Winning Workflow – An Inside Look at the Most Efficient Shops

April 6, 2022

A look at how three successful shops have adapted their shop workflow for maximum efficiency and productivity.

In a time when prices are increasing in every facet of business—from parts to equipment to real estate to payroll—the importance of being efficient has never been greater. 

Luckily for shop owners, there is an easy way to track whether your technicians are maximizing their ability and producing at the level necessary to thrive. Tracking technicians and efficiency have become commonplace, with more than 80 percent of shops tracking it in some capacity, according to the 2021 Ratchet+Wrench Industry Survey. Increasingly, shops prioritized raising those KPIs. The addition of DVIs, shop management systems, and other technology have certainly helped, but there is still work to be done. Roughly 73 percent of survey respondents had a technician efficiency below 100 percent, and two-thirds had a technician productivity below 90 percent. 

The difference between productivity and efficiency

  • Productivity refers to the time a technician is available at a workplace and how much he’s working on positive cash flow repair orders. Productivity is calculated by hours worked divided by hours available. Tracking productivity shows you the actual time a technician works in a day and allows you to see whether the shop has enough work for technicians and whether that work is ready for them when they are available.
  • Efficiency, on the other hand, shows the speed at which technicians get the job done once they begin working on the repair order. Measuring the efficiency of each employee—the total number of hours it takes them to complete a job versus the number of labor hours sold—allows a shop operator to set a benchmark for capacity. Efficiency is determined by dividing the flat-rate hours produced by the actual hours worked.

What do some of the country’s most efficient and productive shops have in common? What are their differences? Ratchet+Wrench spoke with three highly successful shops to learn what’s behind their rockstar numbers. 

It’s important to note: You’ll find many common themes across the shops, but you’ll also spot key differences, illustrating the reality that there is no one way to run your shop. You can make many strategies successful.

Oxford Automotive: Redistribute RO Writing to Technicians

Shop Name: Oxford Automotive

  • Owner(s):  James Church
  • Location (city, state):  2 Locations, Powel and Delaware, Ohio
  • Staff Size:  20
  • Shop Size:  4,500 and 7,000 square feet
  • Number of Lifts/Bays: 6 and 10
  • Average Monthly Car Count:  235 and 325
  • ARO: $550 and $600
  • Annual Revenue ($):2021 numbers:  $1.6 million and $2.4 million

Oxford Automotive operates with four core values: efficient habits, excellence, humility, and growth. 

When asked what’s behind the shop’s technician efficiency and productivity, both over 120 percent, that’s to what owner James Church points. 

In practice, that means regular testing of different processes. The shop times how long test drives take and how many times a car is raised during an inspection. The shop manager will do quick exercises with technicians, timing how long it takes them to grab one of the shop’s 10 most commonly used items. All in the name of perfecting the shop’s processes. 

But to achieve high efficiency and productivity, it can’t just be about reaching those goals at all cost. 

“That’s why we have three other core values,” Church says with a laugh. “It has to be a balance.”

Every shop owner has heard the warning signs of pushing an all-or-nothing KPI mindset, prioritizing numbers above all else. When done wrong it can allow an unhealthy culture to fester. For Church, he’s been able to avoid it because of his team, which has the humility he is looking for, combined with the drive to produce. And he’s leaned on his team in crafting new ideas. 

Among the unique ideas the shop has adopted is changing who writes repair orders. A valuable tip Church received from Shop Fix Academy is to have his technicians responsible for writing their own repair orders, not the service advisors. 

For Church’s shop, it has worked great. The techs are ones that know the inspection. They know the parts they need and they know what labor times are necessary and which are offbase. While skeptics might say it only increases the bandwidth of the techs, asking them to take on yet another job, Church has found it has actually helped make them more efficient. Because they are handling it themselves, fewer parts mixups occur.  Service advisors aren’t calling the techs up to the front of the shop to clarify an inspection that a tech did an hour ago, which by then is in the back of the techs mind because they’ve already looked at three other cars. 

“I know it sounds counterintuitive and we thought it may slow down our techs, but in reality they’ve been zipping through jobs,” Church says. “It has helped compartmentalize everything.”

Advisors then have more time to help source parts, a necessary role, especially in the last year. They also have more time to keep customers updated, which they do twice a day. It also relaxes them and has helped them sell better. 

Church isn’t just letting the technicians write their own checks. Advisors will still spot check ROs. But it does require a trust in his staff. For that reason, it may not work for everyone. But it has worked for Oxford. 

The shop also uses a flat rate pay system, which has been pivotal. That helped the buy-in for technicians writing their own ROs, because the added work on the front-end was going to be rewarded with a more efficient back-end process. All the techs know each other’s numbers. That has helped push two core values: humility and growth. Church again admits it's not for everyone, but for his shop it’s been a healthy motivator. It’s also something that needs to be monitored in order to avoid sloppiness. 

Church’s Top Tips

  • Consider out-of-the-box ideas, like technicians writing ROs
  • Push technicians to walk up and ask for more work
  • Cultivate an environment that is both competitive and giving
  • Keep a clean and organized shop
  • Assign each service advisor to a team of technicians

Other strategies that have helped Oxford Automotive include assigning each of its service advisors several techs that they work with exclusively. It’s helped scheduling and eliminated confusion on which tech is working on what. 

He also encourages techs to walk up to the front to ask for more work.  “There’s no replacement for a tech being out of work and him physically walking up front and asking for more work.,” he says. 

Too often advisors see their workflow board as gospel, Church says. They may look down and think the techs are slammed while the techs sit in the back looking for more work. Church recommends encouraging techs to physically walk up and ask for more work when they want it. 

Church also tries as hard as possible to make sure a repeat customer always has the same tech working on the vehicle, which they track in their shop management system. While it requires more scheduling up front, the knowledge of having worked on the car before has led to greater efficiencies later in the process. 

Church’s ideas have been reinforced because he has two locations that are very different. The original shop is out on a country road while his second shop is in the middle of a busy suburb. The median income difference is about $75,000 and getting parts is a bigger challenge for the country store. However, efficiency and productivity numbers are nearly the same between the two locations. 

Evan’s Auto Care: Find your Shop Foreman

Shop Name: Evan's Auto Care

  • Owner(s): Evan Brodof
  • Location (city, state): Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Staff Size: 12
  • Shop Size: 4000 square feet
  • Number of Lifts/Bays: 8/8
  • Average Monthly Car Count: 240
  • ARO: $850
  • Annual Revenue: $2.5 million

The success of Evan’s Auto Care is a result of tailoring the business around its personnel, not forcing its personnel to fit in predetermined job descriptions. 

From the top of the organization on down, each employee’s role is crafted to fit their strengths, a process that helps inform the type of people they hire. And once they are in the building, Brodof spends more time identifying the strengths of every team member. 

One service advisor just writes estimates. One service advisor makes and takes almost all the phone calls. Another service advisor is fantastic at selling work, so that takes up a majority of his role. Another service advisor is really good with parts, so he handles the ordering and management. 

“I want them to do what they do the best. To make them do it all is very difficult,” owner Evan Brodof says. 

In these molded roles, the shop has found success, with a technician efficiency above 160 percent, as each employee’s focus has narrowed to what they do well. The same can be said for the shop’s foreman, Sean, who Brodof says powers the whole operation. 

Formerly the shop’s top-producing technician, Brodof moved him into the shop foreman role. Brodof was nervous at first, moving his best tech into a role where he wouldn’t be getting paid for the work he does, but it has been one of the best decisions he’s made. 

Seanis fully in charge of the techs. He schedules all the work out to the techs after the initial DVI is completed. The sole purpose of his job is to make sure the technicians have what they need and are doing what they are supposed to do. He’s there to help them through any roadblocks and keep them in line, when needed. 

He receives a salary and then is paid a bonus every month based on how all the technicians performed against certain KPIs. Similarly, technicians are paid hourly plus overtime pay based on the amount of hours they bill over the expected 40 hours.

“He’s risen to the occasion, and I would recommend exactly what I’m doing,” Brodof says. “It’s been a night-and-day difference.”

In this scenario, not only are technicians motivated to do more work, the shop foreman directly benefits from it, creating an atmosphere that is collaborative. The foreman wants to see them succeed, as it’s in the best interest of both parties. It’s been a compromise to avoid any negative effects that a full flat-rate pay system could cause. 

In the same vein, Brodof has not allowed technology to dictate how the shop works. Instead of molding to fit the technology, Brodof did extensive research to find a shop management system and customer outreach tool that fit how the shop wanted to operate. He’s gone through several different systems to find the best fit. 

“You get used to a certain software program that you feel very comfortable with. You’ve done inspections on a piece of paper because it’s comfortable. Taking the chance on something that might work better is daunting, but trying something else made a big difference for us.”

Brodof also credits the shop’s communication for its strong efficiency and productivity. The shop uses Google Chat to stay on the same page. There is a managers-only chat room that is used constantly throughout the day to make sure the shop, as a whole, is staying on track. All the advisors use it to talk to one another and they also use it to post when parts have arrived. 

Brodof’s Top Tips

  • Establish a shop foreman, structure his pay based on the performance of the team
  • Curate your shop’s roles to fit its employees, not the other way around
  • Don’t get comfortable with the technology you have
  • Prioritize an easy way for the back and front of the shop to communicate. Google Chat, Slack or Messenger are good options.

Dupont's Service Center: Emphasize Culture

Shop Name: Dupont's Service Center

  1. Owner(s): Dave Dupont
  2. Location (city, state): Dover, NH
  3. Staff Size:   15
  4. Shop Size (in square feet): 9,000 square feet
  5. Number of Lifts/Bays: 9 bay. 8 lifts
  6. Average Monthly Car Count: 626
  7. Annual Revenue: $3 million

Dupont’s Service Center defies a lot of the conventional wisdom on how a modern repair shop “should” operate for efficiency. Owner Dave Dupont does not believe in flat rate. Technicians are paid hourly. The shop isn’t full of young techs. In fact, it seeks out older techs who have been around the block a few times and are looking for a different pace. 

Yet, the 9,000 square foot facility generated $3 million in revenue in 2021 with a technician efficiency above 140 percent. 

Instead, Dupont believes the strong numbers are a product of the shop’s culture. He practices Hansei, a tenet of Japanese culture that preaches continuous improvement. That idea serves as a goal for the entire staff: Always look to be constantly improving. 

In that vein, Dupont is a big advocate for training. An Elite member, Dupont and his team have received plenty of education. Technicians undergo technician time management training, and Dupont has regular coaching sessions from the company. 

“It doesn’t have to be difficult,” Dupont says of increasing efficiency. 

Dupont recommends regular KPI checks. In shops he’s visited, that is an easy step that is often overlooked. The shop tracks all of its technicians closely and Dupont gives each of them reports at the end of the week. It gets both him and the techs thinking about their performance. 

In making things easy, the shop follows carefully crafted procedures. But they aren’t extensive. 

“Shops will come in with these big spreadsheets and all these formulas. Keep it simple. Always learn and be willing to change,” he says. 

Another pillar of the shop’s success is the implementation of some of Toyota’s lean principles. The shop doesn’t adopt all the manufacturer’s suggestions like daily lean meetings, but it does try to embody the mindset of eliminating waste. Keying in on the small details to avoid parts mix-ups and other delays to workflow. 

The shop’s managers go through lean planning. Service advisors follow a rule that if they answer the phone or make in-person appointments with a client, that car stays with the advisor throughout. Like Oxford Automotive, the service advisors have a group of technicians assigned to a service advisor to minimize confusion and overlap. 

“We try to eliminate as many variables as possible,” Dupont says. 

Above all else, the culture is what Dupont credits most. If the shop has a strong culture, efficiency will likely follow. The pay plan, scheduling system, and shop technology won’t matter if a shop has a bad culture. Similarly, a strong culture will elevate mediocre processes. 

Dupont’s Top Tips

  • Keep processes simple
  • Be committed to tracking
  • Invest in technician time management training
  • If you’re not a flat rate shop, implement a bonus system

Picking a pay plan

One of the most contentious and split debates in the industry is what the ideal technician pay plan is. 

According to the 2021 Ratchet+Wrench Industry Survey, 25 percent of shops follow a flat rate system, 37 percent use just a salary or hourly plan, and 25 percent use a salary or hourly rate plus commission. The remaining 13 percent chose “other,” with most explaining they use several different pay plans for different technicians. 

But is one best for efficiency and productivity? 

When filtered for shops that have an efficiency above 120 percent, over 50 percent of those shops operated with some sort of flat rate pay. Over a third of those respondents used an hourly or salary plus commission system. Just over five percent used just an hourly or salary pay with no bonuses. 

All three of the shop’s featured in the article today have different pay plans. Oxford Automotive uses a standard flat rate system. Evan’s Auto Care uses hourly plus commission and Dupont’s uses a salary plus bonus system. 

That shows that there are several different options that can produce highly efficient and productive shops. However, the data points to very little success for shops that operate without any performance-based incentive. 

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