The After Hours, Part I
If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?
Similarly, if a truck breaks down after five or six PM, will anyone be there to save it?
Okay, okay. Maybe we can’t really compare the two (please don’t blame us for trying). But
lots of commercial repair shops run standard or semi-standard hours—if not the usual 9 to 5, then 8 to 6, or maybe 9 to 7. But heavy-duty vehicles don’t always respect those hours. They may run into problems at just about any time—whether or not someone is on the clock to fix them.
We reached out to several of our customers to see how they handle after-hours work (if at all). We received a number of fascinating responses—so many that we opted to break this blog into two parts. In today’s article, we’ll talk with two owners who either don’t handle after-hours work or only handle it on a limited basis. We’ll explore why they made this decision, as well as how they handle the requests that do come in after their staff has logged off.
WHY DON’T YOU TAKE AFTER-HOURS CUSTOMERS?
There’s no question that after-hours and emergency calls—which are often one and the same—can be a lucrative endeavor for shops. Not as many operations are willing to take on work after a certain hour, which narrows the competition already; in addition, many shops that do take on such work may charge a higher premium.
Those are both good for business, but you still have to find someone to do the work.
That’s where it gets tricky. Okay, maybe you’re a night owl and would love to hop into your truck and rescue drivers by the roadside at 3 o’clock in the morning. But if you’re a night owl, then you already know you’re something of a rarity in the world (this writer, a fellow night owl, can commiserate). Not everyone wants to operate on those hours. Heck, no one really wants to operate on those hours.
Which can make staffing difficult.
“We only do after-hours work for our major clients,” says Stacy Conner of Equipment Experts in Washington. The reason for this is simple: Washington is an insanely competitive state in the already hot diesel tech market. Many of the Equipment Experts techs have families, and they just don’t want to be working odd hours. “We made the decision [to not take much after-hours work] for our people,” she says.
Glen Grader of Integrity Fleet Services agrees. They’re also in Washington, so they’re well aware of the competitive environment. They did start out offering after-hours work, embracing it early on as a way to drum up business. The tactic worked—emergency calls helped them establish many customers.
But over time, Glen tells us, that after-hours work “was burning out our techs.” It wasn’t just the long and late hours, either; it was the problems that often come along with late-night work. Poor communication, unsafe road conditions, and payment issues made them rethink after-hours work.
After several years in business, they had built up a successful roster of customers that were happy to call in during regular hours. Like Equipment Experts, the Integrity Fleet Services team will still take in the occasional after-hours work for an established customer, but they have stepped back from most of it.
THE OCCASIONAL AFTER-HOURS JOB
Just because a shop doesn’t perform after-hours work doesn’t mean the calls won’t come.
Integrity Fleet Services handles these calls on a case by case basis. Management handles after-hours calls and decides what to do. “We ask a lot of questions,” Glen tells us, “to ensure we don’t have any surprises on-site.”
Both shops charge higher rates for any after-hours job they take. “Overtime rates and minimums apply” when Integrity Fleet Services dispatches one of their mobile techs in the dark of the night. They rotate their mobile staff so someone is on call for these occasional events.
ALTERNATIVES TO AFTER-HOURS WORK
Not everyone is in a position to (or even wants to) offer repairs in the dead of night. So, what happens if a customer has an injured vehicle?
A dropbox is a possibility, particularly if the truck can get to the shop under its own power.
What’s a dropbox? Usually it’s a secured area where a customer can place their keys and contact information. They may leave the broken-down vehicle itself in the shop’s lot, to be brought in bright and early when work begins. The box may be a security box, or even a slot somewhere in the shop building. By the way, Fullbay can make a dropbox really useful—your customer’s information is already in your system, and they can enter all the necessary information about their new problem.
Glen emphasizes that Integrity only permits this for trusted and established customers. And Stacy warns that crime in the area must be considered: “If a customer drops something, it is now on their liability.”
Needless to say, you’ll want to make sure you have the necessary waivers and legal documentation in order if you want to offer this service. (In other words, talk to a lawyer, not us.)
Where does this leave the enterprising shop owner who wants to offer some after-hours work, but doesn’t have the manpower (or maybe the interest) in fully committing? You still have options available. If you’ve got techs who are willing to work an hour or two later or earlier, give flex schedules a try—you might be surprised by how much work might come in before or after, say, seven AM or PM. It’ll give your shop more coverage without requiring a hard commitment to a third shift or even ultra-late/ultra-early hours.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide what working hours you want your shop to have. Maybe you and your staff are happy with the 9 to 5. Maybe you’ll want to extend your hours a little bit and see if you can boost revenue. Or maybe you’re wondering what life would look like if you did start operating outside the usual business hours.
In part two of this post, we’ll talk with two shops that specifically set out to capture after-hours work. We’ll discuss why and how they did it, as well as how it impacts their staffing models. If you’re still on the fence, stay tuned—you’ll have the answers you seek!