Notes for the summerBy George Zeeks
Summer is the season for cookouts, fireworks, sweltering heat and busy days in the shop. We all know the reasons why the summer is one of the busiest times of the year. The extra precaution to make sure the car doesn’t break down on the drive to vacation, along with the extra load on the car from the heat. The almost constant running of the AC in some markets and heaven protect us if it isn’t blowing cold. Here is the question that I have for you out there in the auto shops. If we know that it is going to be busier, what have we done to predict what our staffing model will need to be to handle the load? I know that some of you out there feel that your current staff will handle the load just fine. They may have to work harder but they will make more so it will all work out. Let’s look at a couple of key areas and how we can measure them to make sure we are set for the summer.
Why don’t we start with review of last year? After all, it was a whole year ago and sometimes our memory can play tricks on us. Pull a service summary report or the actual ROs from each of the three big summer months and look at the number of oil changes you did last year during those periods. Your consumers know they need to get their oil changed, but they have a bit more “top of mind awareness” right before they take a trip. The pattern of when they come in and the speed they need from you for the service is also likely to change. In the Baltimore-Washington market we see a big increase in Saturday morning oil changes, and that can be a real problem if you are not staffed for it. The timing of the service is crucial if you want to help the customer get the other things done that the car needs. A great way to help supplement the staff without a permanent burden to your payroll is part-time staffing. Stop shaking your head. I have already heard what you’re thinking and if you believe they won’t do the job right, then you have a systems and training problem in your store. I used part-time staffing for almost 15 of my 20+ years and, as long as you train them properly, you can have great results. They can do the courtesy check with minimal training and with today’s modern flush machines, most employees can be trained without problems. Great sources of potential employees are the trade schools, such as UTI, Lincoln Technical Institute and community college automotive programs. You don’t want to put on a full-time tech and then let them go in the fall. The part-time employees have virtually no employee load since they are part-time, and you end up with a high labor margin off of their work. This all depends on whether you have trained them properly and have set the production standard that you need. Think about it – real hard.
While we are looking at last year, take a hard look at the number of AC services you did. Was it hard to get them all done? Did you have to turn away or reschedule some of them? Did some just go to another shop? If you don’t have the trained staff to handle that load, then look into AC training now for an additional member of your current staff. Make sure you have the inventory to satisfy the projected need. Your staff may have changed since last summer and you can’t afford to ask customers to wait for long. When people are hot they want to be cool, NOW! Finally, run your AC machine through some test cars to make sure that all is OK and we don’t start the season with equipment that needs service and miss an opportunity. Keep in mind that training in your shop should be an ongoing and constant thing. The more emphasis you place on knowledge and expertise, the better your shop culture will become. People that are good at their job want to work with others that are good, not some slaphappy, knuckle-dragging cretin. Have your techs take some time each week or month to demonstrate to the others some skill or “trick of the trade” that they have learned over the years. It will make them feel good, bond the crew tighter together and raise the knowledge level of the entire shop.
We only had time to touch on two things, and we all know there are tons of things that we could put in here. Look at the labor hour inventory that you will need to have to be able to handle your summer demand. If the phrase “labor hour inventory” sounds new to you, then you need to review it with your Coach. It simply means the number of hours that your staff can realistically turn on a given week. Then you need to compare that with the hours you turned last summer or the hours that you could have turned. Do your homework now so you can have your best summer ever. Remember, you don’t get the summer off from school anymore!!