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  • How's Your Profit Leverage?
    Business Editor Tom Langer discusses how it’s important to realize that there are “levers” you control regarding profitability. To make more money, improve and target marketing, increase customer service/satisfaction, improve throughput, improve your team, and increase capacity for work. To keep more of the money you make, there is only one answer, controlling expenses.
  • The 6 Rules of Maximizing Customer Retention
    Rule #1. Provide consistency in the experience. Popular companies such as McDonald's, Starbucks and Nordstrom all understand the importance of consistency in service. With any of these companies, before you step into their stores you already have an expectation of what the experience will be. The top shops understand this rule, and that is why they have clearly defined procedures for everything they do, from handling the first-time caller, through car delivery. When customers feel there is no consistency in service, they will typically look for an alternative service provider. 
  • Customer Followup
    “Most shops do not stay in touch with their customers,” laments Bob Depontes, Management Consultant. Yet, there is a ton of potential in keeping in touch with your customers. You can demonstrate your concern by contacting them about the experience they had on their last visit.
  • Run, Hide, FIGHT - Workplace Violence; Don’t be a Statistic
    What happens when conflict arises in your workplace? Is it addressed, or brushed under the rug? Violence is on the rise; shop owners and employees need to be trained to identify triggers, signs and symptoms in order to avoid any potential outbursts. Protecting your staff and customers should be your priority.
  • Reman U: Keep Your Customer Service
    A couple of weeks ago, my furnace kicked off sometime in the middle of the night. In the morning, it was cold. Really cold. And I have a baby. We solicited the advice of friends and family, tried those little tricks you should try, and then began the calls to see how soon someone could get to our house to help a stressed family out.
  • DRIVE YOUR SHOP TO SUCCESS - The Key to Performance Indicators
    It’s a beautiful sunny Florida morning and I am on my way to Tampa on a training mission. Everything is going perfectly. I know it is because the onboard navigation system shows me southbound on I-75 at 73mph with 320 miles to go.

    The engine temperature and oil pressure look perfect. The charging system is humming along. There are no warnings and no check–engine lights. I can relax because I know everything is going according to plan. Sounds great, right?

  • The Great Training Gulf is Costing You $$$$$

    A lot of articles about training tend to be fairly dry recitals about developing plans and issues with employees. When I was handed this assignment, I was determined to break the mold. So, in this article, although we will look at the employees, we’ll also be looking at your role in all of this. Please read on while I explain.

  • Are You A Shop Owner Suffering From Burnout?
    Over the years I have met hundreds, if not thousands, of shop owners who are suffering from burnout. They either tell me they have it, or it clearly shows in their behavior. Ironically, dealing with burnout is no different than fixing cars, in that in order to accurately solve the problem, we have to first identify the cause.
  • You Can’t Take Percentages to the Bank
    Far too many shop owners are so determined to make a certain percentage of gross profit on each job, that they lose sight of profitability, as well as customer service. I’m talking about the people who judge their success by percentages rather than dollars. These are the shop owners that are so busy trying to squeeze every last penny out of every job that they forget about the dollars being lost at the same time. Sure, your technicians can take that transmission apart and rebuild it, but with rare exception, most shop owners will install a replacement, right?
  • Employee Benefits 2019 – A REALLY Brave New World!
    What’s new in employee benefits for shops? Business Editor Tom Langer talks about the evolving scope and scale of employee benefits and incentives. Does your shop offer what it takes to attract and keep the types of employees you desire?
  • Attracting Talent
    Management Consultant columnist Bob Depontes follows up with his thoughts on what it takes to attract the right talent for your shop. Today, shop owners have to think and act like a trained Talent Acquisition Manager in order to achieve the results they desire.
  • Fire Your Center Manager
    I know that’s a strong title, and an unfair one without qualification. I promise I’ll explain in detail just after I tell you about my last trip to Chicago.
    My wife and I took our two older daughters to Chicago for two nights of fun in the city. We interacted with the trendiest brands – we stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, dined at RPM, took spin classes at SoulCycle, and went to see Hamilton. And fun it was!
  • Reaping the Rewards of Loyalty
    I recently saw a commercial by my cell phone service provider advertising a rate that was half of what I pay, but it was for new customers only. That got me to thinking, where is the appreciation for loyal customers? Your shop likely has a customer base that you depend on for regular business. They tend to be the type of people you want to do business with. Your customer base is an untapped resource full of potential new business and customers.
  • Are My Employees or Kids Using Drugs? What Next?
    Last month we took a look at how the use of drugs has spread across our country at an alarming rate. As you will recall, it makes no difference where you live. You might be located in a rural area, big city, an affluent neighborhood, whatever. The scourge that is drugs is attacking all levels of society, every income level and occupation.
  • A National Plague May Already be in Your Shop!
    Before we launch into our article for this month - in which I promise you will learn much - I would like to do something a little out of order. As many of you know, Jim Wilder, who edited this magazine, recently retired. I wanted to say just a few words to thank him for all he has meant to me.
  • Your Management Consultant - The Leader of the Pack
    Leadership is essential for any organization to be successful. The leader exercises influence and communicates shared goals, creating a single vision that everyone drives toward as a unified team.
  • Put More Money in YOUR Pocket this Year!
    Anyone who has been watching the stock markets, bond rates, yield curves and the rest is likely wondering a bit about how 2019 is likely to go economically. A couple of months ago we did discuss the year ahead of forecasts along with bits about making more money. 
  • Reman U: Business Branding – Memorability
    Our name is on a lot of stuff: stickers, hats, shirts, lanyards and, of course, pens. It’s also on some pretty niche stuff: Klement’s beef snack sticks (“Nice to Meat You”), VIN decoding mouse pads, beer mugs, bobble heads – and we come up with new, interesting stuff to brand all the time, partly because our favorite customers, vendors, and even our own employees really like cool, new stuff. Who doesn’t?
  • Shop Management: Energize Your Team
    What is the reason you go to work every day? Are you just going through the motions or do you want to be the best at what you do? Many shop owners are just trying to survive the day. It’s our responsibility to lead our team and it all starts with our attitude. We must be engaged and driven. A recent Gallup Poll showed that just 34% of U.S. workers are engaged.
  • Your Management Consultant: Look – A Squirrel!
    Life as a shop owner or manager can be very demanding. We face a constant barrage of distractions. Think about a typical day. A tech needs a minute to show you some marginal ball joints and then an equipment representative needs just five minutes to pitch you something that is the latest and greatest. Next, is your service adviser asking if it’s OK to take an out-of-town check from one of our best customers’ brother? Suddenly you hear a gut-wrenching crash in the shop. It turns out to be nothing after all but it sounded awful. Being the reactive problem solver is like a drug. It makes you feel good in the moment. The long-term effect is we spend all of our time in this mode and almost no time in the proactive mode of eliminating these distractions so we can plan the future and work on our business in the right way.
  • Management Matters: Where & How You Work Can Affect Your Health
    You all asked for it! It started with what should have been a simple note. It was from a reader who wondered what impact the various chemicals in the shop had on a tech’s personal health. Having just completed an overview for a local newsletter regarding the value of organic vegetables and the impact of food chemicals one would think I would have been warned. But not me.
  • Social Media Marketing The new ‘word of mouth’
    The best type of marketing has always been word of mouth. If a friend recommends a business to me, I am all ears because my friend has credibility. They know me and they have no ulterior motive. Think of social media as a place where people hang out and chat. It is the online equivalent of a group of neighbors congregating at the end of your driveway on a Saturday afternoon. It is that simple. We all have busy lives and that sometimes means we don’t have as much time for actual visiting, but we do have time to stay in touch on social media.
  • Buying Property for a New or Added Shop Without Tears!
    A real life story. In 1997 I considered the purchase of a commercial building to house my businesses. To make it doable, I was looking at a large building in partnership with another business owner who had a towing and RV business. It was a perfect match.
  • Is Flat Rate Flat Wrong? How to pay your technicians
    Our shops run like they do for many reasons. The culture we have developed, our policies and procedures, and the way we pay our technicians. Chances are the pay plan you are using was decided long ago. It’s easy to decide on something and then forget about it. It may be time to take another look at how you currently pay your technicians. What factors caused you to choose flat rate or an hourly pay plan?
  • What’s an Ergonomic???

    Ergonomics: The study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. Oxford Dictionary

    Modern definition ergonomics: Fitting a job to the employee rather than the employee to the job.

  • Culture of Success
    How to achieve ‘GREAT’ culture at your shop!
    It was the winter of 1989. I had just graduated from tire-store manager school. My first assignment was the company’s worst store. This particular store had been bought and sold many times by different outfits over the years. The building was set back between two other businesses, making it almost impossible to see from the street. When I first walked in the door, an air of gloom grabbed my attention. There I was, full of enthusiasm for my first management assignment, drowning in negativity. I did not know anything about culture at the time but my new store had a culture of defeat.

  • A Shop Owner’s Guide to Handling the Most Difficult Phone Shoppers
    Today’s consumers have more choices than ever before. When it comes to choosing someone to take care of their automotive needs, they turn to their friends, family and co-workers for recommendations, they consider brands that they have heard of, and they search the web as well. Once they have a shop in mind, they may then either reach out over the web or stop by your shop, but the majority of your potential customers will pick up the phone and give you a call.
  • Lose 200 Pounds Painlessly Without Dieting (said no one ever)
    This month was supposed to be a completely different subject in this column. But, as I often do, I looked through the questions coming my way, comments by shops, the most immediate need for all of the readers and more. So, I bailed on the original and am going to tackle a very tricky, often unpleasant and personal issue. Weight and exercise are on the docket this month.
  • Your Management Consultant: TUNE-UP Your Team!
    There is a classic business cliché that has been around for a while. “What if we train them and they leave?” This is countered with, “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”
  • Are You Asking the Right Questions to Prevent Comebacks?
    Great communication is what can set your shop above the rest. We have seen the customer that shows up at a repair shop and asks for a transmission service or an alignment. After the customer picks up the car, they quickly return to report that the car still has a delayed first-to-second gear shift or the vibration at 55 mph is a bad as it was! Some service writers just take orders from customers. Effective service advisers fully evaluate the customer’s needs and give them the best possible advice based on all the information available. The difference between the two can be the difference between success and failure for your repair shop.
  • Who, Me? High Performance & Collector Vehicles?
    Should you be working on collector and high-performance vehicles? Well, the answer is a qualified yes! Here’s why...
  • Your Management Consultant - What’s Your Brand?
    Branding has been around for a very long time. Ancient Egyptians are thought to have invented branding as early as 2700 BC. The purpose was to differentiate their cattle from others. Modern businesses use branding for the same purpose, to differentiate their products from others. Effective branding creates equity and adds value, so that you compete on that value and not on price. This value also creates emotional attachment with your ideal customer. When your customers feel like this, they will drive past countless other shops on their way to your shop because you have built a brand that they trust.
  • Management Matters - Hiring Without Tears (and Hopefully Lawsuits)!
    About 11% to 12% of smaller businesses face a discrimination lawsuit every year based on a limited number of reports. According to studies, some states are worse than others for the employers. But you must assume you are at risk. That alone should make a few minutes with this article valuable.
  • Management Matters: Caught You!
    According to the National Federation of Independent Business, some 30% of employees may well be stealing from you today. They go on to say this number increases if an employee is given the motive and opportunity. Using some data provided by the 2017 study by Hiscox, the dollars are not small. One employee could be stealing thousands right off your bottom line. In the next few minutes we’ll take a look at the issue, who tends to be responsible and strategies to deal with the problem.
  • How Effective Is Your Labor Rate? Do customers care?
    The automotive repair industry has evolved so much. Years ago, it was a simple trade that was fairly straight forward. Today, we are involved in a technological profession that is becoming more complex and demanding every day. The equipment, technology and tooling required for a modern shop are far more expensive than ever before. Shop owners and managers will tell you that keeping up with the demand can be all but impossible.
  • Cut Costs for Greater Profits
    Last month we launched a short series on ideas to make 2018 the most profitable year ever for you and your shop. Today we focus on cutting costs. I will admit that some of these may come under the heading of “Duh.” However, if you are like me, being reminded once in a while and pausing to consider the idea may just open new profit avenues for you.
  • Management Matters: You and the Boxer! Profit & Loss
    Back in the day I fashioned myself as an amateur heavyweight boxer. Bad move. I was only training a couple of evenings a week and I was terrible! As long as I could get a guy to the ropes and hold him there I was OK. Running around the ring was not my strength.
  • Collective Action Is the Answer
    If you have been around the transportation industry for any length of time, the phrase “technician shortage” has to be a familiar one. Other than a brief respite during the Great Recession from 2008 into 2009, this has been the most talked about issue in the industry, bar none. And “talked about” is a generous term. A more apt description might be “talked to death.”
  • Four Interviewing Tips to Help You Hire Superstar Techs
    We all know it’s getting harder and harder to find the superstar techs, but finding those stars is just the beginning. Once found, you need to interview them like a seasoned pro. Here are some interviewing tips that we share with our Elite Coaching clients:
  • Thinking Retirement: Management Matters
    Business Editor Tom Langer looks at retirement planning that you may not be familiar with.
  • Save Money & Understand Your GK and Liability Policies
    Business Editor Tom Langer explains why shops should review their garage-keepers and liability insurance.
  • Management Matters - Mentoring for Profits
    Unless you have an unending number of amazing technicians wandering in your shop looking for work, and who want to work for you, this article is very important to your future and that of our industry! It’s all about how you can improve your current talent pool while providing specific career paths, recruiting and growth opportunities for the techs in your shop. And, it is that group who will in great part determine your profitability, customer satisfaction, value of your shop some day when you want out and, simply, your stress and enjoyment levels.
  • A Peak into the Future of Auto Repair
    To this day I remember the headlines and photos in Mechanics Illustrated showing cars that rocketed throughout space from one space port to the next. Then there were the cars that would turn magically into airplanes or boats. Thanks to the Amphicar, at least one came to be!
    Go forward in time. I am in a high school class of an English teacher who was a science fiction fanatic. At the same time, I think he had a bit of concern that the world would one day be at the hands of tyrant leaders. We read books like 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and others. As one looks around today, seems too much of all this has come true!
  • How About Some Money for Your Business?
    Borrowing money is as American as apple pie, it seems. Nowhere is this truer than for our business needs. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the key terms, loan designs, borrowing options and more.
  • The Future of Health Insurance Legislation
    Part of this article has been on my computer for the past five months. Every time I sat in front of the computer something happened to derail the latest version of the health and insurance program proposed by President Trump and the House of Representatives. While I am no longer going to stake my future on the exact plan design, there are some basic provisions that seem to show up in every design discussed to date. And though the House bill just passed, its future in the Senate as it exists is likely troubled. The reason is that there are provisions that make some lawmakers nervous. So, that you might have a better idea of what seems to be evolving, we’ll take a few minutes and discuss what’s on the table as of this writing.
  • Lessons from Large Companies
    What does General Electric, Ford Motor Co., Westinghouse and Bosch have in common with us in our shops? They have exactly the same challenges and issues we do, only a lot more of them and likely many more years to learn.
  • More Money, More Time, High Productivity!
    Would you like a shop that makes more money, has more productive techs, with techs who are more committed than ever to the shop and their fellow techs? How about lowering your worker’s comp premium or just simply making your shop a better place to live and you and your employees happier? If any of this appeals to you, please take a few minutes and read on!
  • Marketing to Generations: Part Dieu – Boomers
    Last month we discussed marketing to millennials. As you recall, we found that millennials are a huge population segment that is moving to become our major source of business in short order. And, as you may remember, it was my conclusion that you ignore this group, and their different buying traits, at your own peril.
  • Marketing to Millennials IS Possible!
    “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” – Will Rogers
    What great words to begin this article. Simply put, if you are not adapting to the huge “Echo Boomers” of people born between in the early 1980s and the early ’00s, you are at risk of being run over. Or possibly scarier is that you may be setting up your kids for disaster, which as a dad is something none of us wishes to contemplate.
  • Forecast ‘Trumped’ by the Election
    This 2017 forecast is being rewritten for the fourth time. All changed a number of Tuesdays ago with the elections. Not only President-Elect Trump, but what took place in the Congress and the various state capitols was not only a surprise for many, but also has an impact on next year’s economic and shop outlook.
  • Management Matters: Absolute or Preference? It's Your Choice
    Every year I try to wrap up by sharing research and information relative to helping our readers learn something that might make their next year better. Well, after talking with a therapist friend at length this year, I believe I’ve developed a great theme for this year’s article.
  • Regulation Update: Understanding the Regulatory Environment
    There are two driving forces outside of our industry that have had the greatest effect on the direction it has taken the past 40 plus years. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) have both influenced the development of cleaner, more fuel efficient vehicles from the gas guzzlers of the ’60s and ’70s to today’s highly technical powertrains.
  • Management Matters: Already Feeling the Winter Doldrums?
    Here in the great state of Wisconsin, we already have snow and we’re changing oil in our snow blowers, checking the shovel inventory and buying the bags of salt. And, the winter race is on!
  • Management Matters: Too Small To Worry? Hardly!
    The attorney across the desk said we had three options when my grandfather died:
    1. Figure out how much money we owed for the shops, auto inventory and the rest in estate taxes and write a check. It wasn’t happening, there was not enough money.
  • Management Matters: Making Money On Performance

    This month we learn how to make money with high-performance services. After all, high-performance work is enjoyable as a rule, and we sure all like the vehicles. However, we can’t operate as charities for very long and keep our businesses afloat.

  • Management Matters: By The Book - To Share Numbers or Not
    Here’s the question: Does sharing profit-and-loss numbers with employees improve profitability and profits in a shop? This issue, which might seem simple on the surface, unearthed an absolute hornet’s nest of opinions ranging all over the board. People were adamant about their positions.
  • Management Matters: What’s a Co-op Marketing Program Have to Do with My Shop?
    After all of the years, I should know by now that Jim Wilder never hands out an easy assignment! So, initially I thought that there wasn’t much to say about co-op marketing for auto repair businesses.
  • Management Matters: Controlling the Cost Levers, Part 3
    So far we’ve looked at the levers for marketing and pricing. In this article we’ll tackle the third leg of the profit stool, costs. While many have said to me that there is no way to control costs. Insurance costs what it costs right along with parts and utilities. And one must be diligent about paying wages high enough to attract and keep great talent. Well, needless to say, if I agreed with this statement, I wouldn’t bother to write this article!
Undercar Digest serves automotive-repair facilities involved in undercar services that include brake, exhaust and chassis diagnostics and repairs. It also covers a variety of other repairs including drivability. In addition to shops, our readers include manufacturers, warehouse distributors and parts stores that serve them.

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