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Closing the Gap

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Years before I started working as the editor of Ratchet+Wrench and its sister publication on the collision side, FenderBender, I was employed as a K–12 education reporter for a daily newspaper in northern Minnesota.

During my time there, I became well acquainted with the “achievement gap,” a term for the disparity in academic performance between different groups of students. Closing this gap was a top priority in the district I covered and schools utilized many different strategies in the effort.

I got to thinking about my days covering education recently during a visit to Phoenix, where I had the opportunity to see about a dozen shops and talk to owners about their operations. I heard success stories, saw the results of years of hard work, determination and the desire to perform at the highest level, regardless of often sizable challenges. But I also saw the other side; the shops that have not progressed, that have grown complacent and look like they haven’t considered doing things differently—in image and practice—in a good 30 years or more. 

This industry has a clear achievement gap, a wide one with few shops landing between the good and bad. There are shops that get it, that perform quality repairs, focus on value and understand that this business is about helping people more than it is about fixing cars. Then there are the shops that don’t get it. There’s not much of a grey area.

For the shops doing things right, the other side of the industry should be a concern, as those are the shops giving the industry a black eye. They erode customer trust, produce unsafe repairs and are often the ones engaged in what Ratchet+Wrench columnist Joe Marconi has referred to as “the race to the bottom” in terms of driving down price.  

The big question is what to do about it. How do you kill complacency in the auto service industry? One of the shop owners I met with asked me this question and I’m afraid I didn’t have a solid answer.

I don’t have to tell you that the industry is changing rapidly in every facet, from vehicle technology to customer service. I think the industry’s leading shops, the ones keeping up with these changes, are gradually carving a new image for the industry. And frankly, the ones that aren’t will only be able to operate for so long before they simply cannot stay in business.

I’d like to think that this publication’s efforts month after month to uphold and share the advice of shops that are on the high end of the achievement gap helps advance some of the shops that aren’t there yet. If we can help close that gap, the industry and the motoring public it serves will be in a better place.

Jake Weyer

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