Shop Owners Deliver 'Tough Love' Message to Manufacturers and Distributors

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Four highly successful independent shop owners delivered a “tough love” message to manufacturers and distributors recently at the Automotive Communications Council meeting.

The shop owners were Tom Ham of Auto Centric in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Gary Keyes, E&M Motors, Inc., Stuart, Fla.; Kay Wynter, Terry Wynter Auto Service Center, Ft. Myers, Fla.; and Jud Cook, Christian Brothers Automotive, Riverview, Fla.

For starters, all four owners agreed that seeing a “brand” on a NASCAR or NHRA car does not motivate them to buy that brand. “Race-tested means nothing” was the message. While they acknowledge that technicians like racing, they separate that interest from business.

Going a step further, the shop owners all agreed that consumers never request a particular brand. The owners and their technicians make the decision on a particular part.  Bluntly put, the owners said consumer promotions for the DIFM crowd are a waste of money.

All of the owners subscribe to multiple service dealer trade magazines – including Auto Service Professional -- to get their industry information. And they pass the publications along to their technicians. They also said they subscribe to at least one trade magazine e-newsletter.

When ordering parts, they use online ordering systems and any promotion must be part of the online system or they are not going to participate.

While all of the shops use OE parts, they agreed that these parts are only available for models of six years of age or newer. Everything older is 100% aftermarket.

When it comes to training, the shop owners want it brought to them. “Do not send a distributor with hats and free pizza. And, our techs see right through a sales pitch.” The shops all have a break room with a computer where their techs can access training on their own time. The shop owners want online training with hotlines that can be accessed by phone or video (Skype).

A wish-list of sorts for finding and hiring techs would be for schools to engage in “career-based education.” Two of the owners said they actively look for older techs who need less training.

Ham told the group that his company is primarily a luxury Asian brand specialist and they are an authorized Bosch specialist shop. The shop buys directly from a WD and buys OE parts through WorldPac.

Keyes’ shop also buys directly from a Federated WD. Interestingly, he buys OE parts through them, only buying from car dealers “a couple of times a year.” Keyes does buy from local jobbers, but since one jobber changed affiliation, he no longer buys from them.

Keyes was asked about hanging brand banners in his shop. He laughed and said he’s never hung up any and he gets about “100 per year.”

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