Being an automotive repair shop owner in 2021

May 28, 2021
Automotive shop owners discuss the effects of 2020, what changes are here to stay, challenges in the industry, and how they’re gearing up for ADAS at ToolTech 2021.

Though we are well into 2021 now, and things are slowly shifting back to their pre-pandemic settings – for the most part anyway – the question of “How did you survive 2020?” is still frequently asked. And was asked by Scott Brown, the moderator of ToolTech 2021’s shop owner panel discussion. Brown is an industry ambassador for Diagnostic Network and owner of Connie & Dick’s Service Center Inc.

The panel included four other shop owners who each weighed in on how their shops faired during that difficult year.

For some of the shop owners, like Lucas Underwood, owner of L&N Performance Auto Repair, business thrived. Underwood noted that within the first few months of COVID their shop’s client list grew, and they wound up having a record year. Whereas at other shops, numbers went down. People weren’t out on the roads and were afraid to go out.

David Roman, owner of Done With Auto Repair, said that “Kansas City shut down.” Regardless of people not being out and about though, Roman explained that everyone at his shop did their best reassure their clients that their vehicles still needed to be cared for, whether they were being driven or not.

The first question lead into the second, where Brown asked if any of the changes the shops made for 2020 would be remaining in the future.

Overall, all the shop owners said that much of their handsfree, no-touch practices such as online appointment scheduling, over-the-phone payments, key lockers for after-hours pick-up, and pick-up and drop-off of the vehicles, were practices they already had in place. Many of the “extra” cleaning practices such as wiping down the high touch points in and outside the vehicle were also already taking place.

The shop owners said they just went out of their way to let customers know they have these options available and that this cleaning is being done.

However, Scott Pelava, owner of Lonsdale Auto Works, Inc. did mention one specific change his shop will be keeping. Due to COVID, Pelava shut down the children’s play area at his shop, so to help keep the kids entertained while waiting with their parents he bought a case of Hot Wheels toy cars. Each child that comes in gets to pick a car that they then get to keep.

Continuing with the panel discussion, Brown asked what challenges the shop owners see ahead and what solutions might there be?

Robert Silverstein, owner of A&M AutoSerivce, LLC stressed the importance of educating shop owners. Some shop owners who’ve transitioned from technician to owner will need help with how to run their business and others need to learn the value of their personnel. Silverstein believes it is crucial to the industry for successful, well-established shop owners to visit the new owners and help them create a solid business.

All the shop owners at the panel agreed with Silverstein, especially about his point on valuing your personnel.

Underwood brought up the technician shortage and discussed how important it is to have apprenticeship programs and to start to create a relationship with the kids while they’re still in school. He and the other shop owners realize the shortage has been caused by a lack of respect for this trade, low salary, and minimal benefits.

“We can talk about the problems all day long,” Underwood said, “but the only way to fix the problem is to come together to fix it as one.”

They know that things need to change in how technicians are being treated.

To wrap up the discussion, Brown asked how the shop owners are gearing up for ADAS?

Pelava, Silverstein, and Underwood are all looking into or already have a space they plan on dedicating to performing ADAS repairs. Roman, though interested in adding ADAS services, is limited on space in his shop and still looking for a solution. All the owners agreed ADAS is becoming more prominent, and shops must be prepared.

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