Starting an auto repair shop on a tight budget2 Automotive advice on how to succeed where others fail.
In my previous hub, "starting your auto repair shop on a tight budget1," I covered a broad range of innovative factors that you can use to gain the advantage over your competition, but I have not yet explained the way to fast success in an auto repair business that is trying to get started on a tight budget. With the combined information from these hubs you can totally bullet proof your business, and get started quickly even if you have very little money to begin with.
This will seem outrageous to the many who believe the money is in how much work you can get through in a day, and how to get jobs through the shop quicker.
High initial throughput is not the object of the lesson when starting up, it is reputation.
You need a good one!
Profitability is scalable. If you start out small, your costs are small and so are demands on your time. This allows you to sell your time in creative ways, one of which is to do that bit extra to increase your loyal customer list, and improve the quantity and quality of that list, and importantly their opinion of your auto shop. By going that extra yard, you can set yourself apart from all the other auto repair shops.
Use your labor to add perceived and real value for your customers. If
you, the receptionist and your mechanic (When you start you may have all three jobs yourself.) look for little things you can do that will show the customer clearly that they are highly valued. Even if it's just cleaning the tires, always do something the others are not.
My advice is to spend time doing all that is in your power to win business one job at a time.
The car above is in need of a hose down at least!
Check suspension components.
Badly worn tire
Avoid horror jobs.
Here are some ideas I have used.
There are many things that you can do that will not take much time, but make a big difference to the appearance or even performance of your customer's car.
- Washing the dust off the body under the hood/bonnet area.
- Putting some armoural on faded plastic to renew and protect it.
- Cleaning the windscreen.
- Adjusting a door latch.
- Do a simple electrical repair.
- putting some rust converter on a rust spot.
- Cleaning insects out of the air-conditioner radiator core.
- Adjusting the handbrake.
- Lubricating the electric aerial.
- Oiling a hinge.
- Putting silicon or other suitable friction reduction products on a sticky window runner.
- Topping up the windscreen washers.
When you begin to think from the customers point of view you will see many others opportunities to make your business shine alongside the competition by being generous with your time. Obviously you're mechanical work need to be outstanding to gain and keep customers.
If you still can't see the many benefits gained by investing your time this way, you need to consider a few other factors.
You have the vehicle in your possession to examine from all points, even underneath where your customer never gets to see. If you can see problems developing, or things that need to be adjusted or lubricated, or even blocked water release passages in body panels, minute wear on front end components, engine mounts that have been degraded by past oil leaks, muffler surface rust, broken exhaust support mounts and any other quick fixes that will prevent further problems later on. Do one of these jobs while you are there and don't charge for it.
Instead, add it to your very detailed service or repair job sheet noting that it has been repaired free with your compliments.
It's true that if you spend heaps of time doing free repairs, you will lose time to work on other vehicles and therefore lose some of your profit, but you need to do the rest of the math. All you need is long term customers to survive, and the best way to get them is by over delivering, being unique and offering exceptional value. Earn each customer, one at a time. Begin by listening carefully, being empathetic, and then informing your client.
My counter always had a large scribble pad on it. I used it constantly to illustrate a mechanical failure, where a part fitted, how a component worked or any other information my customer wanted to know.
I remember getting a female owner with a Ford GT that needed a new crown-wheel and pinion in the differential. It cost a packet for the parts and she wanted to know what the differential was, what the parts were and why did they need to be replaced. I did my usual rough drawing on the scribble pad. Long story short, she became a loyal customer and recommended my auto shop to her friends as well. All of them were intelligent women who were fed up with being spoken to as if their car was beyond their understanding! A wide open market.
You may have to work all night sometimes to over deliver, but nothing will return a long term profit better than an auto repair shop that bases itself on what the customer wants then delivers it.
Learning how to handle people is best left to a strong heart full of love. Be one!
Karen runs the front end of a 3 bay workshop with her husband Jim, and Len another mechanic in one of the outer suburbs. It's a good enough location with a lot of young families like them.
Jim chose Len because he is a top mechanic who has expertise that offsets his own, Karen is the receptionist.
Her people skills are the best you can get. She is so friendly and nice, but Karen is also as sharp as a whip! She chats with the moms and dads, discovering their values, fears and aspirations in minutes with her charming optimistic personality. She never wastes a second of the customers time if they are in a hurry, and stands behind her business ethics fiercely. Once I was repairing the brake lathe in their workshop when a part for a customer's car did not arrive in time.Karen picked up the customers kids for her in her own car, even remembering to get some extra milk in case it was needed! The customer was in need of their car, so when they could not deliver on time, the customer lost nothing, not even time.
I know her secret to making this one of the most profitable small workshops I have ever seen. She has a big heart like many moms, and that is what your customer wants. Someone with the skills that develop readily as a mom and wife, the most under-rated job in the world.
Karen does the same thing with every new customer. She welcomes them when she takes the booking details. When they pick the car up, there is a red rose, (one from her garden usually) and a chocolate on the front seat with a welcome note and a 10% discount voucher for the next service, along with some useful information, often about a subject she knows they are interested in!
OK, so this is the biggest winner of all. If you care about others, can't do enough for them and want to be the better, cheaper, smarter solution for auto repairs, put yourself in your customers shoes. Why in hell would they even want to go elsewhere?
Karen Jim and Len are all on the same page. It is all about impressing the customer every time they come in. I volunteered an extra 20 minutes of my time to tuning their brake lathe to perfection while I was there. I learned the value of a good customer 40 years ago and still want to over deliver today.