National-brand service centers and independent shops claim dealerships are inconvenient places to go for quick service work.

To challenge the convenience part, many dealerships have elected to install automaker-sponsored express-service options. It has proven to be an asset for many stores. Others have faced a challenge.

Quick-service operations can go against a basic structure for running a profitable service operation. The accounting for clock-hour employees can be a hurdle. The thin profit margins are another, because the quick-service work is low-price and low-gross. It doesn’t include off-setting high-gross work, typically because of the personnel’s skill and experience limitations.

So what are the options to the likes of OEM-related express service? Here’s my take.

Remember in the “Wizard of Oz” when the wizard told Dorothy not to worry about what’s behind the curtain? Let’s consider this and apply it to your dealership.

As long as you can deliver the quick service in a timely and professional way, who cares how it gets done? It’s about the brand, not the behind-the-scenes process. Here’s how to address it.

First, develop what your brand should be. Let’s say you want to offer an 18-minute oil change and tout that timeliness to support the brand.

Meet with your technicians and let them know the plan. Ask them: “How would you change the process to accomplish such a quick oil change?”

Listen to the suggestions. With some offered ideas, you may want to sleep on it. But engage the staff to be part of the process.

As management, be flexible. The 18-minute oil change may not be fully achievable starting out. But if that’s the goal, keep the focus. Develop a written playbook of processes. Include every step, start to finish.

Here are the areas that should be included:

  • Customer interaction.
  • What happens at time of write-up? Is it faster to do it manually or through the dealer management system?
  • The car is moved from the service write-up area to where?
  • The process for service.
  • The process for delivery.
  • Who does what and how?
  • Multi-point inspection.
  • Parts process.
  • Billing.
  • Equipment requirements.
  • Organizational structure.

Staffing is a consideration. The trend for years has been to use lower-skilled, entry-level technicians for less complicated work. Why? Usually the gross profit percentage is the first reason, which limits your operation.

If given a choice, I would prefer to have skilled technicians service my truck. The quality of the repair is higher. Let’s take a look at some of the operational options you have. 

Many dealerships are operating on some type of group structure. I have had great results with adding an apprentice technician to each group for the purpose of completing quick-service work.

A group leader serves as a mentor and we have an effective training program that can be supplemented with OEM-sponsored training. It’s like having a third stringer being prepared for first-string duties.

Multi-point inspections offer other opportunities. Using this approach, each car gets one. The group leader is available for questions and instructions. Customers benefit.

Pay plans for this trainee can become a nightmare for the dealership. I highly recommend apprentices flag all of their hours as if they were flat rate.

I had a client with an interesting system for quick service. Cars in for that are lined up in the middle of the shop, their emergency flashers activated to alert everyone they are in for quick service. The next available technician takes the first car in line and gets the work done. And so on. The system almost sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does, and well.

The reason it works is that it was designed by the technicians. They wanted the quick service work and made it happen. Pride of ownership goes a long way.

A mentoring incentive can be given to the group leader or other senior technician.

The mentoring role benefits a technician who is approaching the end of a career. That person may have trouble keeping up with the physical demands of the job, but still has a lot to offer as a team leader and mentor.

I have seen this work well. A skilled senior technician oversees five or six apprentice-level technicians who are trained for career advancement. One manager hires green peas, gives them tools and has the team leader train them from the ground up. OEM-certified training always is provided.

The team leader can be paid off the work performed by the team members. It’s clean and effective. It’s not a team pay plan.

These are a few options for implementing a quick-service operation. I have never been one to push cookie-cutter programs. Each store is different and must be treated as such.

But this applies to everyone: Dealers need to come up with something that challenges competitor’s claims of lower prices and higher convenience levels.

Quick service is a must. The issue is how you do it.

Fixed-operations consultant Lee Harkins heads M5 Management Services based in Pelham, AL. He can be reached at 205-358-8717 at leeharkins@m5ms.com.