Going Out For Business

The vocation of an automotive repair person is one of those
trades where you might find you have the knack for it at a young
age, or you might be one of those people who have the ambition
and drive to learn this trade by attending a trade school or on
the job.  Even though you might know a lot about what you’re
doing today, there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it all, and
more than likely you will encounter something new and different
tomorrow.  This is definitely not one of those trades where you
learn a couple of procedures and they remain the same for a
lifetime. It’s an always changing and always improving career.
To stay current with the latest innovations and techniques,
today’s mechanic spends a lot of time reading, studying, and
learning those latest improvements. Without it, there’s not much
chance of making it as a professional mechanic.

From time to time, I hear about shops closing up, or mechanics selling their tools and thinking about going into a different line of work.  With a national shortage of qualified technicians out there, how is this possible that shops and mechanics are calling it quits? Are they getting tired of the constant negativity from misinformed customers?  Could it be that today’s cars don’t break down as often? Perhaps they broke their only ½ inch socket and can’t find a replacement. Maybe it’s just time for certain individuals to move on, or it might be retirement that’s on the agenda. Maybe it’s health or family issues, divorces, or partnership breakups. All of which are a possibility, but I think there is one more thing that is an even bigger part of the problem…. Training.

Recently a shop not too far away shut their doors for good.  This particular shop had been around for a long, long time.  But, their quality of service had dwindled to a very noticeable and unsatisfactory level over the past few years.  They were still doing A/C work without a recovery machine (no section 609 either), and no scanners or code readers. How they got by with that for as long as they did is beyond me. Neither the owner, nor the guys he hired wanted to learn anything new.  They wanted to keep on doing what they’ve been doing for the last couple of decades, and only work on cars from those eras… and nothing more.

Obviously, those types of cars are few and far between these days, but there still out there, and yes, a few shops and technicians have managed to make it a viable market for them, but seriously... there’s not enough of that type of work out there to sustain more than a few shops in a given area.  So, what should a mechanic or shop do?  I’d say it’s time to step up to the world of electronics, internet, and the sophisticated automobile.  Today’s cars are not what they used to be, and the technical knowhow of the modern mechanic has far exceeded anything that I could have even dreamt of even 10 years ago. Yes, that's right, the stereotypical mechanic of the past has left the building. Today it’s a whole lot different.  Now it’s college educated, or trade school graduate, or a lot of off hours training that makes a good tech, and it requires a highly skilled craftsman to make the repairs. But, along with good training, good equipment, and a good attitude today’s shops and mechanics alike spend plenty time getting the word out to those potential customers. Using what else? The internet, from social media pages to videos, to instructional lessons and chat groups they’re getting the word out… they’re going out for business.

Mind you, there are still a lot of throwback customers and mechanics out there who believe the world of automotive repair should consist of a dingy, dimly lit small shop with grease covered floors, and a mechanic who still carries his grease rag in his back pocket.  (No offense to those who still do.)  Some of these customers and mechanics haven’t figured out that computers have taken over everything yet.  They’re about 40 years off of today’s pace.  Today’s modern shop is clean, well kept, and anything but those early dirt floor shops. That’s not to say you won’t find a small older shop with a few rough edges here and there that has all the same modern technical information, and a mechanic that knows how to use it all just like the large volume repair shop does.  There are still plenty of those types of shops out there as well.

For the most part, gone are the “swap-til’-ya-got-it” repair days.  For example, back in the 70‘s and early 80‘s electronic ignition systems only consisted of a few components, and it was common practice for a mechanic to have a few known good ignition modules lying around that were used as test pieces. (I’ll bet, if I dug around a bit I might even still have some of those old modules still hiding in a drawer somewhere.)  These days a good scanner not only reads codes, but allows for bi-directional control of a lot of systems, as well as letting the mechanic see just about every facet of the car by simply plugging it into a laptop.  From power windows to the transmission, with the right tools and training you don’t even have to turn a wrench (most of the time) to do any analysis on a given system.

Instead of going out of business maybe what some of them need to think about is “Going Out for Business”. Simply put, it’s using today’s internet, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, IATN, Identifix, AVI, trade magazines, manufacturer sites, etc... to their advantage.  There are so many sources for information and videos there is no excuse not being able to repair today’s vehicles.  Along with that, websites for the shop and even an individual mechanic are useful to gain knowledge and a reputation for quality work by showcasing what he/she does. It’s all about communication and getting the word out to the masses that you’ve got what it takes to repair today’s cars.  Sure, word of mouth is still a tried and true method of exposure, but the tech savvy mechanic and/or shop will find an even better response from using today’s technology to draw in new customers as well as finding solid information.  As a shop owner myself, keeping the bays full is a premium, and taking advantage of the internet is a must.

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Doing the same thing, but expecting different results is the definition of crazy”.  As mechanics, shop owners, and even as a customer we all can fall into that trap of doing the same thing.  So instead of making yourself crazy by doing the same old thing...or giving up and going out of business… try going out for business instead.   

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