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Has Your Customer-Pay Service Business Grown? It Should Have!

Chip Maher
Written By: Chip Maher
Posted on March 09, 2017

The U.S. automotive industry has grown substantially since the beginning of 2010 when the annualized sales rate bottomed out at a low of 10.5 million units from the previous high of 17.3 in 2000. Since then, it has steadily grown to almost 18 million units.

This increase in units in operation (UIO) begs the question: Has your dealership’s service department—specifically the customer-pay labor category—grown in proportion to the opportunities that are now available in the market? Although most dealerships have realized growth in the service department, as we drill down, it becomes apparent that some of that growth has come at the expense of the customer-pay labor category.

Evaluate service performance by category

The first thing to look at is your entire service department performance. Your next step is to look at the different labor categories that make up the total service department: customer-pay, warranty, internal, and express. Although many dealers have shown slow and steady growth in total labor sales, we are finding that most of this increase has been driven by the internal, warranty, and express categories. Many times, it has been at the expense—and to the detriment—of the customer-pay category.

What has prevented dealerships from growing their customer-pay business and why is this category necessary? Two things may be contributing to this: the first is the growth of the other labor types mentioned, and the second is limited shop capacity.

Understand the relationships between labor types

The increase in warranty, internal, and express business has taken a larger percentage of the total available hours, and therefore, reduced the number of hours typically available to book for customer-pay business. While some dealers have been effective at identifying this pattern and have added capacity to accommodate this need, many dealers haven’t realized the impact growth in these labor categories have had on their customer-pay sales and growth opportunities.

Once you understand the relationship between the types of labor rates, you can then maintain sufficient shop hours and capacity to handle the customer-pay business growth.

Warranty labor

Let’s consider a warranty repair for a high-line franchise. The repair takes 12 hours; if the average customer-pay repair order is 2.5 labor hours, this warranty repair uses the normally available shop time for 4.8 customers. The result is less available time to schedule the all-important, profitable customer-pay category that is essential to the long-term health and profitability of your dealership. Warranty labor also impacts your customer retention performance (which most OEMs use to determine incentives), as these clients will find other shops to handle the repairs rather than wait.

Let’s go a step further and say that you schedule 10 of these repairs in a month. That’s a total of 120 hours of additional warranty work. At 2.5 hours per customer-pay repair order, that eliminates your ability to schedule and service 48 customers.

Internal labor

As dealers are pushing to grow the used-to-new ratio and keep more trade-ins to retail on their lot, their internal labor business has grown. But again, unless these shops add capacity, they are just shifting hours that were available for customer-pay to internal.

The emphasis on express business has also negatively impacted customer-pay growth. Some shops have committed as much as 30 percent of their capacity to accommodate express service. This is an incremental business that will increase retention and customer satisfaction index (CSI) in the long run. This approach is okay for a large shop with plenty of excess capacity. However, too often, we see a shop at full capacity, and they just shift stalls to express at the expense of the other labor categories, including customer-pay. In this instance, a customer can come in at any time and get a competitive oil change in 45 minutes, but if they call for a check engine light or brakes service, they may be scheduled for two or three days out. Ultimately, this shop runs the risk of losing this customer to another shop.

Best Practices to Protect Customer-Pay Profits

Consider offsite reconditioning centers. Not only are these very effective, but they also free up shop capacity by moving the work that does not necessarily need to be done on site to a separate facility. Used car reconditioning, new car pre-delivery inspection (PDI), and some warranty repairs can all be performed at these places. The benefits are substantial, as they can reduce pre-owned turnaround time and reconditioning costs, and increase the primary shop capacity that will be available for customer-pay business.

Include customer-pay hours and growth in pay plans. Remember that the warranty and internal business are a given, but it is the customer-pay business that is at risk. Customer-pay growth is a must to maintain retention and CSI; its inclusion in pay plans will incentivize your team to focus on customer-pay business.

Regularly monitor and manage your available shop hours by labor category. Ensure that the internal, warranty, and express hours have not blocked out substantial hours for customer-pay business. If they have, you need to extend your hours of operation or expand your capacity. Regardless of the shop scheduling tool your store uses, you must review the available hours by each labor category on a regular basis.

Take the time to evaluate your service labor type mix and see how it is impacting your customer-pay growth and profitability. If there’s an issue, try my suggestions above, discuss the problem at your next NCM 20 Group meeting, or have one of our consultants draft an improvement plan for you.

Learn more about Chip Maher and how he and his NCM colleagues can help your dealership through 20 Groups and in-dealership consulting.

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