I got up early this morning so I would be ready for a friend to pick me up and take me for a tour of North Hills and the North-West San Fernando Valley to get a first-hand look at the Industry no one wants to acknowledge.
My “guide” was exceptionally qualified. For the last five years, he’s been selling automotive information and shop management software, which means he’s been in and out of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of shops. What made him even more valuable as a guide was the more than 35 years he spent as a technician and former shop owner.
My goal was to take a long, hard look at the industry that exists beyond the boundaries of each of our shops. With a population of just over 1.5 million people and over 1,200 shops legally registered to perform automotive repair in his territory alone, this was going to be a pretty good start.
To say that what we experienced even remotely resembled anything “homogeneous” would be absurd. We started the day in heaven and for the most part ended it in hell!
We started in an independent shop posting a $158 labor rate per hour and ended it with shops posting less than half that!
That first shop was staffed with ASE-master technicians with their advanced diagnostics credentials, every piece of equipment was state of the art and as, you can imagine, it was operating theater. The second shop we visited was just as clean and appeared just as professional.
I was encouraged; this was going to be a great day! The Industry as it should be––as it needs to be!
But, my euphoria didn’t last very long.
The next shop was facing the street on a major, north/south thoroughfare: three bays, two lifts that I could make out and too many vehicles in various states of disrepair. It was a one-man operation with a young owner less than five miles south of the first shop we visited and a labor rate half as tall.
When I asked how he could justify leaving that much money on the table, he said he’d rather have cars in the shop than post a labor rate that far above his competitors. But, he then went on to tell me how violent his workflow could shift and how tired he was of being in the shop until all hours of the night.
From there it was off to an automotive strip mall with more than a dozen one- and two-bay operations, none posting a labor rate higher than $75 per hour. The majority had little or none of the equipment needed to inspect, test or repair any vehicle that had been built after 1980!
There were a couple of shops that were trying, a couple that almost intuitively knew there had to be a better way. They weren’t tier 1 shops, but they were nothing like the tier 4 and 5 shops we had just walked out of.
I’m not going to lie. I saw the shadow of a former self in those shops, the few who intuitively knew there had to be a better way. I remembered what that felt like, and thought to myself, “Who is there to help them? Who realizes that by helping them, you ultimately help yourself and everyone else in the industry?”
I spent all day telling these shop owners there is a better way and lots of help available. But, I’m only one person and it’s going to take a lot more than one person to make this happen.
So, here’s my challenge: If you are in an association, ask yourself what you are doing to reach out to shop owners like the ones I met today. Isn’t that what our associations are supposed to be doing to grow?
Is it realistic to expect any of these shop owners to magically awaken from the stark reality they face every day looking for their nearest association office? Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to reach out to them?
I spent the day looking for the industry we choose not to acknowledge and I didn’t have to look far. In all honesty, I could have found it around the corner from my old shop. It’s there, I knew it and I tried to help when I could.
But, my curse is foresight. I see the future and I see clearly what it will be like if those of us who have managed to overcome our fears and insecurities to build something that goes beyond average, fail to reach out to those who struggle.
And, I can see what it could look like if we do.