Hiring specialists to manage any area of the production pipeline inevitably leads to restricting it, creating unnecessary costs, and stalling growth.

by David Rogers

Is the pipeline to your shop flowing?
This production pipeline is what carries customers, vehicles, repair orders, and money into your shop. Keeping this pipeline wide open and flowing is critical for growing your business. But what is this pipeline, and more importantly, how can you keep it flowing, even when sections of it are constantly changing?

Imagine a pipeline that runs from your community to the front counter at your shop. It flows from customer check-in, back into the bays for inspection and write-up, and to the front again where the customer is advised. Finally, it flows back to the technician for repair, to the advisor for sign-out, and out the door back into the community.

Getting this pipeline to flow without any restrictions is the key to growth. Techs bill more hours, the shop services more vehicles, customers get better service, and the effectiveness of your marketing budget is maximized.

But there’s a recent trend across the automotive industry that has been creating bottlenecks in this critical pipeline.

What happens if you have a three-foot diameter pipe running into your shop, but then it narrows to a two-inch diameter pipe during one of the many twists and turns it takes? Your entire pipeline can only flow as fast as your biggest bottleneck allows it to flow.

This is why we need to talk about some dangerous, production-killing ideas that seem like conventional wisdom.

Case in point, it has never been easier to strap together solutions to address every area of the shop. The point of sale system doesn’t have a digital vehicle inspection? Just subscribe to one and tack it on! Is that same setup missing a marketing solution? Strap that on, too!

This way of operating is a win for everybody…except the shop owner and their loyal team who get to shoulder all this burden together. The problem with taped-together systems like this is that they always create bottlenecks in the production pipeline because each of these add-on systems demands specialized employees — using specialized equipment to operate them.

The makers of the original point-of-sale system didn’t understand production or efficiency, so they built it without the major components needed to run a shop. This has created an industry of add-on tools and solutions (that you get to pay extra for) that also don’t understand your production or efficiency.

These pieces and parts and fragments of ideas don’t ultimately add up to a complete solution. Instead of picturing a rocket ship that will take your shop to the stars, picture a tech who needs three computer screens in order to inspect and write up a vehicle. Instead of blazing-fast production, picture service writers spending extra minutes — that add up to extra hours…on tasks that should take seconds.

Here’s the hard truth: conventional wisdom hasn’t created a new era of record sales and production; it’s recreated the dealership model. Hiring specialists to manage parts or estimates or any area of the production pipeline inevitably leads to squeezing down work, restricting the pipeline, creating unnecessary costs, and stalling growth.

This is a dangerous position for shops to be in. It already costs twice as much to do anything compared to a year or two ago. Inflation means that there’s a good chance your costs are rising as fast as or faster than your sales. Is it really a good idea to introduce additional overhead and inefficiencies on top of that?

This can feel like an unwinnable situation, I know. If it seems like everyone else is doing these things, could it really be that bad?

That’s a big question. If you buy the same software…and settle for the same inefficiencies…and paint your shop the same colors…and send the same advertising…and follow the same “rules,” you can just about guarantee you’ll wind up in the middle — like most everybody else.

But what if you’re different? 
What if you got into this business to provide a better alternative to the dealerships and chain stores? What if you have a better warranty and do better inspections and deliver the kind of over-the-top customer service you always wished that other shops had?

You don’t want to look and act like everybody else. You should set yourself apart!

If it wasn’t already clear, a lot of the conventional wisdom in this industry leads to a production pipeline full of bottlenecks. Not only during the repair, with all the inefficiencies introduced through outdated, strapped together solutions — but also before and after the repair as well.

The easy solution says to paint your shop the same color, send the same marketing, use the same website company, look the same, and act the same as everywhere else. After all, it’s what most shops are doing, so how wrong could it be?

This thinking might create the biggest bottleneck in your production pipeline. Because failing to set yourself apart from the competition gives potential customers no way to tell you apart from any other place they can bring their car. And that means you’ve restricted customers from ever entering your pipeline to begin with.

There’s good news: you don’t have to follow the conventional wisdom. You’re not obligated to buy the same antiquated systems and inefficient processes and ineffective marketing.

You can choose to set yourself apart.
It starts with really examining your production pipeline and being honest with yourself. Does your pipeline get squeezed down by inefficient processes and personnel? Does your marketing make you indistinguishable from your competition? These are hard realizations to come to, and the process of ripping out these inefficiencies won’t be easy.

But nothing could be more important…or more worthwhile. When your production pipeline is free of inefficiencies, your shop will attract higher-quality customers, your techs will bill more hours, and your advisors will confidently educate customers to make the right decisions.

In short, you’ll create the success your shop deserves!

As published in Motor Age Magazine