How a Small, Daring Shop in Oregon Made It In Today’s Turbulent Automotive Climate
A Good Mechanic is Hard to Find
There was a time when decent mechanics were a dime a dozen. A dime was worth a little more back then, but calculating for inflation you should still be able to find a dozen mechanics for 50 cents or so today. So why are good mechanics hard to find? Are cars getting more complex? Is information harder to come by? Is the industry doing a poor job of keeping up with modern technology? I think the answer to all these questions is yes.
Times are tough—trying to stay on top of all the latest tech in cars these days is turning into a full-time job. Never mind trying to beat the clock and turn a buck in the shop. I’m part of a team of 45 technicians who work on the phone at the Identifix Hotline, and we’re constantly trying to stay abreast of the latest innovations in our industry, and it still feels like we’re trying to drink water through a fire hose.
Automotive Technology Changes Rapidly and it’s Hard to Keep Up
What’s a mechanic to do? What about a shop? How does a shop staff itself with high-quality mechanics to help navigate these choppy automotive waters? I attend as many classes as I can find the time for, and we’re fortunate to have a generous budget for offsite training. Class work, in my opinion, is worth the investment. Your mechanics go in a little dull and come out a little sharper. Keep growing your mechanics’ on-the-job knowledge so your shop can handle the jobs that competitors can’t.
Maybe you’re thinking “I have a car in my stall right now though, Joe! What do I do with this one? I don’t know a thing about Toyota X-REAS suspension. I tried to YouTube it and got lost in a vortex!” Don’t panic. There are several sources of “just-in-time” training available to you. One of my top spots for training insight is iATN.net—there’s usually another poor fellow asking for help in a forum, looking for advice on the very thing I’m researching. Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention Identifix, the Direct-Hit website and the Hotline itself.
A word on the Identifix Hotline: an opinion floating around shops is that it helps keep sub-par technicians employed, and this takes food out of the mouths of other, ostensibly better technicians. This attitude feels, to me, pretty toxic for our industry. Aren’t we all just the sum of our training and resources? Does iATN keep sub-par techs employed? How about technical colleges? Online forums? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t intuit some of what these new cars do without a little guidance, a little collaboration with another mind. Does this make me a sub-par tech? I don’t think so—it makes me realistic.
If you’re out there turning a wrench on anything that drives through your door and you never need to reach out for help, you are either a legitimate genius or you’re lucky. Most us aren’t that genius or that lucky to skate by without needing some help.
A Real World Example
Let’s look at a small shop out in Oregon, Auto Pros Car Care. This shop was founded 5 years ago by a gentleman named Ryan Buchanan. Ryan is one of the most humble and honest guys I have ever had the pleasure of talking to. That being said, I have accused him of having a horseshoe or lucky rabbit’s foot stuck somewhere very intimate because he seems to be defying the odds with his success.
Auto Pros Car Care – Portland, OR
Auto Pros Car Care
When Ryan opened his shop, he bought a building that did not, and was believed could never, have any hoists. He spent his last dime opening up shop, and after a year or so when he decided it was time to hire a tech, he bought every tool for his new employee. That alone is highly unusual for a shop, but Ryan did it. He tends to hire hard luck guys who can’t afford to equip themselves properly with the right tools. But if his tech hangs with him long enough, the tools are his to take, provided they leave on good terms with Auto Pros.
“You must be paying these guys bottom dollar then, right?” I ask, trying to make sense of it all.
“I actually pay them a good hourly rate, rather than flat rate so they don’t starve when we’re slow” Ryan says. This makes him a saint in my opinion. Ryan asserts this keeps the shop morale up—his employees feel truly valued, and his techs work hard to make sure Ryan sees their appreciation.
If morale does take a dip, Ryan puts them on a mini bike to go do a couple laps around the block; when the tech with the bad mood finishes the Parking Lot 500, he’s back to work grinning ear to ear and walking on air.
Ryan and his Tech TJ, trying to keep a Hyundai alive.
How Auto Pros Car Care Succeeds
“Tell me how you’ve done it, Ryan.” I demand.
“You’ve got to find the right people to work for you—I went through 7 or 8 techs before I found TJ, but TJ is priceless. He works hard and he’s honest. I would trust him with the keys to the business tomorrow.”
Auto Pros tends to find its technicians the same way it finds its customers—word of mouth. And word spreads pretty quick when there’s a spot open in a shop like Auto Pros. Word spreads quickly among customers too.
“You have to pick your customers, tell them up front that you’re going to be straight with them. Don’t let them diagnose their own cars or bring in their own parts. You let them know that you’re going to be honest and up front with them and you’ll find the customers that care more about that than about the price of the job. Those are the customers you want.”
Most of the Auto Pros customers are repeat customers—upwards of 90%—and the rest are referrals. “Don’t be afraid to let a customer go, if they’re being unreasonable or verbally abusive. I do what I know is right, and will do my best to help someone in need, but they can’t be abusive or take advantage of me.”
Working on a BMW. They take everything at Auto Pros Car Care.
How Identifix and Repair Hotline Helps
Takes good care of his techs, check. Has a solid customer base, check. Is there any other ingredient to this shop soup? “Well, of course, we call the Hotline—most of my diagnostic training comes from Identifix. If it weren’t for you guys, I wouldn’t have taken a lot of the jobs I did, and I wouldn’t have learned everything that I use now on a daily basis.” Ryan says.
Ryan is far from a sub-par tech—he’s a superb tech and his employees are as well. But they need some help sometimes, as we all do. When they come across a problem, they call the Hotline and we take them to school on that system and they use it on the next car. That’s precisely what Identifix is there for. We’re the third wheel on Ryan’s date with a Hyundai Accent, or Suzuki SX4 or Chevy Tahoe.
“Without Identifix, I don’t think my shop would be here. It’s gotten to the point where now I’m more comfortable working with the newer cars that scare other shops. It’s all from what I learned calling you guys,” Ryan says. He takes full advantage when he gets one of us on the phone too—he is all questions and the sound of a pen, scribbling notes. Give us a call and do the same.