Make Sure Your Shop is Equipped to Succeed
Be it a lift, tire alignment and balancing machines, compressors, fluid dispensing systems or any other big purchase, heavy equipment is no small consideration.
Operators are most likely to focus on the initial price tag, but they might be better off taking a closer look. Steve Puffer with Mighty Auto Parts says he had one recent client who made that investment but ended up wishing they sprung for that warranty or service plan.
“This was six months ago,” he says about the deal. “He called me yesterday to let me know that he wished he had taken my advice and spent $500 up front.”
That might not be the case for every big equipment purchase, but it goes to show that shopping around means more than just looking at the retail figure. There are a few boxes that need to be checked before signing off on the purchase. Some are as simple as analyzing shop space. Others require more research, like weighing the up-front cost of a warranty with the long-term cost of equipment breakdown.
A human resources manager, general manager of company operations and Mighty distributor, Puffer is an expert in big equipment purchases. So is Shannon Lemons, a Mighty distributor covering Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas who also specializes in service.
Together, they helped put together a checklist for operators who are looking for their next big-time equipment purchase.
Chances are, if you’re looking into a big equipment purchase, you’ve identified a serious need. To Puffer, this is the first consideration operators need to make.
“One, assess your needs,” he says. “What are you going to accomplish?”
It’s more than just reaping new revenues from an added tire machine or lift. It’s making sure that the added services will fit into your business scheme without dragging on existing services. If it’s too much of a drag, techs won’t make it a part of the process.
“Where we see people making investments and it doesn’t pan out is where they’re weak on the inspection process and on the service review with the customer,” Lemons says. “It’s because they're looking for things to increase ticket average when they may already have those opportunities in place and they're not utilizing them.”
Lemons says that operators should look at how the new equipment will fit into the inspection checklist. In order to sell a service to utilize your new equipment, how easily can this be incorporated? If it’s something that’s just on an as-needed basis, it might not get sold often enough to justify the purchase. In an industry built on speed, that’s a real consideration.
This is true both in the short-term and for growth. Think about how your shop is going to grow in the long-term and anticipate how this new investment fits into that scheme as well.
“In my line of work, I'm looking for not only capabilities now but what will be my capabilities in the future, and is this piece of equipment going to allow me to do that?” Lemons says. “When that is the case, then you get more value out of the equipment.”
Let’s just get this one out of the way. It may seem like a no-brainer, but distributors see shops run up against a wall—sometimes literally—more often that you might think.
“We run into it a lot, especially when it comes to a lift,” Puffer says. “Most people put air compressors outside and you have to cover it.”
Outdoor lifts and compressors shouldn’t be an unplanned occurrence. Operators really need to put in some time with the tape measure to make sure the next heavy equipment order finds a happy home in your shop.
Space considerations involve more than just the equipment footprint. It’s about how the equipment fits into your shop operationally. Quick lubes are all about the flow of process and the ease of use for techs. Will your new equipment impede those processes?
“Your oil waste tanks. Placement of all this stuff outside or inside. Is it going to be in the pit?” Puffer says. “Once you start getting into it, again, space becomes an issue. Let’s say you’re in a quick lube and you need oil filter tools. Where are you going to hang those?”
Operators who research their options might find tools that help improve their processes. Lemons says that there are tire alignment machines that have an option to perform pre-inspections in the parking lot. Those are options that distributors will help clients explore.
“Explore what your avenues are to reduce labor. Sometimes you're better off looking at a piece of equipment,” Lemons says. “What is the ease of use? What are the labor-saving processes?”
This topic has to do more with the capabilities of your facility. Especially when dealing with heavy equipment, operators need to make sure their building is built for that kind of tool.
Some building needs are due to local laws. For some heavy lifting equipment, you might need to know about your floor.
“Your concrete depth,” Puffer says. “In Tennessee, it’s 10 inches, I believe.”
The infrastructure consideration is where a lot of self-installers get into trouble. Consider some of the more electricity-hungry pieces of equipment, like air compressors. Depending on the model you choose for your shop, it might require an electrical system that can handle a higher power load.
“Most of the equipment comes in either one phase or three-phase, depending on electrical circuits,” Puffer says. “Because machines don’t plug into a wall. You have to have an installer come do this. You need to know the electrical requirements.”
If not properly planned, an operator could end up having to hire a contractor to beef up the electrical system, which would be a surprise cost. But if your shop’s needs call for it, having a plan for that upgrade could be a worthwhile investment.
Sticking with the example of compressors, Lemons says that shops looking to service a lot of low-profile tires might need a more powerful unit to stay efficient.
“Sometimes you’ll get more capability and more ability to have a job done more quickly if you’re willing to upgrade your electrical system,” Lemons says.
Warranties and Service
Doing without the warranty or service plan is one way that operators might look to save a little money. But they’re taking a bet that they won’t need expensive help later on if something goes wrong.
Working with your distributors and vendors, make sure you’re getting some of the service assistance that will benefit you for the long haul.
“The ability to have a service technician there in short order and diagnose and fix it is one of the biggest challenges that people face,” Lemons says. “And probably one of the greatest frustrations after you’ve spent a lot of money.”
This is where a little research and long-term planning come in handy. Keep your budgetary constraints in mind, but consider more than just the price tag to make sure you’re getting the most return on your investment.
That means avoiding costs later on for things like malfunctions and routine repairs. When dealing with vendors, ask what their service network is like.
“Some companies don’t even have reps,” Puffer says. “You just make a phone call and they tell you over the phone how to fix it. Your higher-end comes with a warranty. They come with a traveling service rep who can help and train. In my experience, the ones who spend just a hair more seem to be a bit more satisfied.”
One way to stay within your budget is to explore financing options, which some distributors and vendors offer. There are also lease programs, some of which could run for as long as the life of the machine if it's tied to other periodic purchases.