The After Hours, Part 2
Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.
That is the belief of Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother. There are other variations on this belief; for example, some hold that nothing good happens after 5 p.m. Or there’s this writer’s belief: Nothing good happens before coffee.
You could argue that this is especially true for heavy-duty trucking. If a truck starts sputtering or acting up while cruising along at night, well, the driver might be in for a bad time. Maybe they find a safe place to pull over. Maybe the truck can reach a stop or a repair shop or at least a lot where they can wait until morning.
But maybe they’re going need to ask for help now.
You know how it’s always five o’clock somewhere? Well, there’s always a truck that needs maintenance somewhere, too. Your repair shop might run from 8 to 6, or 9 to 7, or something similar, but are you available to rescue trucks outside those hours?
In a prior article, we showcased two shops that made the conscious choice not to take on after-hours work unless under special circumstances. Today, we’ll focus on a couple of shops that sought out the after-hours gigs. We’ll look into why they pursued this work and how they manage it—and hopefully provide some tips for those of you interested in expanding.
WHY TAKE ON AFTER-HOURS WORK?
Both Jon Coonce of Specialized Truck Repair and Ashley Sowell of Integrity Fleet Services in Texas looked to after-hours work to build their businesses and revenue. “Our industry never stops,” Ashley notes. “If it’s after hours, it’s an emergency … we don’t want to leave anyone hanging.”
There are two major things to keep in mind when approaching whether to offer after-hours work: staffing availability and logistics.
It will probably come as no surprise to anyone reading this that not everyone wants to work weird hours. Jon broke it down this way: “99% of technicians want to work in a shop…and 99% of mobile technicians want to work ‘normal’ hours.”
That leaves the intrepid after-hours shop with a pretty low rate of techs willing to work at odd hours—about 1% of mobile techs willing to take on work at all hours. And of that 1%, some will give it a try and realize it’s realllllllly not for them.
If you do have people willing to work flexible or longer hours, that’s half the equation. You have other things to figure out—namely the expenses that come with running longer hours. Things like pay are probably top of mind, but if you’ve got the shop itself open later, that may translate to higher utility bills, more wear and tear on tools, getting the necessary parts, and so on. And if you’re sending out your mobile people, well, there’s fuel to consider.
But you can figure all that out later. For now, let’s talk about what we mean by after hours.
AFTER-HOURS DOESN’T MEAN 24 HOURS
There are 24 hours in a day.
Gee, Fullbay, thanks, you’re probably thinking. I had no idea! Is water also wet?
Okay, okay. We mention this because an after-hours shop doesn’t necessarily become a 24-hour shop. “There is a period of time between 11:00 PM and 3:00 AM that we have no technician coverage in our mobile maintenance department,” Jon says, though he notes their tow service is 24/7—so you can get your truck to a safe place, even if it won’t get worked on right away.
Ashley agrees: “Our shop is not 24 hours, but we do have a 24/7 emergency service,” she says. “So we again have dedicated staff for the on-call/after-hours shift.”
Now that we’ve established the difference between after-hours and all-hours, let’s take a look at how these shops structure their workflow.
HOW TO RECEIVE AND SCHEDULE AFTER-HOURS MAINTENANCE
Having staff members willing to work outside regular hours is only part of the battle. You also need a way to get jobs routed to them.
Specialized Truck Repair’s brick-and-mortar shops close at 5 PM, but the work doesn’t necessarily stop. Calls received after that time go to the after-hours dispatch team. They handle all shop calls, mobile calls, and towing calls. In addition, they can provide guidance to customers who call in need of shop service. The calls go to a rotating group of techs.
Their after-hours dispatch works the night shift. “She is full-time and works from home, and she answers all the calls for all the shops, mobile service, and towing for about 10 hours a night Monday-Friday,” Jon says. “It allows our customers to always be able to reach a human voice.”
She is joined by a lone tech who works a hybrid night shift and a couple others who work until 11 PM. The rest of the staff are mostly firmly in the “day shift” camp, though the shop does offer extra money for weekend service calls.
Integrity Fleet Services has an on-call rotation with an on-call dispatcher. During the week management rotates; on the weekends, the lead techs rotate and calls are forwarded to them.
Now, how do these shops handle payment? We’re glad you asked…
AFTER-HOURS LABOR RATES
There’s no real way around it: fewer shops provide after-hours work. If you’re willing to go the extra mile (and the extra hours) to offer this service, that does put you in a position to charge more. This is fair. It’s an emergency—and you’re sending your people out to help.
Jon’s operation doesn’t charge a higher fee for emergency work—but they do charge their mobile service rate, which is higher than their in-shop rate. Ashley’s team charges a higher rate to accommodate after-hours staff and the expenses that come with running longer hours.
How you set up your own rates will, as ever, depend on your operation and your people.
Running an after-hours operation does bring with it some additional safety concerns. For starters, your mobile techs are potentially working in darkness rather than daylight, which…well, anyone who’s tried to work in the dark, even with some good floodlights, knows it’s not the same.
On top of that, some vehicles just wind up in unsafe conditions. “If it’s safe [to get to work], we repair as needed,” Ashley says. “If it is unsafe, we get the unit moved to a safe location to perform repairs.”
“We train all our techs to be hyper-focused on getting home safely,” Jon agrees. If they deem a situation too hazardous, they will prioritize getting the driver towed to safety.”
START SLOW—THERE’S NO RUSH!
In the end, deciding to take on after-hours work will come down to what you and your techs want to do. You’re not going to be able to execute an expanded strategy if your people aren’t interested in the longer hours.
“Most of our technicians have families and have younger children,” Jon says. “Our families are the reason we show up to work everyday, so it’s very important that we get to spend time with them when we can!”
We’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: If you want to expand your operating hours, you don’t have to immediately cannonball into hiring a crew for the nightshift. Take small steps: explore flexible schedules and see if anyone mobile is willing to take on more work. Build up on early successes until you have the capital and manpower to really start increasing your schedule.
Good luck—we’ll see you in the wee hours!