As you move into 2020, look for ways you can use technology to your advantage to not only improve service but to better inform customers what you are capable of. Our customers are moving further and further away from understanding the complexities of the very machines they drive. It’s up to us, the mechanics and technicians of the world, to keep up with these changes and customer demands.
In this year’s column, I talked about various new diagnostic products and scenarios out available to our market. Here are a few ideas to consider that could increase your ROI numbers for 2020. Some may work better for you than others, or one of them may spark an idea of your own. Consider the possibilities and give it a try.
Consider adding services
Customers and vehicles are always changing. As you head into 2020 consider adding services that weren’t part of your business in the past. The percentage of cars and trucks with TPMS is on the rise. Sales of replacement sensors are on the rise, too. Ask yourself whether TPMS would be a sound business investment, then investigate the right tools for your operation. Consider whether you will require something that provides complete TPMS coverage, including OE sensor cloning. Remember that additional ROI opportunities include sensor sales and services, alignment and rotation services, and TPMS reset (relearn).
Services for vehicles with Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) are another talked-about revenue generator for some businesses. If you have the floor space, and there's a lack of this service in your area, it may be time to consider the possibilities of performing ADAS calibrations in-house. While some newer cars can self-calibrate, most vehicles hitting shops now require an in-house (static) camera alignment and diagnostics by a certified shop. Even seemingly straightforward jobs like wheel alignments, tire changes, or changed suspension angles may affect the vehicle’s ability to see through its camera.
ADAS calibration tools are sold in various kit sizes and floor space should always be considered. ADAS systems today utilize radar, infrared LIDAR, computer images and analysis, as well as sensors for motion, heat, and sound. They often come with expert support to help technicians along the way. The investment could be as little as $3,000 or as high as $20,000; it's important to consider what your shop may be getting for the investment.
Make life easier for customers
First things first: if you don’t have a website or blog, set one up. Create a virtual ‘electronic’ waiting room for your customers. Any information that would be valuable to your customer could be presented on the website or blog. For example, your scan results could show the technology involved in their vehicle’s repair and how you arrived at the solutions. This might lead to your customers having a better understanding of the complexities involved.
Even though the phone is still an essential, you can communicate by text. This can be increasingly valuable for your customers to contact you. Having a dedicated message service or blog area where your customers can leave messages or converse with other patrons could become your version of an electronic waiting room.
Create a scheduling format that includes a calendar showing your hours and perhaps days off, or any special occasions that you are going to be out of the shop. Post routine maintenance schedules for their vehicle and any discounts you might be running. Turn your website into a community. Post your customers’ birthdays, special occasions, graduations, etc. Encourage customers to leave comments or post their own personal events. Post available carhops with other patrons that might be arriving or leaving at the same time. Basically, create a family of friends and neighbors that share your place of business.
Show and tell
Most curious people are fascinated by things they don’t understand. They love to explore and learn how this new ‘widget’ works. Even though they may never intend on repairing it themselves, they still are eager to learn how it all operates. Create short videos and post them on your site, explaining a certain aspect of auto repair.
A better way to explain this might be to look back to the 1950s and 60s when most hot rod or general improvements meant changing mechanical parts such as a cam, changing the carburetor, adding a high rise intake manifold, beefing up the suspension, tacking on some traction bars, or updating to a tuned exhaust system. It didn’t matter what method was used to increase the horsepower, but what it did do was create a gang of onlookers under the hood to see what made it all tick.
These days there isn’t a whole lot to see under the hood of the modern car. However, there’s a lot more technology stuffed under there than just a double roller cam, or a gigantic 4-barrel carburetor. Computer software is the focus these days. Don’t get me wrong, mechanical parts still make some enormous changes. However, to make all that work it takes a pretty solid level of understanding in the software and the electronic side of things.
It would be to your advantage to show those tools that accomplish all this high-tech magic in use on your website, message board, or blog. If you purchase a new tool/scanner, display it on your website for your customers to see. Explain the capabilities and how it can benefit them. Showing what can be done at your place of business can increase your sales and the number of RO’s. And don’t forget to share the pre- and post-scans: seldom do shop owners and technicians incorporate pre- and post-scanning into every job. The technology is in place and all we need to do is utilize it.
Get the community involved
No matter how much we talk about the technical side of things, an automotive repair shop is still a community-based business. We service our neighbors, friends, and local business vehicles and keep our little part of the world on the road. With that said, getting your name out into the community is an essential part of running your business.
There are a lot of things you can do to bring awareness to your shop that doesn’t take a lot of investment on your part. Here are a few ideas I’ve used in the past:
A business to business block party - Throw a few burgers on the grill and invite neighboring businesses over for a free lunch that could turn into a meet-and-greet. This might be just the thing to draw some extra business your way.
Office or business discount - Consider posting a lunch hour oil change discount for an entire office staff at a local business as an incentive to shop your establishment. Pick a different business the next time you do it.
Holiday canned food runs - Usually, local radio stations will help sponsor holiday events such as this or at least allow a free plug for your shop in the process. Use a call-in local radio show to make the announcement. Toss in a discount on some service you provide, and you’ve created a seasonal income source that you didn’t know existed before.
Toy runs – What a great time I had being involved with these. It’s a super way of getting to know the people in your community and at the same time doing something worthwhile. If nothing else, you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself for being a part of it all.
Tip groups and clubs - Getting involved in a community business tips group, car club, or volunteer work are just a few things that come to mind. Anything that is going on in the community that you could get involved with that doesn’t require an initial investment -- just yourself and/or your business – is likely to raise your local respectability and confidence in your business.
Diagnostic day - Schedule a free diagnostic day in a school parking lot. Be a helper in a community event or create your own. The possibilities are endless.
Donate a Car - Got an old dilapidated car sitting around that needs a good home? Fix it up a bit and donate the car to a local church group or organization that supports single parents.
Skills fair or event at a school - Show off some of your skills and promote the world of automotive repair at your local school. Sometimes the simplest thing to you, such as reading an ohm meter or using a test light, is a huge wow-factor to the kids.
Just remember, you’re a part of the community, not just another face in the crowd. The more you’re involved locally, the more you’ll find your name popping up around town. And, don’t forget to post all of this activity on your website.