Bunch: Facing our Fears: The Future of Independent Auto Repair Shops

Nov. 29, 2023
It's time for auto repair shop owners to make sober decisions about the future of their businesses.

In a recent heart-to-heart conversation with an old friend from a small town near Colorado Springs, I was struck by a situation that resonates deeply with the current state of our industry. He shared how a local auto shop, which seemed to be thriving, abruptly closed its doors leaving behind nothing but a sign indicating an ugly and scary notice on the door that the state is possessing his property and will be up for auction due to unpaid taxes.

This unsettling tale serves as a reminder of the nature of our business and the critical importance of staying vigilant and adaptive in the face of economic and industry shifts. It begs the question: What is the future of independent auto repair shops in these turbulent times? Will more shops be closing their doors due to back taxes or their inability to attract, hire, train and retain talent?  Do you lose sleep at night thinking of being a shop owner for the next 10 years, or do the opportunities excite you?

The closure of this shop isn’t just an isolated incident; it’s a wake-up call for all of us in the industry. It underscores a hard truth: many shops, while outwardly successful, may be teetering on the brink due to underlying issues like financial mismanagement or failure to adapt to changing market dynamics. This is a moment for introspection. Are we as shop owners proactively preparing for future challenges, or are we at risk of being blindsided?

Today's economic landscape is riddled with uncertainties. Rising operational costs, changing consumer spending patterns and the shift towards more technologically advanced vehicles are reshaping our industry. To thrive, we must adapt. This means not just keeping our financial house in order but also understanding and anticipating the needs and expectations of our customers. The way forward involves more than competitive pricing; it’s about building trust and delivering value in every interaction. Every survey I read says that customers want more convenience, yet most shop owners and service advisors I talk to readily admit, that they are far from being the most convenient shop in town. Change or die, that is the bottom line.

We all know that the automotive industry is at a pivotal point with the advent of hybrids, electric vehicles (EVs) and Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS). The question we need to ask ourselves is, as independent shop owners, what are we doing about it? Are we investing in ongoing training for our technicians, updating our tools and equipment and staying abreast of the latest industry trends and developments? It's not just about fixing cars; it's about understanding and embracing the future of automotive technology.

The story of the closed shop also brings to light the importance of how we treat our employees. Are we creating a work environment where our staff feels valued, respected, and part of a larger mission? The future belongs to those who recognize that their team's well-being is as crucial as their bottom line. Investing in our people, from providing competitive compensation to offering training and growth opportunities, will be key in attracting and retaining top talent.

In my humble opinion, the future of the independent auto repair shop industry hinges on our ability to adapt, innovate and stay connected to the needs of our customers and our teams. We're at a crossroads where uncertainty and change will inevitably sideline some, while others will seize the opportunity to evolve and prosper. As we've seen throughout American history, from the Great Depression onward, those who are willing to embrace change and innovate are the ones who emerge stronger. Let's not shy away from the challenges ahead. Instead, let’s face them head-on, armed with the knowledge, skills, and resilience needed to navigate the ever-changing landscape of the auto repair industry.

There is one more thing I must bring up as we navigate this crossroads, our engagement with governmental policies, specifically the Right to Repair Act. Just getting back from AAPEX, we learned how important this battle is and our industry's survival and ability to thrive are closely tied to our access to essential vehicle repair and diagnostic information. The Right to Repair Act plays a pivotal role in ensuring independent shops like ours have equal footing in accessing this information, which is vital for servicing modern, technologically advanced vehicles. Without this access, we risk being marginalized by the manufacturers who control this critical data.

As shop owners, it’s also our responsibility to go beyond the walls of our businesses. It's imperative that we stay informed about the legislative landscape that affects our industry. We need to actively support policies like the Right to Repair Act, which safeguards our ability to compete, innovate, and provide the highest level of service to our customers. For more information and how you can support Right to Repair, go to autocare.org for more information. Our collective voices and actions can and will shape our future.

 I love hearing your thoughts and feedback, please email me at [email protected]

About the Author

Greg Bunch

Greg Bunch is the founder/CEO of Aspen Auto Clinic, a six-shop operation in Colorado, and the founder/CEO of Transformers Institute, a training, coaching, and consulting company for the auto repair industry.

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