Seven years ago, Kevin Cook arrived in West Virginia to work for Straub Automotive, a dealership group that was increasing its volume. But, Cook, who was taking over as general manager, also noticed some initial growing pains.
Back then, the multi-store dealership group’s fixed operations featured inconsistencies throughout. For example, not every shop floor employee saw the merit in consistently performing multi-point vehicle inspections.
Cook and Straub’s fixed operations director, Rick Maine, eventually came up with an answer: They needed to standardize Straub’s operations through the creation of standard operating procedures, or SOPs. In short, they would create a simplified process, so that the dealership group could crosstrain its employees, ensuring that it had one set of operations across the board.
The results were eye opening.
“It was amazing what we were able to accomplish,” Cook recalls. “We took stores that were doing their best to get through seven or eight repair orders per day, to getting them to where they were doing 30.
“We’ve made some believers out of older car guys that didn’t think we could get these numbers out of these stores.”
Nowadays, Straub Automotive has five stores, and service department grosses have increased dramatically, reaching $100,000 per location in March 2018, for instance. The group’s Honda store produces over 800 service department ROs per month; its Hyundai store boasts a 98 percent CSI score.
“Once we got all the shops consistent,” Maine explains, “and everybody using the same playbook, we were able to get everybody on board.”
Below, the Straub Automotive group’s fixed ops leaders explain the keys to standardizing business operations through the creation of SOPs.
Simplicity is Key.
When creating an SOP, short, concise text featuring bullet points works best, in Maine’s experience. And, he typically tries to keep his written processes to less than 10 steps, because anything more in-depth than that often fails to hold a reader’s interest, he says.
Straub Automotive also strives for easy-to-follow SOPs so that it can closely adhere to compliance initiatives and minimize mistakes. SOPs that are concise—and updated periodically, perhaps annually—help guarantee that each customer gets a complete multi-point vehicle inspection, and quality measurements on brakes, for example.
Print Out SOPs.
While many of the West Virginia dealership group’s SOPs are produced digitally these days, Maine will still print out a written procedure on occasion, in an effort to hammer home a point. This has been especially helpful in recent months in the wake of air bag recalls, during which manufacturers are especially concerned with ensuring that specific repair processes are followed.
“We’ll reprint an SOP just as a quick reminder to our employees,” Maine says, “especially if we have to wrangle a few certain employees back into the process.”
Get Feedback from Employees.
Who better to help create an SOP than top-performing dealership employees? Maine often gets input from his veterans on the front line of the shop floor, or assistant managers, and has found their knowledge to be invaluable in helping Straub establish solid procedures.
“We almost interview employees,” he explains, “just to see what their best practices are. We ask them, How does this work best? How do you overcome objection? Walk me through your day-to-day process. … When I see something that’s working well and that’s easily adaptable, we’ll definitely take their input.”
Seek Input from District Managers.
Similarly, when creating SOPs, Maine seeks the advice of colleagues who visit numerous dealerships as part of their job role: district managers.
“District managers,” Maine says, “see best practices all over the country. So I try to have a good working relationship with them and pick their brain.
“As cars change, our processes are going to change. But, I think the meat of a process is going to stay the same—you just tweak it around technology as the times change … and tweak it around your day-to-day operations.”
The way Straub’s leaders see things, a dealership can establish all the procedures it wants, but if employees aren’t demanded to adhere to them, those SOPs are worthless. That’s why the dealership group requires service writers, for instance, to report to their bosses on a daily basis, pointing out touchpoint items like changes in customer satisfaction scores, or hours per RO.
“The way to make sure you don’t have problems,” Cook says with regard to procedures, is staying “constantly in contact with your service writers, and constantly communicating with them—just little reminders.
“That normally keeps everyone on track … to make sure that we’re following the process correctly.”