The Automotive Service Provider panel, held as part of The Great Canadian Aftermarket Trade Show – A Virtual Event, revealed a number of challenges that ASPs are dealing with.
Among the most prevalent of the challenges that are being handled is the need to provide customers with a high level of service, while at the same time minimizing contact.
We’ve seen this throughout the country, with Automotive Service Providers instituting valet pick-up and drop-off services and other low- and no-contact options for customer handling, but something appears to be shifting of late.
The Return of Face-to-Face Interaction
“Initially many shops used the night drop system to drop off keys, pick up and delivery of vehicles,” offered panellist and trainer Murray Voth. “And then over the last four months it seems like about 70% of them are reporting that their customers still prefer to physically drop off the car and physically pick it up.”
Panellist and shop owner Dean Law, Law’s Automotive, Portage La Prairie, Man., said that the trend in customers wanting that face-to-face contact, while appreciated, has created a concern.
“It’s really hard to keep people out of the office area, because they don’t fully understand the severity of the situation. Some people just walk around things and get right up to the desk. Some people like to look at the screen and look at parts and prices and everything you’re doing. But that’s a very small number of people.“
Fellow Automotive Service Provider Shawn Biss of Shawn’s Auto, Smithville, Ont., agreed. “Most people are pretty good, but you always get some people who are really paranoid.The only thing I’ve resisted is the whole plexiglass thing. We are still doing all the sanitizing and everything, but I just can’t get behind the plexiglass because I think, for our shop, a lot of people just come in here to talk.”
Business Volumes Returning
As has been echoed in a number of market surveys within Canada, business volumes have returned quite strongly.
“So far we haven’t missed a beat,” said Biss. “We’ve been growing just as we did before. I do wonder, after six months down the road, how things will be – if people have economic problems down the road, I’ll notice a difference, but so far it’s been really no change.”
“Same thing for me,” said Dean Law. “It’s more, surprisingly, that people are spending way more than they used to. I guess they’re not travelling and they’re not going anywhere, so with the bill they normally say, well, what’s the most important to least important, now they’re just saying do it all.”
“Definitely [there’s] a percentage of people that either didn’t drive their car, or they had two cars and they only drove one, and now we’re seeing the dead batteries and rusted brakes,“ said Biss. He said that he also had a fleet customer which was shut down for three months, so they had a lot of rusted brakes and other disuse-related service that needed addressing.
HR Knowledge Gap Highlighted
Murray Voth noted the fact that the enforced shutdowns and the laying off of staff highlighted a glaring lack of HR expertise.
“I would say that everybody who I work with, including myself, were shocked by the number of labour laws that are on the books that we were not aware of that have crept up over time in our provinces. And you know there’s a bit of flexibility with the layoff process. So it’s really exposed our lack of knowledge in that area. I think employees need their rights protected, and I think that as human beings they need their living and things, but I’m also concerned about small businesses.”
Parts Supply Concerns
On a somewhat smaller scale of concern was the issue of parts supply. While service levels seem to have returned lately, this has not been the case for the whole period of the economic shutdown.
“A lot of times the parts aren’t here in Portage La Prairie,” said Dean Law. “Everybody has an attitude out here that Winnipeg’s only 40 minutes away, so they don’t hold anything on hand, but then people have been dropping the ball. You’re stuck with a car on the hoist, or you put it together and deal with it later. Then it’s a real backlog afterwards. We’ve been seeing a definite change in that.“
Biss said that while problems have not been acute, there was a bit of a slowdown and some delays early on, but more recently parts that have normally arrived by courier service have been delayed.
Near-Term Concerns and Goals
While panelists voiced concerns about whether the strong business trend would continue, one of the key concerns after four months of working with an unusual business environment, to say the least, was the need to refuel and refresh.
Said Biss, “My only hope is be able to get away actually! But, truthfully, because we’ve been so backed up, I’d really like to get caught up in the next month.”
For his part, Law said, “We’re hoping that everything just keeps going smoothly. And we’re just taking a week off. We’re just saying, that’s enough! And we need some time for our kids, and some time for ourselves.”