Purchases that Make Business Sense
Invest in your business.
That’s the only way to survive—let alone thrive in an increasingly competitive industry, says Ron Haugen, owner of Westside Auto Pros in Iowa.
You can’t sweat over equipment purchases. You can’t balk at jumping onboard with new technology. You can’t afford to be left behind.
“You need to either get in all the way, or get out,” he says. “You either make the investments, or you go out of business. There can’t be an in between. Being in between is how you go out of business.”
Haugen credits his focus on technology and tooling as one of the primary reasons his $3 million shop is considered to be one of the best in the Midwest.
A new tool or piece of equipment does much more for your business than its simple back-of-the-shop task. It can make your business stand out from competition, improve shop efficiency and provide additional value to customers.
Highlighting their most recent tool purchases, shop owners Haugen, C.J. Bailey and Danny Imawa share some examples of how investing in technology and tooling has made a big impact on their businesses.
Differentiate Your Business: The Benefit of OEM Scan Tools
There are clear advantages to being an independent shop, the personal connection with customers and the commitment to quality service and repairs being just two of them.
Still, many consumers opt to return to the dealership when the check engine light comes on. And there’s a simple reason for it, Haugen says. It comes down to one word: expertise.
“When their Ford breaks down, they want to bring it to the guys who know everything about Fords; they want the expert,” Haugen says. “But, why does that expert have to be the dealer? Why can’t it be us?”
That’s the exact question Haugen asked himself nearly two years ago, as his techs regularly ran into dead ends with their generic scan tools. Westside Auto Pros promoted itself as the shop that could fix anything on the makes it specialized in—Ford, GM, Chrysler and a handful of imports.
“Something like Ford was one of our most-seen makes, but how could we tell people that we could do everything on it, if we’d still have these roadblocks? If we’re going to actually be a dealer alternative, we have to be able to do everything they can,” he says.
In 2012, Haugen invested more than $25,000 in eight OEM scan tools, including the newest version of the Ford Integrated Diagnostic System (IDS) with its VCM-II device.
The Ford tool in particular allows Haugen’s team to perform the same diagnostic work as any dealer and has allowed his shop to become a go-to spot for Ford domestic light-duty and diesel trucks, something that comes in handy in Iowa.
It separates Westside Auto Pros from its competition, Haugen says, including the dealers. And it’s become their calling card as a business.
“We’re proud of it, just the way any shop should be when they make these types of investments in their business,” he says. “This is what makes us stand out. We promote it. We want to let people know. We want them to realize it.”
Ford Integrated Diagnostic System (IDS) with Vehicle Communication Module II (VCM-II)
From Ford Rotunda (rotunda.service-solutions.com)
What It Is: The overall system of hardware and software provides complete diagnostic coverage of all past and future Ford and Lincoln vehicles.
How It Works: IDS has been Ford’s official diagnostic information software since 1996 and needs to be downloaded to a computer. (Haugen uses a Panasonic Toughbook due to its durability.) The software links to the VCM-II tool, which performs the diagnostics through a hookup to the vehicle’s OBD-II port. The VCM-II can either deliver the information to the computer wirelessly or through a cable connection..
Cost: $5,000 (combined estimate on software purchase and subscription, and all needed hardware)
Training Needed: Six hours.
Haugen charges diagnostic fees when it’s a vital part of the job—check engine lights, computer system issues, etc. But his staff also uses the scan tools on every vehicle inspection, including those that come with a basic oil change.
“We use it to give customers’ vehicles the optimum amount of care and attention,” he says. “So, it’s really hard, basically impossible, to say, ‘I bought it for X and we need to diagnose number of cars to get that return.”
Still, between overall efficiency improvements and the shop’s high volume of vehicles, Haugen estimates he earned his money back within the first two months.
With the plethora of options and seemingly always-updating technology, determining which new tools to invest in can seem overwhelming. But Haugen suggests taking a very simple approach to making any shop purchase:
1. Always be Saving. Cost is often the biggest concern over prices, but Haugen says he puts 5 percent of his sales every week into a specified savings account. That account is only to be used for shop improvements. Using this method, he hasn’t had to finance a tool or equipment purchase in more than five years. So, the first step is to always be ready.
2. Identify a Problem. Don’t just buy tools because they’re new and fancy, Haugen says. Buy with a purpose—and that purpose needs to be to solve a problem. Are you misdiagnosing vehicles? Are alignment machines causing bottlenecks? Identify specific issues that you see regularly.
3. Identify a Solution. What would solve the problem from Step 2? The answer to that question is where you should be investing your money.
Unclog Your Bottlenecks: Tools Improve Efficiency
The very first time it happened, C.J. Bailey went straight to his computer. The owner of C.J.’s Beach Bays in coastal Delaware, Bailey can’t accept it when his shop can’t get a job done.
A dead end on a repair doesn’t simply mean he needs to outsource the work, or that a customer is going to walk away unsatisfied.
It means his shop failed. It means he, as the owner, didn’t equip or train his team to break through the bottlenecks that can hold them back.
So, when a beat-up pickup rolled into Beach Bays with a clogged-up heating system, and went back out with a full heater core replacement, Bailey felt his shop had failed that customer.
“We tried to clean it out, tried everything we normally did, but nothing would work,” he says. “We got a bigger job out of it, but we should’ve been able to clean that thing out. It shouldn’t have come to that for that customer.”
Back to the computer: It was two-and-a-half years ago that Bailey’s research led him to the Gates Power Clean Flush Tool (then made by HECAT Inc.).
Since making the purchase, Bailey says his team has flushed nearly a dozen vehicles in a similar state as that first pickup. And the job normally takes a matter of minutes.
“Sometimes [a bottleneck] can be fixed with training or education, but this is a case where we simply needed the tool to do the job,” he says.
Gates Power Clean Flush Tool
From Gates Corp. (gates.com)
What It Is: The Power Clean is a hand-held device that uses a mixture of water and compressed air to flush systems of a vehicle, including the radiator, heater core and engine block.
How It Works: The tool looks similar to the handle on a gas pump, and has a simple, quick hook-up to a typical shop’s water and air lines. The nozzle of the Power Clean slides into the opening for a given system and shoots a strong stream of water through to clear debris, grime and other harmful materials. There is a regulator built into the device to ensure the pressure doesn’t reach a level that could harm the vehicle.
Training Needed: None.
Comparing straight cost to sales earned, Bailey says the tool paid for itself in roughly 10–12 uses.
But, when he takes into account the hours his technicians can cut from the book time on these jobs—particularly working on heater cores—he says the return is quicker.
“The biggest thing is that we’ve had jobs that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to flush those heater cores out, and we’d have had to replace the whole system or lost the customer,” he says. “Being able to do that simple, quick flush not only gets that car out quickly, it keeps that customer for us. Keeping one customer more than pays for that tool—any tool, really.”
Provide for Customers: Additional Services that Make You Money
The Imawa family has staked out the corner of S. San Pedro and 21st streets in Los Angeles since 1959. They’ve owned the property since 1968.
And while J&S Auto Service has operated in many forms over the past 55 years, Danny Imawa, 60, says one thing has kept the shop firmly planted in its South L.A. roots: its focus on the needs of its customers.
That’s why, for the last decade, J&S has been a STAR Smog Station.
“Our regular customers need those services, so it’s sort of a no-brainer,” he says. “If you have a large base of clients all needing the same thing, why wouldn’t you make the investment to provide that for them? Whether it’s smog testing or anything else. Be the shop that your customers want.”
And due to Imawa’s reputation, J&S was chosen as a beta tester for the newest development in emissions testing technology. The Data Acquisition Device (DAD) is the future, Imawa says. It makes smog checks simpler, quicker and far more effective for customers and shops alike.
Considering Imawa runs the 1,200-square-foot shop solo, anything to improve efficiency and get cars in and out quicker is a welcome advancement.
For a minimal investment (see right), Imawa is now able to churn out checks in a matter of minutes: “The device is so quick that it just takes the amount of time for me to do my visual inspection,” he says.
That’s a plus for his customers, and hopefully something that will drive more business to his doors.
“It’s just another way to give customers what they want,” he says. “That’s what you have to do. It doesn’t matter what the service is or where you are, that’s how you’re going to stick around.”
IMClean California BAR-OIS DAD Device
From Drew Technologies (drewtech.com)
What It Is: The Data Acquisition Device (DAD) is a digital diagnostic system for emissions testing. Still in beta testing, the DAD device is expected to become the required system for California emissions by the end of 2014.
How It Works: Consider it a scan tool for emissions testing. The DAD hooks into a vehicle’s OBD-II port and wirelessly transmits information to state emissions testing software on your shop computer. The device eliminates the need for a dyno and completes its diagnostics in minutes.
Cost: $1,599 for device only; roughly $2,000 including additional hardware (Imawa bought a bar-code scanner for $80 and a desktop computer for $350).
Training Needed: None
Doing roughly four or five emissions tests each day in his shop, Imawa estimates the return on the device will be incredibly quick. He charges $55 per inspection. At that rate, it would take under 30 tests (six or seven days) for his shop to break even on the purchase.