If business is good, customers leave satisfied and the employees are happy, then you are clearly doing something right. But there are times when you can still be doing everything right and there can still be a few problems.
And worse, if the steady stream of cars flowing through the shop hits a few snags it might be time to evaluate operations and see if there are gaps to fill, or bulges to iron out. Sometimes it may not even be that something is missing. Problems can arise when a shop tries to take on too much.
This can be a reflection of the country, as we're all too often doing too much these days. But for some businesses, doing too much is simply bad business.
At Auto Ace Express Lube in Duluth, Minnesota, owners Alan and Gina Amatuzio determined that their shop was offering more services than it needed, and that wasn't good for the bottom line. After some deep contemplation, the Amatuzios decided to streamline business when it was determined that high-dollar specialty services can be time consuming and don't always equate to high profits.
The change paid off when services were streamlined, and quick lube customers were better served.
The two-bay Auto Ace Express Lube offered it all, and the shop was always full—and that was a happy problem until it turned into an actual one.
In addition to maintenance services such as oil change, new filters and wiper blade swaps, the quick lube also offered specialty services like transmission maintenance. Customers sought out the shop for maintenance and service issues. However, sometimes those customers would have to come back later.
"One of our big complaints from customers was that many said, 'Every time I drive by the shop you have a line,'" explains Pete Vogel, general manager of Auto Ace Express Lube.
Services such as transmission work were a significant reason for the line of customers.
"We've gotten away from doing the big jobs, just keeping it simple," Vogel told NOLN. "We'll go through the full inspection and let customers know what needs to be done. But we are sticking to preventative maintenance."
The shop offers maintenance such as changing cabin filters, main filters, and wiper blades in addition to oil and fluid changes. The main focus of the shop is quick lube.
"Our shop is small, with two bays," says Vogel. "The amount of cars we put through in a day is 50 or 60. If we tried to do anything like a transmission service that would take a lot of time, the profitability drops."
The mindset at the shop had been that a higher dollar item like a transmission service or doing a differential where it is a higher dollar equals more profit.
"It is not, from what I've found," Vogel says. "If we can just focus on keeping it simple, it ends up more profitable for the company than trying to do big ticket items."
After evaluating services, Auto Ace Express Lube decided to streamline its offerings to its core business.
"We decided not to do the transmissions," reports Vogel. "We're leaving it for the specialty shops to do that. We were leaving customers out and not having the volume to do oil changes."
The shop took transmission off the list of services and focused on preventative maintenance services. Technicians still perform an inspection when servicing an auto, and report findings to the customer to advise on future service.
"We do it in an honest way," says Vogel. "Our customers appreciate it and that's what keeps them coming back.”
While some customers still call for transmission or other services, they are now told the shop no longer handles such work. For some that can be a disappointment, but for the bulk of the customers, it means they also don't have to wait to get an oil change. The two-bay shop is able to handle the flow that comes through the overhead doors.
Another action the Amatuzios took to alleviate wait time was to buy a shop about eight miles away in Superior, Wisconsin. A significant portion of the Auto Ace Express Lube's customer base would drive from the Superior area to get service.
"We've been notifying customers that the Superior shop opened," Vogel tells NOLN. "We sent flyers, did a mailer, just to notify everybody."
Now there are two options, and Auto Ace Express Lube hopes customers will also patronize the Superior shop and spread the business between the two.
The results of streamlining services at Auto Ace Express Lube have been measurable.
"The speed is still on average about 10- to 15-minutes per car," Vogel says. The shop is able to service about five cars in the time it would take for one transmission job – which took upwards of three hours. Fluid changes and filters are also less labor intensive.
The business shift was undertaken about mid-summer of 2022, and in that time the shop has increased business about 8% from the previous year.
"This was our big thing, to get more vehicles through the shop," states Vogel.
Focusing on the core business and a quick turnaround also had an impact on the staff.
"I think it brought morale up a bit," explains Vogel. "When there is a big job like that, it brought everybody down. You either were going to make a big mess, or everybody was stuck with that task for a long timeframe."
While the Superior location has the same core focus for two of its bays, the shop also has two bays set up for auto repair to handle those customers who want to remain with the shop for all services.
Vogel expects the Superior shop to increase its business once the new signage is installed. The two-shop chain anticipates customers to come from the Duluth shop as well as those in the area who are new to the shop, or who used the automotive shop under the previous owner who is now retired. An oil change is important to the customer, but it is not a high-stress task for employees.
"Nothing is high pressure," says Vogel. "We give it more focus."