The 7 secrets of successful auto repair shops

Aug. 11, 2021
Focus on training and development, hiring the right people, and being ‘on your mission’.

We all know the automotive industry is facing a labor shortage — 624,000 technicians will be needed by 2024 — and we all need to do whatever we can to bring more quality people into the industry. With this in mind, Wrenchway and RepairPal recently held a joint webinar where they revealed the seven secrets of successful automotive repair shops in the hopes of helping attendees create excellent places to work that will attract the best talent.

Be 'on your mission'

The first secret to success is to make sure you are a mission-driven company. Automotive shops should have a clearly outlined mission statement that is posted in the shop, on the website, on social media, and in recruitment efforts.

“When you’ve got something that people can buy in to and that they really want to be a part of and you drive that through your organization as your reason for being and you make it a part of the fabric of who you are, that resonates with employees," said Kathleen Long, vice-president and general manager, RepairPal.

Hire the right people

The United States Department of Labor estimates the average cost of a bad hiring decision is at least 30 percent of the individual’s first year's expected earnings. This means it’s crucial the right person is hired for your shop, said Jay Goninen, co-founder and president of WrenchWay.

“You want to make sure that they fit in with your team because if they don’t, they will probably be short lived at your location,” he said. “We see this a lot at shops: You get desperate, you need someone to fill that role, and you will hire a resume immediately. You will hire somebody that can do the work. They might be an excellent technician but maybe they just don’t fit your culture and it makes life really, really difficult.”

Hiring for fit requires shops to be proactive in finding the right talent. An employee referral program is a great way to do this because your current employees will promote you to their peers.

Focus on training and development

A recent report from the Work Institute found that three in four employee turnovers are preventable by offering other perks, such as career development (the reason 20 percent of employees quit their jobs).

There are all sorts of ways automotive shops can offer training and development opportunities to their staff, including job shadowing, lunch ‘n learns, and promoting certifications.

“Shops often say 'My technicians don’t want to hit the books,' but I would challenge you think about other training and development strategies… like video and virtual reality, which is pretty cool, that you can take advantage of,” said Long, adding that carving out time for self-exploration is another good tactic. “What do they want to spend time learning and focusing on and thinking about?

Fair and transparent pricing

It’s important to understand your value and charge your customers appropriately, which in turn affects the rate you are able to pay your technicians.

“Make sure you’re charging a labor rate that reflects the time, quality, and attention that you’re putting into your business so that you can pay your employees well or offer that new employee a great starting salary to come on board,” said Long.

Check out the RepairPal Fair Price Estimator to get an idea of how much certain repairs are costing in your area.

Focus on employee retention

According to research by ASE, 42 percent of technicians leave the workplace in the first two years. The main reason employees leave is not feeling challenged, looking for a higher salary, and feeling uninspired, according to Indeed.  

“We need to onboard better. We need to set our expectations better. Understand that maybe that tech that just came out of tech school isn’t going to come out and produce 100 hours a week. Being able to lay out career plans, being able to set expectations up front — not just expectations of the employee but your expectations as a manager as well,” said Goninen.

He stresses the importance of career development in retaining quality employees as well as paying a competitive salary that is bit above average. Ultimately, happy employees mean happy customers.

“If your employees aren’t happy and aren’t giving 100 percent every day, our customers just aren’t going to be happy because that could mean there’s grease on the steering wheel or there’s a repair that’s not done correctly or a misdiagnosis,” said Goninen. “That’s something that’s really, really important to understand.”

Be trendy

It’s important to be a modern auto repair shop to attract new talent, said Long, starting with a clean, modern website. Shops should be on one or two major social media sites and ensure their business listings are up to date.

“You can earn extra credit by having a blog and including some multimedia content, but I’m not asking shops to bite off a big chunk here but instead something you can manage and maintain,” she said.

Upfront planning can help shops execute on a social media strategy. To start, make a list of your goals, such as improving customer service, educating customers on basic maintenance, and boosting awareness of your community participation. Under each goal, make a list of relevant topics for articles and plot these on a calendar in a frequency that you can manage, Long recommends, adding shops should start with at least six months worth of articles and topics.

Work on the shop, not in it

Shop owners have a lot on their plate, but to be the most successful, Goninen said they need to work on the shop, not just in it. He encourages shops to do the following:

  • stay on top of industry trends
  • get a coach
  • set key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • put processes in place
  • hold employees accountable.  

“The more you can put structure around how you’re going to do something is a big deal,” Goninen said. “If you’ve got your KPIs, you’ve got your processes in place, now you know what you’re going to do.”

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