On my way home from the office sometime last year, I noticed some activity going on at a long-abandoned repair facility. Over time, the activity became pretty serious as the new owner was adding much more than just a new coat of paint.
As the weeks went by, I monitored the progress of the shop's reconstruction. The parking lot was repaved. Bays were added. Signage went up. Equipment arrived. Things were looking good and I had high hopes for this newest Akron-area repair shop.
Most shop owners I talk to say there is more than enough work to go around, and this shop sure proved that point. As soon as the bay doors were raised for business, the motoring public came calling. Each night I'd drive by, the shop was full of cars. Every night.
I was happy for the shop owner, who apparently had dumped a lot of money into it to create his own bit of auto repair heaven. For his parts supplier, however, it was more like auto repair hell.
I know some of the stores that service this shop and one day I asked one of the store managers about this particular shop.
"You must be pretty happy that shop finally opened up," I said. The store owner rolled his eyes. "What's with the eye roll?" I asked. "I mean, the shop is absolutely full of cars, every single day!"
With most things in the auto repair world, it's best not to judge a book by its cover, and as I discovered, you can't always mistake a full, busy shop with one that makes money. As it turns out, the shop, though busy, was chronically paying its bills late, if at all. I found out the owner says he's not making any money. Not making any money? How can that be when his bays - all eight of them - are full of cars?
This, of course, is not an isolated situation. There are lots of well-run shops, but there are scores of shops, even full ones, that are barely making ends meet.
You can't really blame the shop owner all that much; most of them are just not businessmen. They're technicians - usually good ones - who decided they wanted to use their technical skills to fix cars under their own terms. But then the realities of running a business hit them and they soon learn it's not easy. It's not always about just fixing cars; there's a lot of other issues that come into play, all of which can eclipse even the best wrench in town. In fact, it's been said that a busy shop can lose more money in the front office than it can ever make in the bays.
This, of course, is not a good situation for the parts supplier. You need healthy repair shops, ones fixing lots of cars, buying lots of parts and (most importantly) paying their bills on time.
It's in your business' best interest to have technically proficient and business-savvy customers. Help them when you can, turn them loose when you must. Being a business partner sometimes goes beyond merely delivering parts. Deliver advice, business training, technical training and the occasional free lunch. In the end, healthy repair shops nearly always mean healthy parts stores.