Out-Of-The-Box Add-Ons: Key Programming

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In the past couple of years, we’ve discussed the various add-on services that can be offered by a fast lube: tires, brakes and various other repairs that can be seamlessly incorporated into operations. This year, we plan to take a look at some not-so-common services that may be beneficial to your customers and profitable for you. The first out-of-the-box item on deck is key programming. To kick things off, here is look at a couple of different options available for the automotive aftermarket.

The competition between dealerships and the independent aftermarket is nothing new. Despite the fact the aftermarket is increasingly competitive, key programming is one service car owners continue to go the dealership to have performed.

“The key programming industry is booming right now,” said C.S. Murrison of Advanced Diagnostics, a leading key programming manufacturer. “Right now, when people lose their key or need an extra key, they typically head to the dealer, and the dealer charges an incredible amount of money to make keys. You have to have your car there, so if you’ve lost your keys you have to have your vehicle towed. If you’ve ever lost your keys, you know it’s just a huge hassle.”

In recent years, key programming tools have been developed to allow the aftermarket to provide a similar service with added convenience.

“We made the tools to give other people the ability to do what dealers and manufacturers do in terms of making keys,” Murrison said. “Our machine can do over 40 different makes, and it’s available to almost anyone really.”

There are plenty of choices on the market when it comes to key programming.

“[For instance] with the MVP Pro, we give you the software and ask that you purchase what we call programming tokens,” Murrison said. “If you’re going to do one job, it will cost you one token. It doesn’t matter if you are going to program a Nissan, a Volkswagen or a Chevy, one token is the same price.”

Some services, like brakes or tires, require extensive training. Programming keys is a fairly simple undertaking.

“If you get a call asking if you can do a 2012 Camaro, you can check the front of the user manual to see if you can program the key,” Murrison explained. “It tells you step-by-step, plug this into the OBD2 port, turn machine on, press this button. It’s very user-friendly. I did one my first day.”

Maybe your customer hasn’t lost all their sets of keys and just needs a replacement. A key cloner can get the job done.

“With a key cloner, all you need is the key, you don’t even need the car,” Murrison said. “You could make 1,000 copies of the same key if you wanted to.”

It’s a sharp contrast between the number of keys that can be programmed and the number that can be made.

“There is a maximum amount of keys you can program into a car,” Murrison said. “With the new Ford, you can only do four keys. If someone already had four keys, you would need a key cloner.”

So what makes key programming such a great service for the quick lube industry?

“It’s an incredibly high profit margin. That’s what makes it worth it. You have the cars in there,” Murrison said. “Anytime someone is just sitting in your waiting room, it’s a great time to offer additional services. With key programming, we’ve gone around and set up key programmers in shops just to experiment. We put up a sign that said, ‘Lost keys? Need a copy?’ People always ask about it.”

As with any new service, there are a few key pieces of equipment you would need to invest in. Purchasing a key cloner will cost roughly $1700 at startup, and the base price of a programmer runs around $3500. You will also need a supply of keys. A key blank could cost $15-$20 each, on the high end.

The vendors we talked to reported that an operator could ideally offer a key programming service for $75, if not more. So, let’s do the math: Servicing two customers per week, at $75 each, for one year, would add about $7,800 to your bottom line.

If you’re looking to be a convenient one-stop-shop for your customers, key programming is just one more service you can add to your arsenal.

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