“No matter where I have worked, it has been difficult to persuade the owners to purchase equipment that most shops are now using, such as aluminum repair equipment, MIG braze welders and diagnostic tools. How can I show them that, with these small investments, we can actually turn more profit?” – John Amadeo, estimator, Santa Cruz Auto Body, Santa Cruz, Calif.
This is a huge problem for technicians in auto body shops. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer as there are so many variables. Let’s take a look at some of those variables.
First, we must look at the shop itself. This equipment costs money. Yes, it will make a profit, but when? And how long down the road before it pays off that expense?
With a squeeze-type resistance spot welding (STRSW) machine, you’re looking at $20,000 to $30,000. That’s a big chunk of operating money. How long before that comes back and becomes profit? Even a scan tool can cost thousands, and then the yearly updates add to that cost. A pulse welder for aluminum and MIG brazing is also a significant cost.
If I were to look at things through the eyes of a body shop manager, I would see a lot of equipment in shops that is so poorly maintained that nobody can use it. A lot of the blame rests with the shop, which bought the tools and then didn’t properly train techs on their use and maintenance.
I know it sounds simple to request equipment necessary to repair aluminum, but that too may require dollars that some shops don’t have. If the shop does have the resources, the next step is to educate management on why this equipment is needed. Some shops may feel it’s not necessary to rush into these purchases like people did when the 2015 Ford F-150 came out.
Let’s take a look at a technician who wants to improve a shop not only for himself but the shop too. I first want to address the elephant in the room. You said you’ve worked at multiple shops, but you didn’t say how long you’ve been at each, which may make a difference in the approach you take to purchasing new equipment. It’s different to hear this request from a long-term employee versus a new hire or one who is not known to shop management.
A shop that has all the proper equipment is much more sought out by technicians than one that doesn’t. Having the right tools attracts technicians. The questions you ask are good ones to ask shops during an interview.
Our lives consist of two-minute information spans, because two minutes is about our average attention span for most subjects. You have to capture people’s attention when educating them on what you need and why. Having long, drawn-out conversations is not always effective.
So how do you grab their attention? One effective way is using short articles from the I-CAR RTS website on repair procedures. Start by showing how important STRSW will be and why. Then, follow up a day or two later with MIG brazing and why it’s necessary.
Now comes the part you must play well. Don’t beat someone over the head with the information because, if you do, you’ll get pushback. Just give them the information and let them review it for themselves. Then, ask their opinion. This is called guided discovery. You give somebody information, let them digest it, then ask their opinion. Don’t tell somebody why they need something; they need to discover it on their own. They will then feel ownership over the issue. Trapping or scolding somebody into learning rarely works; guiding somebody to learn works very well.
Try, “I read this in I-CAR. What do you think?” Just keep dropping bits here and there and add in information from GM and Ford. This is the two minutes worth of interest you give at intervals, not all at once. Soon, conversations will be more comfortable and productive. Nobody wants to be told what to do.
Don’t ask for it all at once. Try small first, then work your way up. It will take time. Learning is a slow process for all before it turns into realization. Then, offer to help or take the lead. Learn and train and do maintenance on equipment. And for Pete’s sake, take care of it!