Recently I read some articles about the auto service industry in two prominent publications, and in otherwise balanced reporting, came across an astounding suggestion for why consumers should choose you.
One was the Globe and Mail online and the other was the Washington Post online. In both cases journalists were talking about vehicle maintenance, the pros and cons of certain services, and some of the differences between the new car dealers and aftermarket auto service shops.
In general, the articles were balanced, they actually encouraged vehicle maintenance and laid out the pros and cons of going to the new car dealer service department versus independent aftermarket auto service.
The independent shops came out just a little ahead in the journalist’s point of view and I was just about to share the articles with my clients and on social media when I saw the following:
In one article they suggested to go to the independent auto service shops because they tended to give discounts if you asked for them. In the other article the journalist suggested that you try negotiating with the shop for better pricing.
Since when does a journalist make consumer recommendations like that, but more importantly, where did they get the impression that this was appropriate behaviour on the part of a vehicle owner.
I have run across this belief on the part of some consumers, but never had I seen it in print. Needless to say, I did not share the article in any social media posts. Where in the world do people get the idea that they can negotiate the price of a car repair?
I am fully aware that in many countries and cultures bartering for a lower price is still the common practice. I am also aware that it happens in North America in some contexts. But when I go to the grocery store, the hardware store, a restaurant, my barber, I can’t barter for a better price.
Prices are fixed for most services and things we buy. When you look at other trades like plumbers or electricians, or other professions like accountants or lawyers, you don’t see them discounting or bartering for their services. If I even dared to ask my accountant for a discount or tried to barter his fees down, I would get politely walked to the door.
I understand that if I think my accountant is too expensive for what I get that I can leave him and go to another accountant. If I don’t like the price of an item at a grocery store, I don’t have to buy it there. I can go to another store and buy it for a lesser price.
But it seems like there is a segment of consumer that thinks it is completely appropriate to make an appointment at a shop, have their vehicle tested or inspected, and then dicker on the price of recommended services. Or even have the nerve to authorize a shop to proceed and then try to bargain the price down when they come to pay the invoice. In fact, it seems that some consumer advocates and journalist are actually recommending it.
The sad thing is, I think we as an industry taught the consumer that ourselves. In our desperation to keep our technicians busy on quiet days, or just to get cars in the door when we first opened up our shop, we offered people discounts, or offered a reduced price if they got more work done.
We need to stop being commodity priced based businesses, and become service, knowledge and value-based practices. Just as a dentist has a dental practice, and a lawyer has a law practice, we are professionals worth every minute of our time and milligram of our knowledge. We own a vehicle service and repair practice. We do not reduce our prices and we ensure that we deliver value. What is value you might ask? I’m glad you asked.
Just as we don’t understand the tax code or have not passed the bar and need an accountant or lawyer, our clients don’t understand the true cost of transportation when it comes to owning a vehicle.
Many think maintenance is an oil change and only 2% of Canadians can explain depreciation when it comes to a vehicle. Many people replace their cars after only five years because they think it is getting too costly to maintain, when on average it takes $1700 to $2000 a year to keep a vehicle riding and running like new. That same person will spend $7020 a year in car payments with $4680 of that going straight to depreciation.
It is hard work, but I think we should spend more time informing our clients about the true cost of transportation and that we are the people to manage it and keep it as low as possible, than we are to offer lower prices or discounts, or allow them to barter on our price.
Good fleet managers have been trained on how to manage vehicle expenses and balance them with the capital cost of replacing them. We need to be the fleet managers for our clients.