There’s no doubt about it: the diesel repair industry is living through some pretty…interesting…times. We’ve kept up with the news as much as we can, but for this webinar, we decided to do something a little different. We set up a Shop Owner Roundtable.
(Pause for applause.)
Technically, this roundtable was the second of its nature, with our earlier webinar about mobile techs being its forerunner.
We invited two of our favorite customers to join us at Fullbay HQ for a chat.
- Troy Willich of TDI Fleet Services
- Ashley Sowell of Integrity Fleet Services
They’re shop owners, Fullbay users, and are generally on our speed dial when we have questions about the industry. That’s why we thought it’d be awesome to get them both in the room with Jacob and Chris to have an in-depth discussion about how the industry is faring in these challenging times.
It was a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation that hit on the parts and tech shortages, as well as topics like building a shop culture and retaining staff. You should definitely watch the whole webinar, but if you’re pressed for time, you can check out the recap below!
Parts is parts
The parts shortage shows few signs of letting up, and the conversation lingered on it for some time.
Our State of Heavy-Duty Repair data indicates that while just about everyone—90%—who responded faced increased difficulty in getting parts, the way that difficulty impacts shops varied.
“The parts shortage is fluid,” Troy says. “Sometimes you’re out of parts; sometimes you’re not out of parts.” That’s what has been so frustrating about this shortage: it’s not exactly predictable. Several owners and parts managers have mentioned this, indicating that a part may be widely available one week and then seemingly Thanos’d out of existence the next.
Obviously there is no quick fix for the situation, which is going to depend on manufacturers around the world getting back up to speed (and then the supply chain ironing out all its kinks). In the meantime, TDI maintains close relationships with vendors. We’ve written about these kinds of relationships and how important they are to a shop before, but Troy really hammered it home for us: he wants TDI to be the first shop a vendor calls when they get a part in or suspect something might start running low.
“Anything in life is about relationships,” Ashley agrees. “People are gonna get what they give.”
But even the best of relationships with your vendors aren’t a guarantee that you’ll get the parts you’ll need, when you need them. As a response, shops are becoming more deliberate in their repairs, because they don’t want a vehicle stranded in the bay if a part doesn’t turn up.
Thus, the communication and relationship-building these shops maintain with vendors also extend to customers. If an axle assembly is six months away, then you’ve got to make that clear to your customer. They may not be thrilled by the news, but they’ll be glad you told them because now they can make plans accordingly.
“If you don’t give them information, that’s how you get on their bad side,” Ashley concludes
The tech shortage
Eventually, conversation shifted to the other big elephant in the room: the ongoing technician shortage. It was already a big deal (and had been; check out this webinar from 2020!) and things like inflation are seriously compounding the problem.
Right now, costs are going up for everyone. Your techs, your office staff, your vendors, your mortgage lender, you, your customers, their families, the list goes on. So if your star tech is suddenly facing more expenses, what are they going to do? Ask for a raise. And the nature of the market at the moment means that if you don’t give them that raise, they can probably find someone who can.
Often, the companies that can pay the higher wages are larger operations. We all get it; they’re willing to pay high rates for their technicians. But the mom-and-pop shops, says Ashley, just can’t offer those rates. What happens then? Well, the eventual skimming of top talent can leave a smaller shop unable to meet the needs of its clientele and it ends up closing. We’ve heard this story too often over the last couple of years.
TDI has tried to keep up with things by adjusting (read: raising) the labor rate, which Troy says has been…well, surprising for their customers. “People aren’t used to labor rates changing like gas prices,” he says, “but ours are changing like gas prices.” So far, customers are paying and techs are staying.
Yes, wages are a massive component to attracting and keeping talent, but so is creating a space where people want to be. Word of mouth is especially powerful in this industry; both owners note that everyone talks, and word quickly spreads about good or bad shop environments. Our guests also hit on another important element: always be hiring. Maintain a presence on job boards, at schools, and all over the community.
“It’s all fair game,” Troy says, telling us he has chatted up techs at the yards of competitors or even customers.
Whew! We’ve recapped a lot already, but we aren’t even scratching the surface of how great this webinar is. When you rewatch the whole thing, you’ll also get stories and information like:
- The craziest thing Troy and Ashley have done to get a part
- The role cannibalization (but not cannibals) has played in getting parts
- How the current climate has made it a little easier to tell customers about price changes
- The opportunities this strange new industry environment has created (despite the difficulties)
- The perks of commission-based pay
- And much more!
Obviously, we hope you’ve enjoyed this recap and come away with some ideas of your own, but we still hope you’ll watch the full webinar here. It’s informative, it’s funny; heck, it’s everything we want our blog to be. Have fun—and keep on truckin’!