Your Complete Guide to Shop Management Software

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WHAT IS SHOP MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE & WHY SHOULD YOU GET IT?

As a repair shop owner, you probably spend a lot on tools. This is true whether you’re a one-man service truck or you run a multi-bay facility.

A tool you may have overlooked is shop management software. We don’t just mean something to schedule appointments (although shop management software can certainly do that). No, we’re referring to robust software that can help you run your shop and even increase your cash flow.

There are a lot of shop management apps floating around out there today. We’ll be honest: Fullbay is one of them. But today we aren’t going to pitch ourselves too hard. Instead, we’re going to break down what features you should look for in shop management software, as well as what questions you should ask yourself when you’re ready to make a purchase. Of course, we hope you give us a try, but that’s not the purpose of this post. Today we’re just going to talk about what shop management software is, and elaborate on a few reasons why it’s so critical in our modern world.

Let’s get started!

SHOP SOFTWARE FEATURES

When you set out to learn about shop software, keep one thing in mind: there are a lot of apps out there. Some have big names and lots of R&D behind them; others were put together in a basement on a shoestring. Your job is to look over the ones you’re interested in and decide which feature set and price point is right for you.

Put pricing aside for a moment. Let’s talk about features and what you need.

At its core, shop management software is about giving you 100% visibility across your business. You, the owner, are aware that your shop has a lot of moving parts, and you need to be able to see what’s going on with all of them. On a daily basis, you need to manage your techs and other staff; your inventory; tools and available bays; and vendors…and that’s often just scratching on the surface!

On top of making sure the right people are in the right places (doing their job), shop management software lets you see what’s coming down the pipeline. What are you working on today, tomorrow, or next week? Do you have the capacity to take on an expensive but profitable last-minute job?

We believe the following features are the most critical for any repair shop:

Digitize Your Shop
It’s the twenty-first century; why chain yourself to old-fashioned things like paper and pen?

Seriously, though. Life is so much easier when it’s digitized. Good shop management software lets your customers authorize work with the click of a button. You can put together work orders as you go, then send them to the customer instantly. Your customer can then authorize work or pay bills immediately.

Not only will you save a heck of a lot of time you’d otherwise spend scribbling down information or transferring it; you’ll also have a clear record of everything you do in an easily accessible place. Did we mention how much money you’ll eventually save on paper? Hint: it’s a lot.

Tech Management
We talked about the need to have people in the right places. This is particularly critical when it comes to managing your technicians. What are they doing on a daily basis? How many jobs do they complete? Where do they slow down or get hung up?

The best shop management software isn’t about making your techs’ lives more difficult, or pulling a “Gotcha!” moment. It’s to help you understand where their strengths lie and where you can help them do better. If one tech tends to take forever to install a turbo, maybe they need either a partner or just to brush up on installation. You might even be losing billable hours because your techs are eyeballin the clock and estimating how much time they’re spending on a job, rather than clocking in and out of it. If we can borrow a sentiment from Jerry Maguire, shop management software will help you help your techs. They end up doing better work and your shop earns more revenue as a result.

Tracking Inventory
You can’t run a repair operation without dealing with parts. Most shops have a parts room (or at least a parts corner) where they keep (ideally) a stash of their most-used parts. Shop management software makes it easy to track your inventory, keeping you apprised of exactly what you have in stock and what you need to order.

Here’s a benefit a lot of people don’t think about: shop management software gives you the ability to work out a deal with a vendor. You can see everything you’ve bought from them and all the money you’ve spent. This gives you the power to pick up the phone and say, “We spend $10,000 a month on you regularly. Can we get a 10% discount?”

This is the kind of data you likely won’t have if you don’t have shop management software, due to the sheer amount of research, spreadsheets, and hunting around in the parts room that it would entail.

Ease of Accounting
One of the biggest perks of shop management software is how it seamlessly hooks everything together. If you order a part from a vendor, the software in question should automatically add the price (and applicable mark-up) to the service order and final invoice. At the end of the day, when the bookkeeping takes place, everything needs to add up correctly.

If you do this yourself, by hand, there are a lot of areas where it can all go wrong.

You need revenue to be able to pay your techs and buy necessary parts. You want to know exactly what you’re making and what you’re spending. Where is all the money located? Good shop management software will help you track it down and see it. Who owes you? Who pays you? Do you have certain deals (such as for PM work) with various particular fleets?

Are all these questions making you nervous? Good! Shop management software takes on a lot of the heavy-duty financial figuring for you. For many owners, that’s priceless time they could be using elsewhere.

Customer Relationship Management
Most good shop management software lets you track your history with your customers. This makes life a lot easier when you want to see who’s up for PM work, but there’s an additional boon some of our own customers have noticed. If you can review a customer’s complete history, you can see everything: what they have done, and if they’ve paid on time. This allows you to offer custom deals to the clients who have always had your back. If Mandalorian Fleet Systems has paid everything on time for a year, for example, you can say, “Let’s offer them a special deal.”

This can be a huge shot in the arm for your customer relationships. When a fleet manager feels like you’re looking out for them and giving them special perks, they’ll keep bringing their business to you. They’ll tell their friends and colleagues about you.

That’s more revenue for your shop and a powerful reputation, to boot.

WHAT DOES YOUR SHOP NEED?

So you’ve decided to purchase shop management software! Congratulations. You’ve realized how much of a positive impact it will have on your shop, and you want to pick out the right one.

The good news is you have a lot of choices out there (Fullbay included). The bad news is you often need to ask yourself and potential software vendors some tough questions to sort out the right software for you.

When selecting the right shop for you, here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Make sure the software is built for what you actually need.
Heavy-duty software will have different features than regular automotive software. This is relevant because many repair shop apps were originally designed to manage automotive shops and have scaled up to heavy-duty.

At first, this sounds like a winning scenario. We get it; you can get numerous features for a lower price point. Money saved, problems solved, right?

Hold up. Just because a light-duty app claims it can do the work of a heavy-duty app doesn’t necessarily make it so. Take a close look at apps making this claim. Do they really provide the features you need?

We’ve noticed the following about some (not all, but some) light-duty apps that have received a heavy-duty upgrade:

  • They tend to have gaps in preventive maintenance. Most automotive shops are just not as concerned with tracking preventive maintenance. That’s fine for them, but it’s a lost revenue stream for you; a shop that handles PM work, as we know, becomes less of a repair shop and more of a partner for a fleet manager. If you try to track preventive maintenance for your clients using a light-duty app, you’ll end up turning to spreadsheets and doing recordkeeping on your own. Isn’t your time better spent on actual repairs?
  • They also have a gap in customer management. A customer portal is a serious value prop when it comes to pitching new business. Paying your bills online? Tracking your units and seeing what repairs or service they need? Active status updates and instant authorization? This is a huge, huge convenience for customers.

7 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE BUYING SHOP MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE

If you’re still hesitant, or just want to explore shop management software a little bit more, ask yourself the following questions.

1) What features do they offer?
We’ve discussed some of the most important features to shop management software. Now that you’re looking at your various choices, narrow down which of these features you absolutely want and which apps have them.

Ask specific questions and find out exactly what a software offers. If a representative starts talking about workarounds…run! Sure, sometimes you can tweak an app to do something it’s not meant to do, but that’s time on your end that could better be spent on other things. Besides, getting into the guts of an app and fiddling around with things can very easily lead to breaking stuff, and believe us, that’s not something you want to deal with.

2) What are your particular pain points?
Feature-laden software can solve a lot of problems, but can it solve your problems? Do you currently have difficulty with getting authorizations and communicating with customers? Then you want software with a robust customer portal. This will benefit you and your customers by giving them more options to work with.

Do you spend too much time putting together work orders? Maybe you cobble invoices together based on post-it notes you scribble around the shop. This is a great way to suck down time and lose information, so you should be looking for an app that pulls in all the necessary info as it’s needed, and then spits out a pristine invoice at the end.

Do you spend a lot of time chasing parts? Are you constantly low on this part or that one? You need an app that will let you see what parts you’ve ordered and where they’ve gone. You may want an app that can help you see exactly how many of this or that part is actually used per month, as opposed to taking up space in a bin somewhere.

We encourage you to look at your pain points instead of just a list of features. Don’t get us wrong: features are wonderful. We love features as much as the next person. But make sure you are getting the software that solves your problems. If you don’t have trouble with parts, don’t look for an app that zeroes in on parts management. When you know your actual issues, it’s much easier to see which features will actually solve them, as opposed to just shelling out cash for a bunch of bells and whistles. Buy the software that solves your problems. You’ll feel much better about the money you’re spending.

3) What are your customers’ pain points?
Why are your customers coming to you? For repairs, yes, and sometimes preventive maintenance. They want you to make sure they don’t run into problems down the road.

Any good software you get will help you run your shop, but the absolute best shop management software will solve the problems of your customers, too. If it helps you track their preventive maintenance, for instance, that’s something off your plate and theirs. If it lets them authorize things digitally, that’s one less phone call they have to make. You’re saving them time.

You should definitely look at shop software as an answer to your problems. But don’t forget to see what it can do for your customers, too. The more the benefits overlap, the better off you’ll be.

4) How much money am I actually spending?
Sure, you can get base software for a cheap rate, but many costs are attached to integrations. Does your software play well with QuickBooks? Do you have access to other integrations? And can you get all those things for a flat fee?

Look at it another way: if the software’s base price is $75 a month, and that price point is appealing to you, make sure you know what you’re getting for that $75 a month. If the features you want are behind tiered gateways of $100, $200, or $300 more per month, well, that’s a lot more money you may not have estimated shelling out.

Is the software still attractive if you’re paying $500 a month instead of $75? Before you answer that, look again at its features and think about how much your earnings will potentially increase when you use it. The idea behind shop management software is that it makes your life easier. You and your techs reclaim your time and put it toward actual work, which leads to more revenue. If you’re properly marking up and charging for parts, that’s more revenue, too.

Is it enough to make up for what you will end up spending? That, friend, is up to you.

5) Can you see it in action?
A good sales rep can make anything sound good. But you need to see what a particular app can do up before committing to it. Some will allow you to take an app for a limited test drive. Others will walk you through a demo so you can see each feature.

Our most important takeaway is try before you buy. Yes, we’re repeating that old adage. You’re going to be working closely with this software after you buy it, so you want to see how it will look and feel. Make sure that you ask the representative to show the elements that will solve the pain points you decided on above.

As you test out or watch the software, take some notes (mental or otherwise) on how it runs and how your staff will see it. Do you think this is something they’ll pick up easily? How much time do you think you’ll need to set aside to train them?

This segues perfectly into the next question you should ask.

6) Is there training?
You will not, unfortunately, know how to use your new shop management software by osmosis. The company that makes the software should at least provide detailed instructions; even better, they’ll dispatch trainers to your shop, or hook you up with a digital classroom.

No matter how wonderful a type of shop management software is, you won’t get the full value it can provide if you don’t know how to use it properly. This may require walkthroughs, tutorials, and learning portals. It may mean you end up on the phone with someone to help you with a particular feature.

7) Does it live locally or in the cloud?
At this point, the last thing you want to think about is where your app is going to live. “In the shop, of course,” you’ll say.

Except…not quite.

If you buy software that lives locally, say on your shop computer’s hard drive, that means you can only use it at the shop. Actually, you can probably only use it on that particular computer. That means long lines waiting to use it, or additional scheduling to make sure everyone who needs to use it gets it. The perks: it’s always in one place, and you can guarantee you aren’t taking work home.

Cloud-based software lives in the cloud. It’s entirely digital. It will run on multiple devices; some cloud-based software functions on tablets and phones. You can log in and check in on things from anywhere, and if you want to do a little bit of extra work after dinner…well, we won’t tell. Better than staying in the shop all night, right?

WHAT SHOP MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE WILL YOU CHOOSE?

If you’ve read all the way to the end of this piece, you have our admiration. You also have a lot of newly-gained knowledge about shop management software, what it can do, and why you might need it.

If you’ve decided shop management software is the way to go for you, we hope you’ll give ours a try. Fullbay lives in the cloud and provides all the features we mentioned in part one. It’s also helps drive revenue for our customers; one saw a 36% increase in labor revenue, while another sported a 50% revenue increase!

Sound good? Get in touch with us today for a free demo. We’d love to show you what modern shop management software can do!

Suz Baldwin

About Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.

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