Prepare for the future by adding services that customers want to spend money on:
As we look into the near future of the independent repair shop, there are some changes coming that will require adaptation for long-term survival. These include:
- Longer service intervals for new vehicles
- Electric vehicles that are simpler devices with fewer service needs
Service intervals have been getting longer for many years. This has been partially driven by longer-lasting oils, spark plugs, and other maintenance items. Another reason is to let manufacturers that provide “free” service during the warranty period keep their costs down.
Whatever the reason, your customers are bringing their cars into your shop less frequently. That translates into less income for your shop.
Another future impact on your shop will be the growth of the electric vehicle fleet. These vehicles are much simpler and may be more reliable than the internal combustion-powered vehicles. That also means less service business.
What can your shop do to get a greater share of the future customer’s wallet? How about adding the services that today’s customers will gladly spend their money on, such as:
- Detailing services
- Fast oil changes
- Tires and wheel alignment
- Door ding removals
- Glass repair
All of these services may not make perfect sense for your shop, but consider adding one or two of them. Market these new services to all of your customers and see what it does for your bottom line!
As cars get more complex, they get more expensive to repair
Today’s vehicles are packed full of complex technologies. After these vehicles have gone out of warranty, many of them will arrive at your shop in need of repairs. Many of these cars’ owners will not be prepared for the costs involved in fixing them.
The list of high-tech gear is a long one, and many vehicles already have several of these very expensive components:
- ADAS sensors, cameras, and radars
- LED headlights
- High-voltage electrical systems
- Infotainment systems
- Rearview cameras
- Continuously variable transmissions (CVT)
- Composite materials (carbon fiber, etc.)
These high-cost parts are already found on vehicles at all price points, not just in luxury vehicles. If replacement parts are needed, the prices may be difficult for your customers (who may be the second or third owner) to accept. When you add on the cost of calibrating the ADAS parts after replacement, sticker shock could become a common occurrence in your shop.
Are we heading for an era of disposable cars, in which consumers dump their vehicles when their complex systems can no longer be maintained at a reasonable cost? Will the increasing costs of ownership drive more people to lease their cars, to prevent any post-warranty cost surprises? Will automobiles become the new smartphones, discarded when the new model comes along?
If this scenario plays out, it will not be good for independent repair shops. Here’s one possible solution: Partner with a quality aftermarket extended warranty provider and offer such a product to your customers. In exchange for a reasonable monthly payment, your customers can be protected from budget-busting repair bills on their high-tech cars. It could be a win-win!
Online engagement with your present and future customers
Just about everyone now has a smartphone. These devices have become our own personal communication systems. Smartphones allow us to be constantly connected to those we are close to, as well as the rest of the world. Thanks to smartphone integration on nearly every recently-produced vehicle, your customers can also remain connected while in their cars. A recent survey found that the average American spends 5.4 hours each day on his or her phone. If your shop is not engaging with your customers online, you are missing out on some major marketing benefits.
There are many ways to connect with your customers online:
- Build an up-to-date, actively managed website
- Use SEO services to improve your website’s search results
- Make regular social media posts
- Have an easy-to-use online appointment system
- Publish frequent informative blogs on your website (promoted through email)
- Actively respond to customers’ comments on Yelp and other review sites
Before you do any of this, take some time to analyze your shop’s customer data. Start with an understanding of who your customer is, where they live, which services and repairs they have purchased, and when. Have an up-to-date list of their email addresses and phone numbers. This should allow you to target certain groups of customers with specific offers at the right time.
If your shop is too busy, or you lack any online-savvy staff with available time to tackle this, seek outside professional help. There are plenty of web marketing agencies who can help you with an online marketing strategy that will reach your customers and produce positive results. Interview several prospects, then go with the one that’s on your wavelength and within your budget.
Conclusions and strategies for the near future
Change is coming fast to the independent automotive repair industry. The shops and technicians that can adapt to and benefit from these changes will be well positioned to thrive as we enter the next Automotive Age. Let’s recap:
- Upgrade your staff’s tech skills, including software
- Get state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment
- Bone up on connected cars and ADAS
- Understand the new fuel-efficient engines
- Become an expert in electrified cars, and promote that specialization
- Market your diagnostic skills to your customers and other shops
- Focus on specific services for Uber and Lyft drivers
- Add profitable services like detailing
- Have a plan for dealing with high-priced technology repairs
- Develop an online marketing strategy and stick to it
Author: Stephen Fogel