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How Do Highly Successful Shops Do It: Part 3

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Waste reduction

My, how things change. Since last month’s Lean Methodology article, an elephant has entered the room! For those of you with children, you may have watched the Harry Potter movies (or it’s ok if you’re a fan). And, if you have, you’re well aware of the villain: “You-Know-Who,” or “He Who Must Not Be Named.” That’s about where I am with the “You-Know-What-Virus.” We’re all a little tired of hearing about it and don’t want to give it any more power, but we still have to talk about it, it is the villain of all small businesses right now. 

For those just now tuning in, this is the third part in a series on Lean Methodology. The timing couldn’t be more pertinent as many shops are reevaluating all of their business processes and assumptions under the current conditions. I’m defining Lead Methodology here as “Getting more with less resources.” Money being the most likely resource to be short on these days, but perhaps with an increase in free time? And that we can capitalize on. 

Last month, I discussed the efficiency of offering what customers value. Pretty easy to understand that it’s not lean to try and sell ice to Eskimos, right?! The past few weeks have been a clear lesson in understanding what customers value. Did you change your services to include sanitizing vehicles? Did you begin offering pickup and drop-off or other no-touch services? And if you made those changes quickly then that is also another great lean concept. Business exists to solve a problem. If the problem changes, we must change as well. To ignore that equals extinction. The most well known lean story is of the Toyota manufacturing processes. Specifically, there was much focus on waste reduction. As Lean Methodology gets applied to more and more areas, such as our service businesses, waste reduction is still as important as ever. 

Several years ago when we used more paper, we realized that there was a disconnect between our paper inspection and what an advisor would write up. Believe it or not, that disconnect still exists in so many shops today. We began using an additional process step, an estimate sheet. The technician would complete an inspection and then anything that wasn’t marked green would be written up and the tech had to include what the job was, why it was needed, what parts were needed, and how much labor time. Now if you think this is the waste story, you couldn’t be more wrong. When we did this, we gained so much in ARO, tech productivity, and comeback reduction, that it was well worth it. What was happening though was that the service advisor was re-typing into our POS system everything that the tech had handwritten. After at least a year, I thought “Why wouldn’t the tech just type the estimate directly into the system?” We did that. Not without separate challenges but it freed up much time due to duplication. There are many aspects of waste reduction, I can’t cover them all but here are ones I feel are most relevant to us as auto shop owners.


A tech is standing around. A customer car is not ready at promise time. The parts have not shown up. Delays are a time issue. We can’t rid ourselves from them forever, but we can adjust and account for them. Many shops get a customer promise time and then add an hour or two to it to buy some time. Classic under-promise and over-deliver. On parts delays, I see many shops scheduling in a way that there is always something to work on. Scheduling is a dance with complicated moves for some. Figure it out! In a nutshell, you have to account for delays in your systems and processes. Overbook a little. Order two part versions and send one back. Have a plan in place and then a delay is a normal part of business. Car past promise time? Customer, can I have an Uber pick you up at work and take you home while we finish it up? You get the idea.


I already covered writing up an estimate and then re-typing it. Another one I see often is an appointment where the information is being written down on a notepad. Why would the person taking the appointment not be in the POS system entering in all the customer data? Total time waste and I see it all the time. Many shops love the idea of going paperless and they scan in every doc and receipt but then still keep the paper. Pick one. And, unpopular opinion here, but I don’t believe paperless is always worth the effort. What’s the likelihood that you’ll need to reference that information versus the effort to scan it all in and keep it organized? Micromanaging fits this topic well. Do you have a tech you don’t trust and double check all their work? Train them, change their responsibilities, or let them go. Do you have an advisor that just can’t help themselves to start diagnosing a car when they should be focused on selling? Division of labor, have the right people doing the right things with minimal crossover. That doesn’t mean that you don’t cross train as a backup but having two people do the same task is an epic waste. Take a survey of job responsibilities today. A clearly defined list of accountabilities for each staff member also means when a task isn’t done, it’s clear who’s responsible. 


Take a fresh look at your shop’s floor plan. Do you have a long skinny building and the tech on one end has to walk all the way across multiple times a day to get supplies? An ideal shop might be a circle with the advisor and all supplies in the center but that will never happen. Most of us work with the space that we have. Can common resources be moved to a more central location? If you have time, watch the movie “The Founder.” It has a great scene where Ray Kroc draws out on the pavement all of the steps an employee will take when assembling McDonalds food. They minimized unnecessary movement among other things and it seems to have worked well for them. Other examples that come to mind are tasks that can be outsourced. Is your staff giving rides when a rideshare program could do that? What about running to the store for shop or office supplies when they can be ordered online and delivered? Do the math on that small premium you pay for service outsources compared to what you pay your staff and the value of their time doing what they do best. 


Well first off, decide if you even need it. Toyota coined the “just-in-time” phrase and with many parts stores delivering multiple times per day, many shops don’t need to keep as much in stock. For those that do, do you have a system to track cores, warranties, returns, and credits owed to you? So often I see piles of hundreds or thousands of dollars of parts sitting in the corner of a shop. If your POS can track it, that’s the best method. I’ve seen shops use colored work order jacket to indicate cores, other color coded markers, and shelves to keep parts organized into incoming and outgoing. 


 Similar to baseball, an error helps the other team (other shops, dealers). Verbal communication is one of the biggest culprits. Often times, we feel too busy to write things down and the details get missed. Sadly, it only takes one missed detail to spoil the job and the customer experience. We’ve used “canned complaints'' for years. It’s like other canned jobs, except that when the customer calls, we start building a work order then and these canned complaints walk the person on the phone through all possible questions so details are not missed. The classic question that often needs to be asked is, “Is this problem intermittent?” How many times has a tech come back saying the car isn’t acting up only to lose tons of time when their approach would have been different had they known they were faced with an intermittent issue? Many of you use the well known “3 C’s.” Complaint, Cause, and Correction. How about the 5 C’s? Complaint, Confirmation of the complaint, Cause, Correction, Confirmation of the correction. Working on the wrong problem or not verifying your work are egregious errors! 


One of my favorites here. Auto bill payments. CRM texts or emails that go out automatically. Systems and Processes in place at your shop so things happened in a defined and predictable manner. Digital calendars to help keep track and remind you of tasks so you don’t have to keep it all in your head. Take full advantage of the digital age. 

As we all move into the weeks and months ahead, we’re going to have more time and less money than before. Time is often the lacking resource when someone needs to create or modify business processes. So, here’s your chance! Hopefully you’ve already modified your offerings to match what customers want. Now is the time to focus and drill down into your shop and it’s processes. Take a fresh look, find the wastes that exist, tweak your processes and retrain now while you have the time. If you do it right, you’ll be well prepared to handle the influx of business when it returns. Not just to handle it but to knock it out of the park in a way you couldn’t before. What lean or waste reducing steps have you taken in your shop? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


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