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Four Steps for Going Paperless

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For years, Joe Hanson thought improving shop culture at Gordie’s Garage involved competitive pay plans, investment in training, and a lively atmosphere.

He was right, of course. But there was one more perk he had yet to realize.

“Going paperless really helped with the shop morale,” Hanson says. “Technicians enjoy the fact that we’re progressive. They enjoy walking around with their iPads, taking pictures of repairs, being able to document stuff much easier than they used to. All those things make us more efficient and profitable.”

It took months and months of tedious, menial work—copying, transferring, scanning documents. But by the end of it all? Gordie’s Garage, located in Roseville, Mich., was humming with efficiency, ARO was up, and his service advisors were selling more work. Papers are no longer lost in the shuffle, there’s an excess of shop space, communication has improved and the business is saving at least $150 per month in paper and toner costs.

Father-and-son team Russ and Jake Hilliard have a similar story about their shop, Tires Too, located in Londonderry, N.H. All three operators are now reaping the benefits of going paperless, and share their steps for making it work.


1. Evaluate Your Environment and Processes.


While going paperless was a huge step for his shop, Hanson says it came with growing pains as well.

“It will turn the whole shop off to the process of even going digital in the first place if they don’t have a process that works right,” he says.

From customer drop-off to pick-up, consider all the touchpoints in the process and plan accordingly. Something as simple as scanning invoices should be thoroughly planned out, Hanson says.

“If you’re going to scan customer-signed invoices, where will that happen? In the front or the back?” Hanson says to ask yourself. “And who is going to do it? How long will that take? Should you have two scanners? 

“All those things matter. Until you know your process, you really can’t plan out where that stuff will be located.”

2. Establish a Network.

Your technician walks out to the parking lot, up to the customer’s car, ready to log info into his or her tablet … and there’s no Internet connection.

Both Russ and Jake Hilliard empathize with Hanson’s parking lot scenario. Establishing a strong network connection is crucial, as it assures that connection reaches every corner of the store.

In the long run, it’ll cost your business more money by skimping on equipment, Jake says, as a bad connection can halt a process and disrupt production. 

“It gets frustrating,” he says. “Even though one step in the process is only a few seconds, if there are 10–12 pieces in that process and your connection is bad, that adds up to a lot of time, and it feels like a glacier moving.”

Hanson installed several business-class routers and switches at various access points throughout Gordie’s Garage, which has helped increase productivity at the shop.

“It’s a whole new world once you get it installed,” he says. “You’ll spend a few thousands bucks on that, but that’s made up with about ten cars.”

3. Choose Your Software.

When it comes to choosing software for parts and labor pricing and digital inspections, it’s best to do your homework, Jake says.

“I read many trade magazines talked about digital inspections,” he says, “and made a few phone calls to companies, asking about what they had to offer and to gauge their strengths.”

Hanson sat on the NAPA Advisory Council and reviewed dozens of digital inspection software, and says the best programs should be customizable, integrate with your management system, and offer support. For parts and estimating, it’s probably best to stick with whatever management system you’re using (if you have one).

Both the Hilliards and Hanson went with AutoVitals’ SmartFlow for digital inspections, and Mitchell 1 for parts and labor pricing. 

Also consider your system for sharing documents and SOPs. All three shop operators recommend getting all employees set up through Google Drive, which can be accessed easily with a network connection.

The other big advantage of going digital, Hanson says, has been the ability to nail down exact benchmarks for selling work and inspections, which is noted on all inspections and repair orders.

“The advisors have to achieve a 60 percent gross profit and a minimum $350 ARO,” he says. “Hours per RO needs to be at least 2; the labor gross profit and parts gross profit combined have to be 60 percent, but we shoot for 72 on labor and 55 on parts. That’s all noted in our system.”

4. Purchase Tablets.

Each of Hanson’s technicians and service writers is equipped with his or her own tablet, and each technician has a laptop. Overall, it’s improved communication between technicians and service writers, and made the entire repair process more efficient, nonverbal and streamlined.

“On service side, they don’t have to attempt to read the techs’ handwriting,” he says. “And techs can speak right into  the iPad and put their notes in, so it’s quicker for them and less cumbersome. Again, it all comes down to improving efficiency.”

The tablets also come in handy for customer check-ins, as they can be set up at the front counter and give the shop a modern feel, Hanson says.

Hanson purchased iPads for everyone in the shop. Jake and Russ purchased Android tablets for two years, but then switched to iPad minis, which are faster, more stable and easier to carry and store. Jake says it’s important to purchase tablets that have flash capabilities, which allows technicians to take better photos of repairs.

The ability to record inspections visually has allowed Hanson’s service writers to raise closing ratios and the shop’s ARO. Pairing repair estimates with pictures allows them to sell work much easier and more quickly via email or phone.

“If they look at a picture and see the repairs they need, they’re like, ‘Oh, now I see what you mean,’” he says. “It makes us more transparent, which in turn leads to more sales.”

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