Posted to Shop Management Forum on 3/24/2013
I always enjoy it when I get a turn working on the front
counter every day at my shop. Generally, this is not what a
business owner should do. However, due to vacations and
absentee issues, occasionally this experience can give great
insight. Other times, it can give great headaches. :o)
There's always discussion about those lazy or inept
technicians who can't produce billed labor hours faster than
"the book" says they should.
Those techs are also talking about those idiot
owner/managers who have no idea how to run a shop.
The truth is, the front office really controls most of this.
They are responsible for a shop that is clean, well-lighted
and equipped with all the necessary tooling and information
to do the jobs that they take in.
The office determines WHO comes in the door and WHEN they
arrive. If the techs come in at 8am and the first job
arrives at 9am, we have a production issue right away.
If you hear the office staff on the phone informing a caller
that "we can't look at those noisy brakes for a few days"
and the shop is empty of work at 3pm, we have another
So, the first problem is regulating the flow of work, or
being the gatekeeper.
I just discussed the "when", now a quick word about the
"who". In the last 2 weeks, I turned down 2 very profitable
tire sales and another easy-money job. None of the 3 were
Honda or Toyota products and that is all we work on at our
shop. We are not an "import specialist", nor do we
specialize in Honda or Toyota products. We are ONLY Honda
and Toyota, which includes Lexus, Scion and Acura. So, why
won't I put a set of tires on a F-f-f-f-f-f-ord? (See, I
can't even say it). Because, if the wheel stud breaks taking
the lug nuts loose, I'm working on a Ford then, aren't I? If
the brakes crumble to dust, or the bearings are
powder… You get the idea.
This isn't so much about what you DO decide to take in as
what you don't. Taking in strange stuff that goes totally
wrong and eats time will often show to be a bad decision.
It's just like what happens after the famous words are
uttered, "here, hold my beer and watch this".
The office regulates this, the techs have little to no
control. Think efficiency. Learn to say no when the job
involves tooling and experience you don't have. It's
The second problem is that those "times" that are so
important that the techs bill are for operations that the
front office has either offered to a customer or that they
have made up in advance.
The first example is diagnostic time. If the front office
doesn't have a program for this, such as what exactly will
the tech do, what specific steps will be taken, what
information will be reported and, most importantly, where
will the tech stop, how can this be sold for a profit?
Look, every tech wants to fix the car, every tech thinks if
they just take a little longer, they'll have it. I don't
mean to dictate what specific tests a tech should run, but
rather a time limit and general strategy that does involve
time. It doesn't have to account for every second, but
stopping points must be kept in mind.
If you can't make money at things, you shouldn't do them.
This doesn't mean that you have to make money on every last
thing you do, but at the end of the month, each type of work
must pay its own way. It's the job of management to outline
how things will proceed, what they include and when you stop
and report. Diagnostics is a simple series of tests and
inspections. Often times there are sales to be made and
decisions to be determined in that process. If you do this
long enough, there may be cars you don't fix. It's not your
responsibility to bail out the person who bought a butchered
car or one with a salvage title by fixing it for a flat fee.
The next issue is the time sold on given operations. Are
allowances made for the operations that aren't listed
correctly in the book? Are there rust or other mitigating
factors that should be taken into account?
Another issue is the culture of the shop. Are new techs
given training on the value of the technician's time? If you
take the dollar amounts of the average parts sales per labor
hour sold and add the parts prices to the labor hours
billed, then divide that by 60 minutes in an hour, the
result is the average sales expected to be produced by each
tech, PER MINUTE. Once a person understands how much they
need to produce every single minute, then it becomes more
important to change the layout of the shop equipment and
stop wasting time wandering around looking for things and
waiting for things. Problems should be fixed, just like
I firmly believe that every person in the shop should get
management training on shop efficiency and how it gets done.
Now, it's the job of the front office to provide the techs
with a steady supply of 3 things--cars, parts and
I've covered getting cars in in a timely fashion. Let's talk
briefly about parts.
At my shop, parts are pulled in advance and put into boxes
before the cars even arrive. I know, how do I know what each
car needs? I don't. But I do know what some of them need and
those parts are put into boxes. The labor operation "PP" is
entered onto the invoice and shows up on the summary to tell
us the "Parts are Pulled" for that job. That way, as each
day unfolds and more cars are booked in, we can see which
cars need parts pulled and which ones are good.
This enables the office to order the parts you don't have.
This enables the shop to find out BEFORE THE CUSTOMER
ARRIVES, that the parts aren't available. You can now call
the customer and head off a problem before it happens. Parts
have to come from 3 days away.
Each day, the cars come in, invoices printed, keys tagged
and parts dispensed, without any big effort on anyone's part
and, no one waits for parts.
Parts can be a substantial bottleneck. The office is a
bottleneck. The office is a bottleneck in booking jobs, they
are a bottleneck in approving estimates, they are a
bottleneck in ordering parts, pricing parts and getting
parts for add on sales.
This is where you must hit the bottle and hit it hard.
Look at any part you sell 4 of in a year. Put it on the
shelf, set it up for restocking. Each week, run stock orders
for your different suppliers and put it in stock. Don't take
the time to call Louie's auto to have them send over wiper
blades or an air filter. Take it off the shelf.
Look again at the time you lose in minutes of tech down
time. Forget that you can save money or time by calling for
the best price. You just cooked yourself by making 2 phone
The plain truth is, a shop has to produce billed hours equal
to or better than the time the techs are available for work.
This is not done by trying to find a bunch of super techs
who can work fast and efficiently enough to cover up
incompetence in the front office. This is done by leadership
and planning in the front office. There is no reason each
and every tech you employ shouldn't bill good hours.
After all, the office controls the throttle on the work
flow, they control the parts flow and they control the times
billed. So, why should the techs always take the blame?
When working in the front office, look for the things that
take a lot of your time and find ways to reduce that time.
Having procedures for the techs and parts at the ready go a
long ways toward freeing up time.
In short, find the bottlenecks and hit the bottle… :o)
Becky G. Witt
George Witt Service, Inc.
Lincoln, Nebraska, USA