of times the tech specifically wants the aftermarket part.
Although panelists offered varied responses about their reliance on OE-branded parts, all agreed that OE-like fit, form and function are essential.
“It’s absolutely critical,” said Cochrane. “The part must perform like the original.” He said the comebacks cost his business far more than just lost labor; it may very well cost him his customer’s future business. Parts that have the same fit, form and function provide he and his technicians with a level of comfort that they can fix the car right the first time.
Panelists also discussed brand choice. All agreed that customers generally don’t make brand requests. Young noted, however, that some customers mention a specific brand when discussing certain categories, such as batteries or oil.
While technician preference weighs heavily on which brand a shop prefers, Young stressed that outside sales people are an essential factor in the brand-choice process, and she relies on those sales people that call on her shop to keep her informed.
Panelists wrapped up the discussion with some positive comments about the future of the repair business.
“I believe the picture is very bright for the independent repair shop,” said Clements. “There are cars everywhere and if everyone wants to get their share, all the have to do is make that customer happy.”
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