“If you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either one.” – Russian Proverb
In 2022, J.D. Power and Associates reported that the average cost per visit to an aftermarket shop was $247. The average cost per year to look after a vehicle ranges from $1700 to $2500, depending on which study you read and how old the vehicle is. Other studies show that Canadians are only visiting an automotive repair facility twice a year on average. (Some of these studies include DIY car owners and others only include DIFM car owners, so there can be some discrepancies.)
Of course, there is always a discrepancy between what consumers actually spend, and what they should spend. Using some information from the CAA’s website that calculates the cost of owning a vehicle, the two vehicles parked in our driveway, with our driving habits, should cost around $2,000 a year each.
Having said all of this, nothing adds up! Based on all of the data above, the average cost per visit to an aftermarket shop should be between $850 and $1250. Yet at $247, something is wrong with this picture, and I can tell you exactly what.
Shops are scrambling to book in oil changes and tire changeovers, thinking that this model is going to bring them all kinds of business. But at the end of the day, all that is sold are oil changes and tire changeovers (with the odd brake job thrown in). That’s because there is not enough time to identify, sell, and perform any other work.
But where is all of this other work going? Who is getting all of the good work? Before I answer these questions, I want to bring up another perspective.
If a dentist did not identify and recommend preventative dental care and treatment, she would be sued for malpractice. If a doctor failed to outline steps to prevent or heal a particular health condition, he would be sued for malpractice, too. Yet on a daily basis, automotive shops fail to inform and educate vehicle owners about the condition and care required for their vehicles.
Much of the driving public does not know what it takes to keep a vehicle maintained. Others think that shops are trying to sell them things they do not need. Sure, there are cases like these. But more commonly, shop owners and technicians assume that car owners understand their cars and will ask when they need something. There’s this idea, even among shop owners, that bringing something up that the car owner did not ask for is ripping them off. What they don’t realize is that if consumers actually knew their rights, the shop owner could be sued as easily for not informing his customers as the one that who ripped them off.
The shops that are getting all of the good work are shops that perform some form of inspection on each vehicle at each visit. They don’t “sell” anything; rather, they inform and educate their clients about what their vehicle needs, and help them make the best decision regarding the repair and maintenance of their car. They are also proactive in recommending certain services and repairs that keep a client from having to return to the shop prematurely.
For many years, our family has been spoiled when it comes to looking after our cars; we have been served by some great shops who are industry leaders in client care and vehicle repair and maintenance. We moved to a new town a few years ago, so we needed to find a new shop. We have tried several, and may have found the one we like, but in the meantime, we’ve had some interesting experiences.
A couple of years ago, I took my truck in for a seasonal tire changeover and an oil change. The service advisor took my keys, did not ask if I had any concerns with my vehicle and said it would be ready in a couple of hours. I came back, paid for the truck, and left. No inspection was mentioned, so I assumed that there was none done.
Two weeks later on a road trip, we had a rainstorm after a few dry months, and my wipers did not work very well. So I stopped in at another shop to have some wipers installed. A few weeks later on a cool fall morning, the inside of my windshield would not clear very well with the defrost on. A quick inspection of the cabin air filter showed that it was plugged solid. And if the cabin air filter was plugged, we can assume the engine air filter was probably pretty dirty as well.
And now as a consumer, I am beginning to wonder if they missed anything else. My invoice was around $150, but the opportunity with the wipers and filters could have easily made it closer to $450. What could have been one appointment for me, turned into three. This shows explicitly why the average work order size is so low. In an effort to chase too many rabbits, most shops are not catching any.
In our mastermind groups, we measure a lot of key performance indicators. Three key indicators related to this article are average work order size, single-line work order ratio, and number of work orders per advisor. Among all of my clients, the highest average work order size is $1260 and the lowest is $301; the average is $656. (That includes shops in small towns and in areas with lower service rates.)
The shops with the highest average work order size are working with between three and four work orders per service advisor per day, and have a single-line work order ratio of less than 5%. The shops with the lowest average work order size are working with 12 or more work orders per advisor per day, and have a single-line work order ratio of over 45%.
Most of our industry seems to fall in the latter category. In an effort to keep busy and to please everyone, we are giving away our biggest opportunity.
That opportunity is to serve our clients well. That means figuring out how to slow things down, and how to schedule better. It means asking them about their vehicles and any concerns they might have. It means performing some form of inspection on every visit. It means informing and educating our clients on what it will take to keep their vehicle safe, reliable, and economical.
Our customers will save money by keeping their car for a longer time, and we will be more profitable, as we should be, by focusing on one rabbit at a time.