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DVI solutions are not created equal. Join Rebecca Levey – Owner of Metropolitan Garage, who shares with Bill how she started with another DVI solution and couldn’t make a huge difference compared with the traditional model. Then she tried The Digital Shop and doubled her weekly revenue in two years!

Episode Transcript

*This transcript was generated using Artificial Intelligence. Errors may occur. If you notice an error, please contact [email protected].

Bill Connor (00:06):
Good morning, good afternoon. I’m Bill Connor. Have you reached the Digital Shop Talk Radio today? I’m here with Rebecca Levey, I believe is the correct way to pronounce it, and you’ll surely tell me if I’m wrong. The owner of Metropolitan Garage. Uwe AutoVitals, very own Chief Innovation Officer, is off today, so we’re going to carry on without him and I’m sure you guys will let me know if I get derailed. We highly encourage you that if you have any questions along the topic we’re talking about today to chat ’em in as we go along, we’ll do our best to go ahead and answer them on air. And today we’re going to be discussing the fact that digital inspection solutions are not all created equal when it comes to transparent communication with customers and also internally in the shop. So we’ve heard from some shops around the US and Canada and we’ve had panelists from the US and Canada on here, and a lot of times you would consider these folks kind of in remote areas and stuff like that.
So today we’re going to reach all the way up into Alaska and our panelists are going to share how she doubled her shop’s weekly revenue and substantially increase her average repair order dollar amount. And what you’d probably go ahead and think in your mind is probably kind of a remote location. We’re going to cover the methods she used for some continuous growth in her shop and what are her plans to continue leveraging the digital shop for growth in her business. You’ll take away some solid information to put the digital shop to work in your shop, and as always, you’ll learn from our great guest panelists operating shops just like yours. So Rebecca, welcome. It’s really good to have you here. The first time I actually chatted with you was in, I believe, about the fifth month of 2019. It was kind of interesting because a lot of folks, they participated in our digital Facebook forum, but they didn’t realize that there was a mentor program in there and you actually hit that button and that’s the first time I connected with you through there. So if you would, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your shop, how you started out, and maybe what drove your decision to go ahead and dive into the digital world?
Rebecca Levey (02:07):
Okay, thanks Bill. And wow, thanks for that generous introduction. I don’t know that I warrant all of it, but yeah, I’m excited to share our experience with AutoVitals and just our path as a shop in what you’re calling a remote location. So Fairbanks is a town of about 80,000 people and we were located about 20 miles from Santa’s House in North Pole. So as you can imagine, just getting parts is a problem. That’s the first problem. The second problem, of course is just weather. It’s been 40 below for about a month here and now we just got a dump of 20 inches of snow. So as you can imagine, the difficulties are both climate and then you have customers dealing with this.
So to begin with, our shop has always keyed on transparency. We started, I think a lot of shops do. We started in a garage attached to our house and my husband bench pressed transmissions on a creeper and we worked up from there. But the thing that was built in to our business model was transparency. People trusted us because they knew where to find us and there wasn’t a dinner that we didn’t give somebody the keys to their car. So being the neighborhood mechanic, transparency was in the bag and then we grew and we wanted to hang on to that trust and that transparency. As everyone knows in the industry, the number one problem in this industry is trust. The number one problem is transparency. I don’t know if you remember, there was a study done recently where people were asked whether they’d rather have a root canal or get their car fixed, and the answer was hands down, people would rather the root canal.
Bill Connor (04:26):
And it wasn’t because they trusted their dentist
Rebecca Levey (04:28):
And it wasn’t because they trusted and it’s not because they want as far as grudge purchases go. And we know that in auto repair, most of the time it’s grudge purchase, right? I would think a root canal would be more of a grudge purchase than a repair, an unexpected repair to a vehicle. But apparently it’s not. So if trust is our main hurdle, and I believe it is, when we moved our shop to an industrial location, we lost, lost the inherent trust element of being a shade tree mechanic and we added staff. And so the main thing is trust, and the main thing is transparency. And my decision to use the AutoVitals platform was in answer to that question. Our why at our shop is how do we continue to be transparent? How do we continue to get our customers in the bay with our technicians? And that’s what AutoVitals has really helped us do.
Bill Connor (05:37):
Cool. So when we first talked, you were actually, and I don’t want to name any other inspection platform, but you came from a different inspection platform. So what is some of the main things that make AutoVitals more instructional for the customer than just these red, yellow, green check sheets that a lot of digital platforms produce?
Rebecca Levey (06:01):
Oh, so flexibility. Flexibility for the tech. My techs are, they’re all people who are really proud of their work and their ability to share what they’re doing with the customer is very full in the AutoVitals platform. They’ve become really proficient at taking the kinds of pictures they want to take at using the arrows and circles to tell their story. And at first, of course, and you all probably have had the same experience, at first it really was a fist fight. Nobody wanted to put the paper down and people didn’t want to take the extra time of taking those pictures. Well, now they’re taking pictures. They actually are paying attention to the lighting I have now before and after pictures. They’re getting so creative in being able to share their work. And the reason they’re sharing it, it’s not for the upsell. It’s not for the oversell.
They are sharing their work because they’re proud of what they do. And this communicates itself to customers in the front office. I have never hired a salesman. I hire people who are, and as you know in our work, we wear the hat of couples therapists a lot. We are divorce lawyers a lot. We talk to the grandparents, we talk to the teenagers, and these are the people that I hire. And in order to be that therapist, in order to be that educator, AutoVitals has enabled us to do this. When I send an inspection that is so well curated, the text, the pictures, I send this inspection to the teenager who then sends it to maybe the grandmother who’s paying the bill. And then that gets sent to the dad and it gets sent to the cousin. And this is all communication that we don’t have to do, but we actually are doing it.
Bill Connor (08:18):
So in the past, if it went through that particular chain, a technician or a service writer might’ve been interrupted at the shop three or four times, and now you send a simple text message, they go ahead and run it around through their family circle or whatever they need to do, and then you go ahead and get the call. So you talked a little bit about some hesitation on the part of your team to go ahead and adopt. I guess that’s probably putting it mildly in most shops. So can you talk about that and then what it is that you did to go ahead and get ’em off center? I think originally when we talked, you said, I gave him the tablets and said, guys, this is what we’re going to do. And then you kind of changed your method after that.
Rebecca Levey (09:00):
Well, the onboarding process was rough. It was rough for two reasons. One reason is Alaska is culturally a little bit behind in terms of adopting a digital lifestyle. People don’t tend to be on their phones a whole bunch, to be honest. If you spend any time outside, an iPhone freezes pretty quickly. So it’s not something that people are super dependent on. However, as a leader, as a leader and a visionary, you can kind of see where things are going. My techs and my staff, they didn’t believe that the world was going to go digital in quite that way. So they had to trust me a lot. And as you know, when people trust you, they can also fight you really hard. So yeah, so gave them tablets. And I’ll have to admit, because I didn’t really know any more than they did, the onboarding process was hard and it wasn’t their fault it was mine because I wasn’t thoroughly, I didn’t know either. So we kind of learned together and we kind of waited together and fought it kind of together. And it has really taken a full year or year and a half for them to see the benefits and now they would never go back.
Bill Connor (10:28):
And so a lot of times when we talk about a shop going ahead and doubling their weekly revenue and also going ahead and increasing their ARO for a couple hundred bucks, people say, well, that probably doesn’t make much difference because they’re way out there in the boonies. But the weekly revenue and ARO you started out with was something that a lot of shops would kill for in the first place. And yet you’ve actually made some huge strides from there. And with talking to you, I know a lot of that came from the culture in your shop and what was interesting, I’m looking at your different numbers and I like to go ahead and look at service advisor efficiency, which is the number of hours that are paid, posted an invoice per day, and I’m looking at yours and I’m seeing these hours on average, 10 or 12 per day. And then I got to talking to you and you started talking a little bit about your shorter than average work week. So could you tell a little bit about how that comes into play?
Rebecca Levey (11:25):
Sure. We do four tens, which as you know, ends up being four elevens for an owner, ends up being five twelves. But anyway, we do four tens because people who live in Alaska lifestyle is really important. And to do anything here, most people snow machine or ski or they do outdoor things and the state’s huge, having three days to actually do something with is really important to people. So we have to cram all of that work in for me to justify the overhead. As an employer, we went to a 40 day, four day work week so that people could have a quality of life that allowed them to show up at work and be really happy. And when you mentioned the shop culture, the reason for our productivity, it hasn’t been structural, it has been cultural. I made the decision for trust and teamwork in the beginning of 2019 to be our focus and trust can be divided into four subcategories really easily.
There’s care, there’s sincerity, there’s reliability, and there’s capability. And if there is lack of trust among my team members or in relationship to a vendor or in relationship to a customer, we’ve really become good at identifying which of these four areas is trust a problem? Is it care? Is it sincerity? Is it reliability is a capability. And part of care in me creating trust for my team is that I care for them as an employer. And a 40 day, four day work week is a way of me putting skin in the game. That building is sitting there not making me any money three days a week. And they know that and they appreciate it. And so they throw their backs in into Monday through Thursday and yeah, it actually works for the bottom line. It works and it’s because of trust.
Bill Connor (13:44):
So you had a little bit of a rough start and when you’re doing that, you actually learned some things in the process. So is there anything that you learned in that onboarding process that knowing what you do today that you do differently, that you’d like to go ahead and share with other people that are listening?
Rebecca Levey (14:01):
Oh gosh. The other thing is I think AutoVitals has gotten a lot better on onboarding a lot of vitals has in the last couple of years, gotten so much better at support the online resources. I would have my staff and I would go through with my staff, everything in the academy, those YouTube videos, videos. And again, this is the thing with software platforms, all the research says if you continue to struggle in adopting new software platforms, you’re going to stave off dementia because it’s that hard it, it’s that taxing mentally. So you are going to have to dive in, but I think there is prep work you can do and what’s on the, what’s been provided that’s built up a whole bunch in the last two years. I have to say what’s on there now wasn’t on there before. So that’s one thing I would do is prep with people before you launch into that. The other thing we did is we actually had someone from AutoVitals come up to our shop on two different occasions. That was really helpful, if that’s possible.
Bill Connor (15:21):
Definitely. They didn’t do it when your weather’s 40 degrees below zero though,
Rebecca Levey (15:23):
Right? No, they didn’t. They didn’t. When the fishing’s good suspiciously. Yeah. So there’s that, and then that’s kind of structural, right? The important thing really to me is that AutoVitals be used to reach our goals and to support our why. And the why we do things is we fix cars because we like to make people happy. And AutoVitals has enabled us to do that to a much greater extent. We host repair cafes to get people into our shop. A repair cafe is where you spend a day and I pay my tax on a Saturday to fix anything anybody wants. We do KitchenAid, we do lawnmowers, we do toasters, we do VCRs and lamps. And it’s wonderful because it gets the public in your shop. They see how clean, how well lit, what a beautiful facility you have. And then they work one-on-one with your techs. And this is a public service that we do repair. Cafes are a thing, they’re all over the world. Anyone can do it. That’s another thing I highly recommend to auto shops, become a member of repair Get people into your shop and that’s what AutoVitals does.
Bill Connor (16:54):
So when you were getting your technicians use to this, there’s two different parts of it. There’s one is to go ahead and do a thorough inspection, and it sounds like your culture is taking care of that. And then how long did it take you to actually go ahead and get them to stop using paper in the shop?
Rebecca Levey (17:13):
No, they’ve never stopped using paper. Yeah, our dispatch. So we dispatch on clipboards with paper because that’s a kind of a security blanket for them. But the thing is that they really aren’t putting anything on that paper. There are a couple things they put on the paper and to be honest, we keep every handwritten note for all time if something comes up.
Bill Connor (17:42):
So you could be paperless, but they haven’t got over the comfort level of not having a cushion yet.
Rebecca Levey (17:48):
Nope. And don’t know that they ever will. And I’m not really harping on it too much because they have so adopted the platform to curate their stories. They’re invested and they’re invested in such a way that their story is so thoroughly told that it sells the work, it sells the work for them. And they know this. And I use that term sell. I use it reluctantly because what we do is I tell my techs, I don’t have a policy book. The marching orders I give my technicians are, okay, every single vehicle that comes in this shop, it’s your wife’s and she is going to go visit her grandmother in Minnesota in December. What do you want to do to this car? And that’s the information they give to my service advisors. That’s the only marching order they have. And I trust them so much because they have such a high standard and enjoy so much what they do.
And it gets results because when it goes to my front office, this information, very detailed information, then my front office staff, their marching orders are to work with the budget and the timeline of the motorist. And we have a scale of one to five. Five means it’s not safe, you can’t drive it out of the parking lot. One means it’s not a new car. What do you want to do? And then the motorist makes the decision according to their budget with guidance and counseling from the service advisor. So there’s no selling. And to that extent, AutoVitals has created a platform that allows us to do our job of educating the driver so the driver can make a fully informed decision about what to do with their resources.
Bill Connor (19:46):
So when you talked about your service advisors, you said you go out and recruit them from coffee shops and restaurants and things like that. And when you bring them into your shop, what the technician, the information the technician is actually preparing for the customer. Does that help to educate the service writer that may know nothing about the industry?
Rebecca Levey (20:05):
So I don’t recruit my front office from the industry and I don’t do that because I don’t want salespeople. I want people who can multitask. And I also want people who have these two characteristics in the bag, empathy and compassion. If you can’t see things from the driver’s perspective, if you can’t do a repair as if their wallet was your wallet, then to me you’re ineffective. And so I don’t want salespeople. So I get people by and large who have no knowledge of car repair. And the wonderful thing about it is it creates a relationship between the technician and the service advisor in which the tech does have to actively educate the service advisor. And I was telling you yesterday, Bill, that what I do is I have my service advisors go through a list of what they want to learn and there are repairs that come up and if they don’t quite understand what it is, they write it down on a list. And so we have this running list at our shop of things, head gaskets, ball joints, you name it, it’s up there. And when that repair comes into the shop, my techs all have this list too. They’ll come grab that service advisor and they’ll show them what is opinion seal, what’s a circle clip? And the service advisors, they learn this and once they see it, they have it in the bag and they can explain it, they can explain it to the old man with gray sideburns, they can explain it to the,
Bill Connor (21:51):
Wait a minute,
Rebecca Levey (21:53):
They can explain it to that skeptical, the skeptical woman who maybe is just going through a divorce and knows that we are the next car repair shop that’s going to fleece her, right? But when I have a service advisor who’s gone through the process of learning that information and from a tech who cares enough to educate them, it creates a relationship with my customer in which they trust us implicitly. And what’s wonderful about that too, there is a lot of proof in the pudding. If you look at my reviews, I have a lot of five star reviews, which I’m really happy about because my customers appreciate what I do. And when you read the reviews, they all say, I love the inspections. I love it that I go to this shop and they don’t want me to do all of the work that’s been recommended. So they trust us.
Bill Connor (22:51):
They’d like to have it broke down. So one of the things that comes up off and the people like to hear is when a shop is successful, they double a weekly revenue and so on. How thorough is your inspection sheet and how long on average does it take for a technician to actually do the inspection or is the time it takes ’em to do it? Actually the driving factor
Rebecca Levey (23:13):
Time isn’t the driving factor. And each of the texts has a different process. I have to say some of ’em take a lot longer. There are texts that don’t want to spend time talking to service advisors, so they will actually write a novel rather than talking to the service advisors. So they’ll take a lot longer. I have texts that they’ll rely entirely on pictures, and this actually doesn’t seem to take as long and how long. We only have three inspections that we use heavily. Our annual inspection seems to get the most use. And Bill, you’d probably know better than I am. I don’t know how many check marks are on that one. But yeah, I can’t give you a figure because each tech is different and they use the inspection differently
Bill Connor (24:10):
As long as they accomplish your goal of doing a thorough inspection like it was their mother or their daughter’s car and they’re going to travel as long as they follow that policy, however long it takes is what time it’s going to take. And there’s no compromise. That’s one of the things that basically there’s no negotiating at that point. It’s going to be done that way.
Rebecca Levey (24:32):
And I have texts that choose to, I have texts that spend so much time on the Greens checkbox. They will take so many pictures of everything that’s good because to them they think that that really is reassuring to the driver. And where we are cars, it is really hard to, on a car to live where it’s the same temperature as the moon for a lot of the year, cars aren’t built for that. And so to know what actually is under there that’s looking pretty good, that’s important to a customer, it makes them feel good. So there are texts that they’re taking 30 pictures in the green box alone.
Bill Connor (25:16):
Peace of mind that they’re developing though is part of the Trusted Transparency program that you talk so highly about that the reason why you go this particular route in the first place. One of the things that we actually identified about some of the most successful shops that are out there in our AutoVitals network is they have a process that they use for employee meetings and they track different KPIs in the business control panel and so on. So could you talk through, do you have any process like that in place or any favorite KPIs in the business control panel you’d like to monitor?
Rebecca Levey (25:53):
There isn’t my favorite. KPI is not on the business control panel, and David knows this, I’ve told him many times. But anyway, my favorite KPI is bill hours. That’s just, I don’t look at revenue. I don’t look at look dollars, I never look at dollars. What I look at is how happy are my techs, what’s my workflow? And are they at, are they happy? Are they billing however many hours they think that they can bill? That’s my only KPI and it drives every single thing that we do.
Bill Connor (26:35):
Cool. So in the business control panel, there’s a KPI called service advisor efficiency that actually tells you that technicians build hours on average per day and that might be something that gets you in that path. And that was a number I looked at for your shop and said, these guys are working four days of work a week and they’re generating that. So that was what drew my attention in the first place. So that’s pretty cool. So anything else that you’d like to share about how you actually worked to go ahead and use the digital shop and use it to go ahead and build a engaging culture within your shop?
Rebecca Levey (27:17):
Well, how I use the, well, I mean one thing inherent in building trust in the digital platform is that people don’t want to do it at the beginning and they have to trust you as a leader. And how do you care for them through that process? And one way to care for them through that process is to be accountable as the leader, as the implementer. And what I’ve done throughout the process is if they ever have a problem and they don’t want to take the time to write a ticket because sometimes tickets, they don’t feel good to send a ticket to AutoVitals because it doesn’t get answered all the time, was to have them come directly to me. And I always take it directly to David or directly to someone and get immediate, immediate feedback. So I am always accountable to the problems with the platform.
I also in the platform in the chat feature, I’m always in there sending, I send my texts, all chats about the pictures. I’ll go through their inspections and if I say picture I really like, I always chat with them in that feature. I think that it increases communication. So as an owner, no matter where I am on vacation or wherever they actually know, I’m kind of looking over their shoulder in that chat feature. I’m still accountable and I’m still reliable and caring for them. And I think they know that I’m sincere because I’m always in that platform watching what they’re doing and commending them.
Bill Connor (29:07):
That’s an interesting use case for the chat, but I don’t think I’ve heard that brought up before using the chat to go ahead and give positive reinforcement to your staff when you’re out in a way you can kind of see what’s going on. So that’s kind of interesting.
Rebecca Levey (29:20):
Oh, it’s huge actually. It’s a really big deal, especially for any owner, for any owner to show that consistent care in what a technician is doing because I’m not going to stand in their bay watching what they’re doing. But in AutoVitals, I’m in everybody’s bay all the time.
Bill Connor (29:43):
In a positive way.
Rebecca Levey (29:44):
In a positive way. Yeah. No, I’m not. And it’s interesting with my foreman, if I see something I really like, then I’ll chat to my foreman and I’ll say, Hey, Harley’s taking pictures of the dipstick with no oil on it in front of the license plate. Subaru owners, they must be the same the world over. They will come in with no oil on the dipstick every time. And to have the record of it, to have that record time after time when that thing has 125,000 miles and the motors blown, you really have a good record of why that’s the case.
Bill Connor (30:29):
Cool. And so we’ve got this covid going on worldwide. We’ve had it going on for quite some time and we’ve actually most shops, they’ve kind of perfected the touchless work with the shop. Can you talk about how that played out in your shop and can you actually go ahead and actually work with a customer in a totally touchless environment now and have we spoiled the customer where they really like it, where they may never go back to the old way?
Rebecca Levey (31:02):
Well, that’s interesting Bill, because it was just some fluke or miracle that I transitioned to AutoVitals just before Covid because we were able to lock our doors. When was that? Almost two years ago in April, we locked our doors and I bought two banks of cell phone locker boxes and put them on the outside of the building and built a little house for him. And anyway, we are still locked. Our front office still isn’t open actually to this day it’s been two years. And as you mentioned, we haven’t hurt in terms of the bottom line because of that, it may have improved things because people can do things on their own time, their own timeframe. So we text people a locker box number and a code at the end of the transaction. And we still have transparency because of the digital platform.
Bill Connor (32:11):
One of the most interesting thing was is for both shops and customers, when they finally got to where they understand that there’s a benefit to go ahead and drop off their car and leave it, it’s remove the presser from the shop, they can do a more thorough job and for the customer, they can get the information, they can review it on their own time. They don’t have to. I mean they could be teaching their kids homeschool at this point for all I know, but they don’t have to have their day interrupted. They can deal with it and then call after they’ve looked it over. So it’s really become a lot more convenient, I would say. And people have also found out because of covid, that there are really a lot better off in some cases when you do a thorough inspection to go ahead and get more of it done per visit so they can reduce the amount of frequency back to the shop.
Rebecca Levey (33:01):
I mean, having a curated record of everything that’s wrong, even if they don’t have the money to do that work at the moment, it’s so nice to open up that inspection, see where we were when they came in a year ago. Yeah, it just saves a lot of time.
Bill Connor (33:18):
Interesting. So another question that comes up quite often is that some shops are reluctant to inspect every car that comes through. So do you inspect every vehicle and do you do the same inspection every vehicle? What is your policy and mindset? This will be kind of interesting.
Rebecca Levey (33:35):
Yeah, I’ve never been quite clear on the dashboard on this one, and David and I should go over it at some point, but if a car’s been in and the work gets scheduled out, so let’s say they can’t come in for those struts for two months, do we do the full inspection when the work has already been flagged and how does AutoVitals count that on our inspection rate? It’s tricky, right? So no, it’s probably tech by tech on that. And also dispatch will give some instruction on this car. A lot of cars up there. I think we see older cars than anyone in the lower 48 does. We don’t have rust. Oh really? No, we really don’t. Well, let me revise that. You
Bill Connor (34:26):
Got frost instead.
Rebecca Levey (34:28):
Well, no, we haven’t. DOT hasn’t in the past used salt. So we don’t have salt. And when a car’s frozen for seven months of the year, rust is inhibited because of frozen weather. But in the last couple of years they’ve started salting the road. So we do see more rust damage. But anyway, we work on really old cars and there are no inspections. And the threshold for driving a totally beat vehicle is pretty high in Alaska. So the frequency of inspections, and I think probably they’re more called for than in the lower 48. So that car that comes back two months later for those struts may or may not request an inspection. I don’t know how people in the lower 48 would handle that if it’s a five-year-old car and the struts were flagged two months ago, I don’t know if a shop would require a full inspection. What do you guys, what’s your best practice?
Bill Connor (35:37):
So best practices do, every car gets inspected every time. Some shops will use a carry forward. A lot of shops have went to that. If a car comes back within 30 days, they won’t do a full reinspection on it, but they will go and look things over because we’ve all, I mean in southern states, for instance, you can park a car in your yard and 30 days later the wine harnesses are nibbled by little squirrels and rodents running around. So there’s plenty of stuff that can happen in a short period of time. And a lot of shops, their policies, they inspected every time. So they don’t go ahead and miss something like that and get blamed for the car burning to the ground later on when the nage shows up. But every shop has got a different policy and it’s always kind of interesting to hear how it gets handled
Rebecca Levey (36:25):
And it really is. I’m curious about how people pay texts for those inspections.
Bill Connor (36:32):
Well, why don’t you go ahead and share what you do on your end. Are you techs flag hour or hourly? And do you allow them time on inspection?
Rebecca Levey (36:41):
Yeah, my techs are by, we pay ’em on the build hour and yeah, we charge for inspections. So the inspecting that gets done is important enough that the customer’s going to pay for it, which is tricky, right? We have to sell that on the front end. The customer has to know, Hey, this thing’s getting inspected. And you have to explain to them why that is, why it’s important. And in the long run, we all know they are saving money by doing that. If I see a car three times in a year, I have proven in 25 years in this business that I’m saving that customer money.
Bill Connor (37:24):
One of the interesting things was is in we get a lot of shops that they do go ahead and charge for their inspections. And we had some shops initially after the customer gets an inspection or two or maybe even the first one, we asked them, now we do this at no charge for you, but if you had to pay for this, what type of value would you assign to it? And in 2013 or 2014, I actually did that survey and our customers even that long ago, were saying in the 80 to $90 range. So if the customer’s perception of value is there really a service writer, if they’ve explained to the customer what it is, there really is authorization comes from education when they see what’s in it for them, then that resistance to pay for it changes over time. But it’s kind of interesting that we’re here more and more shops.
Part of their program is that we do charge for inspections. We do ’em several times a year. We’ve got some shops that their policy is that they don’t charge for the first inspection. They tell the customer, ma’am, sir, we need to see your vehicle three times a year. As long as we see it within that, we’re not going to go ahead and charge for the inspection because we already have a relationship with your vehicle. If you miss one, we’ll still be happy to go and take care of you, but there will be a fee associated with that acquaintance inspection. Interesting. So I think I we’re going to see more of that because the price that we’re having to pay for quality employees is definitely going to be going up. And in order to go ahead and get a return on investment, it’s still the customer’s responsibility to pay for everything that goes on in our shop and still have a net profit at the end of the day. So I bet we see more people adopt that over time.
Rebecca Levey (39:11):
Anything that puts my technician in a position of having to leverage money out of a customer in order for him to make a living, I want to take that temptation or that structure away. And if an inspection is important to me as an owner, I’m going to pay my tech for it. I’m never going to ask a tech to do work that he doesn’t get paid for. It just doesn’t make sense. And so in terms of trust, in terms of my sincerity, my reliability, I’m going to pay that tech for that inspection. And if the market can’t bear it, right, if the market cannot bear it, then it’s not actually useful or productive. And so that’s kind of the bridge that I jumped off of. If my staff, my front office staff in talking to customers, if it can’t sell it, then the market can’t bear doing thorough inspections and I’m not going to work an inspection into my hourly rate because transparency is important to me. I’m going to be transparent with my technicians and they’re going to see, yep, you’re getting paid 0.6 hours to do this because it’s that important.
Bill Connor (40:35):
And it takes away their feeling of doing something and not getting paid, which is a negative that we really need to remove from shops. So what I’d like to do is now that we’re getting down toward the end a little bit, I’d like to go ahead and help you help the people that are listening understand the number one thing you would do to go ahead and either a digital shop that’s struggling or one that is not a digital shop yet that needs to, what is the number one thing that they need to do to get their staff started down the path
Rebecca Levey (41:10):
Of digital inspection or BI platform
Bill Connor (41:15):
Using the digital platform? Preferably, everybody likes to talk about the digital inspection, but you and I both know that AutoVitals doesn’t stop at digital inspection. The technician view on a workflow is a great tool for understanding your available hours and how the technician’s progressing through the day. So just what is your number one thing that they need to focus on in order to go ahead and start their journey?
Rebecca Levey (41:40):
So number one thing is whatever management system anyone adopts, it has to answer the question of their why. It has to fit into that. Why do you do what you do? And you need to adopt a platform that’s going to support that. That’s the number one thing. Figure out why you do what you do. And my guess is it’s not because you like a relationship with an in object like a car. It is about people in the end. And if adopting a digital platform answers that, why, then the process kind of takes care of itself. The success that I have had Bill, if it’s the number one thing I do and the number one piece of advice I’d give to any shop owner, it is change from a competitive culture to a teamwork culture. That’s the number one thing that I did Opened up our shop in 1997 and in the end of 2018, beginning of 2019, we decided to change over from a minorly competitive culture to an entirely teamwork culture.
And the way we did that was by concentrating on trust and those four areas that I mentioned of trust and our leaders really training them in trust. We speak quarterly, we have seminars on it, and we have meetings with our technicians and our front office staff entirely about trust and how to improve trust. My staff now, they use conflict productively rather than avoiding conflict because it comes up all the time among themselves with vendors, with customers. They use that conflict productively. They’re highly engaged in each other’s work. It creates a collaborative atmosphere. The industry is changing so quickly that if our technicians, if they don’t talk to each other about what they’re learning and about what their challenges are, they aren’t going to learn. They learn so much from each other now because there’s a collaborative atmosphere rather than a competitive one. We place a lot of emphasis on education. All of my techs are a SC master certified, and if they’re not, when they start with me, they have to get there really soon. And not because a test matters, but because I need to know that I am hiring people who value education and they all do. They’re all problem solvers. They’re accountable to each other in a way they never were before and they’re accountable to outside stakeholders. And when I say outside stakeholders, I mean customers.
They’re not as just accountable to me as an owner. They’re accountable to their customers. Anyway.
Bill Connor (45:04):
One things that’s kind of interesting is that you’ve been doing this for a long time, and I would guess you’ve probably seen a shift in the industry where 25 years ago, our job was really to go ahead and fix broken vehicles. And now we’ve actually changed to a model that we have decided that we owe to customer a safe, comfortable, and reliable vehicle. We do that by inspecting them, giving them all the information, and then being a consultant that helps guide them through the process. So it’s a total different model today. And is that something that you’ve noticed as well?
Rebecca Levey (45:41):
I have. I think that the shade tree mechanic has always been a service. It’s always been a service. Now auto repair has morphed from a service into a retail. They’re selling people things. And what we need, and maybe the shift you’re talking about is a mental shift where we’re going back to, oh wow, we serve people. And that’s what you mean when we’re guidance counselors or we’re advocates for the motorists, that’s a service. But when we think of ourselves as selling stuff, like as a retail outfit, as selling jobs, as selling a repair, that’s the wrong way to think of a service. And we are in the service industry. If you go to a doctor and you need a shoulder surgery, can you imagine if he wanted to sell you a knee replacement at the same time? No, he doesn’t do that because a physician, he’s advocating for you. That’s a service.
Bill Connor (46:48):
He’s not going to go and do a shoulder operation without doing a exam of the whole vehicle first.
Rebecca Levey (46:53):
No, exactly.
Bill Connor (46:56):
There you go. Yeah, Billy,
Rebecca Levey (46:58):
You just keep coming back to that one point. I like that.
Bill Connor (47:01):
So now let’s go ahead and say that you’re a year in, your staff has got relatively comfortable and things like that, and now you’re into year two. Can you go ahead and talk about some changes that you made after the initial onboarding that have continued to go ahead and drive you forward? And then our last question will be is what are we going to do for the next round?
Rebecca Levey (47:23):
Yeah, yeah. So what has happened, the interesting transition that has happened is, right, if you can imagine, I’m dragging everyone kicking and screaming. That’s the first year right now, a year and a half into it, two years into it, what’s happening is they have actually taken ownership and there’s a leadership role that they’re all taking. Remember they’ve made the transition to being a collaborative team. And what they’re doing now is they’re going out of their way to say, Hey, you know what I figured out is these winter heaters, take your laser thermometer, shine it on that winter heater, and you can take a picture of that and you can actually show the customer over time the degradation of that silicone heater pad. And so they’re sharing this. They have, I’m not ramming anything down their throats now. They’re often and running. And what’s wonderful is I’m kind of trying to catch up to them now. Awesome. They’re doing all of this behind my back now and I’m hearing about it after the fact. So that’s what I think people can look forward to if they lead their staff through this process in the right way and they get what AutoVitals calls, I like to term it more ownership.
They’ve owned this because they’re proud of what they do and because they want to share their work and they’re collaborative, they’re team members.
Bill Connor (49:00):
Cool. So they’ve actually got to the point where they’re coming to you and saying, these are the things that I suggest to do. So at this point, are they coming to you and asking you, Hey, can we modify our inspection sheet to go ahead and add this condition or this job to it and things like that? How does that part of it work after you’re in that first year?
Rebecca Levey (49:21):
Yeah. Yep. No, they ask for modifications for sure. And they’re all, as we all know, as owners, they’re smarter than I am. They’re in the trenches. They might not be visionaries, but they know their job and they’re excellent at it. So yeah, they ask for these changes, but to be honest, Bill, they don’t come to me and they’re going to each other now. They’re going to each other and saying, Hey, I’ve figured this out. Let’s do this. That’s teamwork, that’s collaboration. And it’s wonderful because things like who took the last court of zero 20 and didn’t tell anyone, they’re actually among themselves now. They’re holding each other accountable.
Bill Connor (50:14):
That’s a teamwork at its finest for sure. And so I know that when we talked the other day, I’ve seen you come a long way in a couple of years, and what I’d like to do is go ahead and maybe get something from you that you’re going to do over the next year. So we invite you back maybe around next Christmas so you can go and share what you’ve done to go and continue improvement. Know you got more left in you. I got to figure out what it’s going to be.
Rebecca Levey (50:37):
Oh man, if I share something, you guys might hold me accountable.
Bill Connor (50:43):
That’s the plan.
Rebecca Levey (50:47):
It is actually going to be to continue down the road of creative and innovative ways to tackle trust and transparency. So I think the why I’m not to the end of the road with figuring out ways to be a transparent shop. I am not at the end of the road with creating a trust environment where everyone at my shop feel safe to be really innovative. And that’s what we want. We want people to be secure enough to make changes and to maybe fail to be encouraged to make mistakes and take responsibility for them. That’s one of the things that I think we’ve modeled really well at our shop, which is if we make a mistake, I always take accountability as an owner. I always pay for that mistake. And because of me mentoring that my staff, they are really good at taking responsibility for the mistakes that they have made and feeling really safe to do that. So I think that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to continue
Bill Connor (51:59):
Thinking of mentoring. We have a lot of shops that are actually bringing some younger people in and having their technicians mentor them into the business. Is that something you’re currently doing or something that you might go ahead and be open to on this next year to start growing your own into that same good culture you’ve created?
Rebecca Levey (52:16):
Yeah. Yep. There’s an internship program at the local community college and we take interns and we have our, actually first female has applied and I’m excited to see if that works out. So yeah,
Bill Connor (52:36):
I’m sure it will work out fine. I’ve seen many, many good female technicians and I really like the way they operate because they’re very detail oriented where a lot of guys will just go, that’s good enough. And I don’t see that on the female technicians. The details are really important to ’em, for sure. So we’re up at the top of our hour here, so I would really like to thank you for joining us and sharing. You had a very interesting story, and I’m sure that we’re only at the first chapter. If you’re open to it, I’d like to go ahead, invite you back on a future episode to go ahead and learn more about what you’re doing in the great far north. I know it’s got to be pretty interesting. It’s kind of interesting when I see shops up in your neck of the woods, they’re advertising for employees. They don’t talk about their pay and how their building is and all this other stuff. They talk about four day work week. You can go hunting, you can go fishing, you can go wrestle a bear, whatever it might be. And it’s kind of a different way of attracting people for sure.
Rebecca Levey (53:45):
How you advertise a position means everything about who you’re going to get. So that’s a whole different subject. We could talk about that for an hour, I’m sure.
Bill Connor (53:55):
Well, we’ll have to do that one day. So for those of you that joined us, we’d like to thank you. We’d like to highly encourage you to go ahead and share this with other shop owners. Tell ’em to go to and join us live. Or go ahead and send them the link to our podcast or have them listen on their favorite podcast platform. And like I said, our goal is to go ahead and take shop owners just like you operating a digital shop and share with you maybe some of the struggles ahead getting going and along with their successes along the way and help improve the industry as a whole. So once again, I’d like to thank you. Wish you a merry Christmas because I’m not politically correct, so I won’t say Happy holidays and everybody have a great day. Go out and make some money and wow your customers.
Rebecca Levey (54:41):
All right, thanks, Bill. I appreciate it.
Bill Connor (54:43):
Thanks, Rebecca.

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