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Roy Foster – Owner of Roy Foster’s, and Brad Harriff  – Service Manager, joins Bill to discuss their transition to the digital shop, and what it has meant to their operation including the trend they created for increasing ARO and weekly revenue with a reduced car count. The initial changes made, what worked, and anything they would have changed to do it again. 

Episode Transcript

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

Bill Connor (00:05):
Good morning, good afternoon. I’m Bill Connor and you have reached a Digital Shop Talk Radio where we get together and talk about all things digital on Wednesday afternoons at 12 o’clock central. Today I’m here with Roy Foster, the owner of Roy Foster’s Automotive here before, and we’re going to go and examine what he’s been doing over the last year or so, and also his service manager, Brad Harriff. Uwe, our very own Chief Innovation Officer Uwe is out today innovating somewhere, and I’m sure he’ll be back to go ahead and share that with us at a later date. Today we’re going to be discussing their transition to the digital shop, what it’s meant to their overall operation. So these two panelists have been sharing some of the initial changes in main what worked and anything they might do differently if they ever had to do it again.
So that’ll help some of you guys that are just starting out. And so we’re going to cover the evolution as they dug in deeper to the tools they had and how they use them and what their plans are to continue the progress they’ve already had into the future. So you can take away some solid information to put to work in your digital shop tomorrow. And as always, you’ll learn from these panelists that are operating shops just like yours. So Roy and Brad, welcome, or I should say welcome back in both of your cases. You’ve been kind enough to go ahead and visit us more than once here. And if you’re okay with it, what I’d like to do is start out with a little bit about how you started out, but before I do that, I think I’d really like to kind of share some data to go ahead and show your trend over time so that way people know that you’ve got, besides being credible, you’ve got some credibility as far as what we’re talking about here today. So let me go ahead and share this screen and make sure we’ve got the right screen up. I think it’s going to be this one here and hopefully you can see a business control panel on the screen.
Is that what you’re seeing there, Roy? Yes, sir. And so what I’m looking at here is, I’m just looking at the last 30 days and this is the way I prefer to look at it, is I like to go ahead and look at weekly revenue, where it’s at, where their ARO is at, and then what are the behaviors that it’s actually driving this. But what’s really important about these guys is that when you look at it today, there’s room for improvement in a few of these numbers, but overall they look like they’re doing real well. But what I want to do is I want to move over into a different mode here and actually let’s go and look at it over time.
And so this is what I like to look at. And so right now you should be seeing a graph on here where we’re starting out in January, 2018. And specifically right now I’ve just got their ARO turned on and you can see that they’ve had a large increase from 2018 to today. And so it’s just a real nice upward trajectory and it doesn’t look like a hockey stick, but it’s very consistent going up over time. And I see a lot of shops that when they come in this and they focus wholly on their average report a dollar amount and they have a dip in weekly revenue when they’re focused on one thing. But here what we see is we see weekly revenue and ARO both trending up at the same time. So this is a good trend line to go and look at. One of the other things I’d like to go ahead and look at here is that a lot of times initially people were after car count and then over time they really learned to go ahead and make every car count.
So here you can see that their weekly revenue and ARO is going up and we’ve got the car count going down and then we’ve got a little holiday trend going on here. But overall a lot of things are going right in the right direction and it’s a well-balanced approach rather than just having a focus on one thing. We move over a little bit further and we can go ahead and see that one of the things that leads into it is average motorist research time. So again, we talk a lot about that are the inspections of a quality where the motorists look ’em over and what effect does that have on the bottom line? And that’s what we’re seeing here. If you would, I’m going to go and switch back to the screen here, so I hope you agree that you’re definitely trending in the right direction. If you’ll share a little bit about how you started out into the digital, whether it was with AutoVitals or with somebody else and what you did to go ahead and get everybody on board.
Roy Foster (04:32):
Yeah, sure, Bill. So we did start with AutoVitals and it was a little bit difficult at the first go just for us as on the management side, just learning how to effectively use the system and then a little pushback from the text. But we quickly realized, especially from customer feedback, that hey, this is the right thing to be doing. It shows up in our Google’s reviews over and over about the transparency, the professionalism, and so we knew we were on the right track and we just had to keep working at it. And I will say it wasn’t easy in the beginning.
There’s a bit of a learning curve, but if you stick with it, get some good coaching like I had with Bill helping me out in the beginning especially, we tend to get a lot of success from that and you can see it in the graph and I look at that graph being a technician also looks like a lab scope graph. So the more you shrink down that time and look, you see a lot of peaks and valleys, but overall the trend is going exactly how we would like it to be going. So in other words, there’s some rough days, there’s some learning curves, but my biggest thing I could say is just stick with it. And then the other big thing for us has been the 300% rule and that’s a hundred percent of the cars get inspected, a hundred percent of the inspections get estimated and a hundred percent of the estimates are presented to the customer. And we just believe in that full disclosure, the transparency and grow that trust. And there’s a little fear, especially from the advisors, especially in the beginning like, wow, these estimates are huge, but I think we’re doing the customers a disservice when we don’t present everything.
Brad Harriff (06:51):
And the estimates that anxiety got settled very quickly after you start doing it, after you start helping the customers making the repairs, that anxiety lowered as the estimates would start to lower because people start fixing their cars. We were aware of it. Then we would go from 15, 16 hours worth of estimates down to three, four, just keeping maintenance and keeping up on it. And they’re more happy to do that, they’re more happy to maintain their car because it’s cheaper than just coming in once a year and getting a whole estimate. And it’s easier because it gets done in a day not having to bring it back and that kind of
Roy Foster (07:26):
Stuff. Well obviously cheaper than repairs and easier because they can plan for it, they can budget for it and they don’t have the inconvenience of a breakdown. So yeah, it’s working very
Bill Connor (07:39):
Well. So when you started out years ago, did you start out with just our generic inspection sheet or did you start out trying to build your own from day one? What advice would you have? Somebody, A lot of people have the tendency to say, I’ve got this great paper inspection, it’s got these topics on it, I choose red, yellow, green, and they recreate the exact same inspection digitally and they don’t see any upside from it as far as customer authorization. So can you talk through what you did, what you found out, and maybe anything that you might think about doing differently?
Roy Foster (08:12):
Yeah, so we did do the paper inspection obviously before and it wasn’t nearly as thorough. So what we did is we went through the library of those folks that are kind enough to share their inspection sheets with us and we found one that looked good and then we just tailored it to fit exactly what we wanted and then over time able to audit those inspections and see what’s effective, why are we checking this if we’ve never recommended this item, things like that. We’re able to fine tune the inspection over time.
Bill Connor (08:51):
So when you say fine tune the inspection over time, obviously you started out at one point and as your evolution to being full digital change, what staff members in the shop were part of that discussion as you modified your inspection sheet?
Roy Foster (09:07):
Honestly, the entire team. So a lot of our meetings are focused around the data driven by the tablets. So we get feedback from the techs, we get feedback from the advisors and we get feedback from the data and we just bring that all together and are able to refine and then also able to map out our inspection sheets to make it more efficient for them. So the techs will often come to Brad and he’ll constantly be tweaking the inspection to make it more efficient.
Bill Connor (09:47):
So when you first started out, if you could remember back that far because once upon a time, long time ago, as time goes in the automotive industry, how did you start out in the shop? Did you just go ahead and just get a bunch of tablets and set ’em on the counter and said, go to work guys? Or did you go ahead and prepare in advance? What did you do to go ahead and get started and is there anything you would do different today if you had to do it all over again?
Roy Foster (10:14):
Yeah, I would say, and this is something Brad taught me, is that we should first when launching any new technologies, especially that we should learn it on the management side first and know all the ins and outs before we hand it over to our techs so we’re able to train them properly and bring them up to speed quicker. So I did fail in that in the beginning I think we did just kind of hand them tablets and it was a bit of a struggle. So my advice is to, for the management side, to learn the system first so they’re able to quickly answer the questions, train, teach, and adapt the inspection.
Brad Harriff (10:59):
And that’ll help build trust between your team members too. If you as the management with answer any questions that the tech comes to you with or if you help them along with it or even if you’re like Roy did a lot of the times where you’re like, Hey Roy, I don’t understand this. And he would go, well, I don’t either. Let’s figure it out, let’s understand it, get a game plan together and get it figured out. So that helps build trust with your technicians and your service advisors. If you’re just not playing the part of, well here you go, these guys over here at auto, we’re going to make a bunch more money so you guys figure it out, let it go kind of thing. So it built a lot more trust in the process.
Bill Connor (11:38):
So we’ve all heard the phrase over and over again, perfection is the enemy of progress. So did you learn it? Would you recommend a learner to perfection before you actually start into it or would you say that, look, this is the minimum things that you have to learn in to go ahead and survive without any paper in the shop and we’re going to go and build on this foundation from here?
Roy Foster (11:58):
Yeah, I would say fundamentally because we’re still learning every day and a lot of our learning has come from, well from this, from coaching also from just going over the KPIs and the business control panel with our team and seeing what’s effective, we’ve pretty much figured out the average research time, the number of pictures taken, the number of recommendations made, we can see the trends, how they follow each other. And I think it’s really powerful to show the team that and to constantly remind them that hey, this is your opportunity to walk every single client out to their car and show them every single thing that you’re concerned about and that you’re recommending. So that’s the mentality we’re trying to grow is that it’s their opportunity to have the client at the car through the entire process.
Bill Connor (13:02):
So you’re actually coaching your staff to go ahead and deliver the same experience they would have if they educated the customer at the side of the car, but do it with the digital tools. Do I hear that correctly? Yep. Cool. And so back when you started out, if a shop, they were just starting out in digital today, a lot of shops, they don’t really have any concept about a shop meeting how often to do it or so long. So if you think back initially, would you go ahead and on shop meetings? Would you go ahead and do it daily till you got going and switch over to weekly? What did that look like and what do you think it should look like?
Roy Foster (13:41):
You want to take that take So, so where we’re at now is we do a daily huddle every morning, a morning huddle, the techs have a screen in the shop with the workflow view and the advisors go over the day’s work and we discuss everything. And I think that’s been really helpful showing them the big picture of what’s going on in the shop so they’re not just tunnel vision but more of a team effort. So as a team, these are the things we’re trying to accomplish. And then we do have a weekly meeting as well and that’s when we really drill down on the KPIs and other things in the business too. But the business control panel is a big part of our meetings.
Bill Connor (14:30):
What are some of the things you expect to cover in that really quick morning huddle?
Brad Harriff (14:35):
So typically with that, we like to go over workload that’s more of a meeting. Roy isn’t always there for that long cause that’s more for the service advisors to kind of meet one-on-one with the technicians and that the goal of it is to be short and simple and it’s to pretty much go, alright guys, is the workload that we have, this is how many cart we have, everything’s in order at this point in time. And of course throughout the day as the jobs go on, the tech’s going to come to you and go, Hey, I don’t have this part. Or Hey, is this labor getting done? Kind of thing. But that’s a point where we can go, Hey, are there any problem trials in the shop? Is anybody having problems with the racks? Is anybody having any problems that’s going to hinder them from getting their job done today? What can we do to help with that? And what can the tech then do to help service advisor get the car done?
Bill Connor (15:19):
So does your technician actually look at their workload for today and go ahead and help you understand are they going to meet book time, exceed book time, help you understand how well they’re going to go through things or are they just looking at the current repair orders, just looking for something that might become a bottleneck?
Brad Harriff (15:34):
They look at everything. They look at pretty much the whole workload that they have for that day. Us as a service advisors, we try to organize stuff to where we can get diags done in the morning. That way they, most days the techs always have one or two jobs that they could be working on that’s just upsale work or the recommended action work that needs to be done, not something that needs any additional work on our end as a service advisor. So they understand and part of the morning meeting is to have them go, we got these four cars, you need to evaluate these four cars here before lunch, report ’em back to us. That way while they’re working around, they’re busy work and keeping the productivity up and not just staying around waiting for parts and waiting for work. The service advisors in the office can then be working on those estimates so that way we can kind of keep the workload flowing and kind of keep everything moving.
Bill Connor (16:22):
So there seems to be a rumor going on in the industry right now that there’s a technician shortage and a lot of shops, they’re not going ahead and have their staff working the full capacity in their shop. So when you started doing the inspections and you started going ahead and getting all these approvals for additional work that was found, I know you said you like to do your inspections and diagnosis first thing in the morning and so on. So a lot of shops, they get into panic mode because they think everything has to be done today. So how did you guys go ahead and I mean for a lot of shops that’s a fear that keeps ’em from taking anything in. How did you guys go ahead and overcome that or what did you do with it?
Brad Harriff (17:00):
It’s all a simple explanation of over promise or under promise, over deliver, not the other way around. I’ll do that. And it’s just a simple thing of explaining to the customer. If you’re upfront and honest with your customer every single time, we’ve rarely had any pushback. Like today we have, I honestly don’t think we have a single parking spot left in our lot or any overflow lot we have. Every single customer that’s come in has seen that understood what it meant. They came in and go, how long is it going to take to look at my car? And a hundred percent honestly, we want to give it the best experience we can. You’re paying us to look at your vehicle, get it done correctly, we have a little bit of a workload, we’re going to look at it as soon as we possibly can. You’re more than likely looking at tomorrow or possibly end of Friday if you need a ride, we have a business lift account we can go through to help you out with that. We can do really whatever we need to do to help accommodate it. We just don’t really want to half ass through looking through your car because that’s not fair to you, that’s not fair to us and that’s not fair to the whole process. And it’s all about honesty and just being upfront with people and 99% of the time people understand
Roy Foster (18:09):
Well. And another component of that now is parts supply and parts delivery. Our delivery drivers, they’re almost non-existent these days, so it’s taken longer for us to get parts. There’s other constraints. So we’re explaining that to the customer as well. And I think as long as we’re explaining those things on the front end, then they’re okay with it. They set the expectation and then try to meet or exceed it
Brad Harriff (18:41):
And yeah, people really don’t have problems with it. I don’t ever get pushback from people saying, I need my car back and I can’t do this kind of thing. And you just keep moving on it. You got to stick to when the tech’s working on it, they can only do one car at a time. We try to drill into these techs and they all pretty much understand it, that when you have a car in front of you and you’re working on it, that needs to have, its a hundred percent dedication. You have the process of making sure that this vehicle is properly inspected, properly diagnosed and sent back to the customer, properly repaired. You don’t need to worry about this other car that you have on your tablet, this other, that’s all understood in the process that that’s part of what we go over in
Roy Foster (19:22):
As well. And I think over time, Bill being a digital shop for the period of time we have been, I think our customers are accustomed to getting that and trusting us with our process. They know we’re busy and I think that’s almost the expectation now. It’s not going to be fast because we’re going to be more thorough.
Bill Connor (19:47):
So today you really don’t have any fear. So let’s say that you go ahead and inspect a bunch of cars today and they’ve got a lot of work that needs to be done. You don’t really have any fear if it’s not a safety concern, putting that customer back in the car and scheduling to go and come back and get it done later when the parts arrive and things like that.
Brad Harriff (20:03):
Not really. A lot of our customers are return customers and I’d say a good 40% of our customers are brand new customers. And even the brand new customers when explaining the process and explaining the inspection and explaining what we’re going to do, they understand then with the second phone call or the second contact of the day where we’re selling the work to them. If there’s something where it goes, ma’am, you have 10, 15 hours worth of work, I’m not going to be able to get it done today. I know you need your car back today. Why don’t we take care of this safety issue and this primary concern that you came in for? Because I want to make sure that it’s safe and reliable for you and why don’t we set up a appoint for next Thursday when I have some availability, we’ll get it done for you at the same day. I can schedule that and know for sure we’re going to get it done. Does that work for you? Again, you have some people where life gets in the way where they can’t come in and make it, but most of the time, yeah, that sounds perfect. Let’s get it done. Can’t wait to talk to you tonight. And then when they pick up their car, it’s cool, we have an appointment set for you next Thursday, we’ll see you then. Lemme know if you need anything.
Bill Connor (21:05):
And they back in January of 18, your average hours per repair order was somewhere in the 1.5 hour range somewhere in there. And today you’re creeping up on the three hour range. So I mean what is the overall feeling as far as in the shop now when you’ve slowed things down and you’re concentrating on really putting out a better experience for the customer versus in the past it looked like maybe a lot of busy work going on.
Roy Foster (21:36):
Yeah, I think the feeling’s good. I think the technicians would rather have three cars a day versus six cars a day. There’s a lot less problems. Why didn’t you guys tell me about this? Or a lot of things like that that it’s just taking care of
Brad Harriff (22:02):
And that’s the better flow of everything. With the tech only working on three cars, billing three, four hours a ticket, they’re more attuned to each vehicle. They’re not getting flustered wondering, okay, this is the same Honda as the one I’m working on later on in the day, am I doing the right car? They know that what they’re doing, they understand what’s going on. We’ve had less comebacks, we’ve had less mess ups, we’ve just had less mistakes overall. And that’s increased into the efficiency and that’s therefore made the techs happy.
Bill Connor (22:36):
Does writing less repair orders per day for the service writer at a higher dollar amount, does that go in and relieve some of their stress also? Yeah,
Roy Foster (22:46):
Absolutely. And it’s a better service to the customer because they’re able to spend that time with each customer explaining the process, explaining the findings, answering all their questions and educating the customer. So the more time we can spend with them, it’s just relative to the average research time. We know that as the average research time in the inspection goes up, so does the ARO. Well it’s relative to the customer at the counter as well. The more time we can spend answer their questions, not rush ’em out the door and be able to sit and listen, the better the ARO becomes as well.
Brad Harriff (23:30):
Yeah, that makes it easier for the techs. If we have more time to talk with the customer, figure out what their primary concern is, write a better story that makes it easier to send that message back out to the tech. They’re spending less time chasing their tail. They know exactly what’s going on, they know exactly to look for and it just increases efficiency overall.
Bill Connor (23:50):
So initially when a shop comes on, they go ahead and develop their inspection sheet, they have a tendency to go ahead and just build a big long shopping list of an inspection sheet that tries to encompass everything. So did you guys start out the same way or did you start out simple and then add to it as needed or what is a good number of topics versus not enough for too many?
Brad Harriff (24:17):
It depends on how busy the tech can be. It is really the kind of thing where I think we started off pretty small. We started off with what our normal sheet was, which was usually fluid, tires, brakes, and then just red flags as this bushing cracked this drive shaft starting to come apart. And then it kind of evolved. If they started whipping out inspections in 10, 15 minutes, we kind of understood that they’re getting it really easy or they’re doing their job really easily. Not that there’s so much looking for a challenge, but we really understood that adding five, six other topics that they can inspect doesn’t add more time to them. That’s something that they can do as they go forward. And then we’ve gone a little bit too far over the deep end, you know what I mean? Where they started doing inspections that was an hour, hour and a half and then another hour, hour and a half for diagnostics.
Now they’re spending three hours on one car and suddenly the morning’s gone. So then we had to dial it back. And it’s really just it a balance scale that you have to figure out in your own shop with your own workforce. And I think honestly if you address the big items, the convenient items customers understand about and just anything else that might be important to the customer or may cause a breakdown, I think you kind of fine tune it and get it to a good specification. I think we have a pretty decent inspection right now, a pretty decent checklist of everything.
Bill Connor (25:44):
Lemme see if the evolution that other shops have went through is similar to yours as they start out with the inspection, then it kind of grows and grows to where the technician is actually spending time actually diagnosing different systems and components and then all of a sudden the lifeguard GOs off and said, really, we shouldn’t be doing that. We should say that we need to go ahead and do a system inspection on this and go ahead and get the authorization for the time to do a system inspection instead of trying to do everything on the initial inspection. Does that kind of sound about right?
Brad Harriff (26:15):
Yeah. We used to have charging system on our inspection, so the tech would be measuring the alternate air output at all. So the output’s a little bit low. So they started looking into it to seeing what the failure is and that should be a whole separate diagnostic because it’s here for just an oil change in inspection
Roy Foster (26:30):
And front ends are one that come to my mind. If we see something or fluid leaks, then we just recommend a dag and we move
Brad Harriff (26:39):
Roy Foster (26:40):
Get a good picture, write a good story real, and then move on and let them know that this is a concern that needs to be further looked at and drilled down on.
Bill Connor (26:52):
An example might be if they go ahead and they’re shaking down a car and they find a loose tie rod in, they might go ahead and rather than checking whole front over, they might say your vehicle has got a lease, an unsafe tie rod in. We need to do a steering suspension system evaluation and find out the condition of the rest of it.
Roy Foster (27:09):
And that helps measure the customer too because if they don’t want to spend any money for an inspection, chances of them rebuilding their front end is pretty low as well. So it kind of weeds that part out. So definitely more efficient.
Bill Connor (27:30):
And so we talked a little bit about initially in 18 or around there you were going ahead and doing inspections and you’re seeing the hours and stuff grow. Do you go ahead and back then I guess you were going ahead and whoever walked in the door, you’re going to go ahead and try and get ’em fixed, but now today you’re actually probably scheduling people in. How tight do you go ahead and fill your schedule? Do you go ahead and book the whole day out or do you go ahead and say that, look, I need to go ahead and only book out X number of hours a day. So in 18 you were doing an average of 18 hours a day. Today you’re doing an average of 35 hours paid post and invoice a day.
Brad Harriff (28:15):
Well, we have five workers out there. We have at any given day, we usually have five people out there that are working on cars. We tend to schedule about 12 to 15 cars a day, so they each have about three to four. We try to schedule it to where Dave, our diagnostician, he usually is the one that figures out the more complicated diagnostics I’m sure pretty much everybody has in the shop. And we try to schedule him two, maybe three cars because he might have drivability issue charging system, weird alarm concern on one vehicle. So we’re only scheduling him that one vehicle for the day. We know that three hours worth of diagnostic time, he’s probably going to spend three and a half, four hours on it. Then we need to sell some repairs. So we try to keep him minimal, but usually everyone would try to schedule about three to four cars because that leaves time in the afternoon for repairs to be done.
Bill Connor (29:09):
Cool. So you know that on average today you’re averaging about three hours for repair order. So that’s where you come up with the three to four repair orders per technician. You let them do their inspection and then let it grow into what it normally grows into. Your averages kind of work out for you. So you’re just basically not scheduling out every minute of the day. You’re letting it have that natural growth that it always does. And you may mention one of the things I was really first time I heard this is you have a list that you keep. Could you go and talk about that list that you have as your backup plan,
Roy Foster (29:46):
Your cancellation list?
Brad Harriff (29:47):
Oh yeah. So we have people constantly today I’m booked out till about the 8th of November or the 8th of December, change of calendar. So at this point in time people will call and it sucks to always lose that, Hey, I’m leaking cooling out somewhere. That’s going to be an easy repair and that’s going to be pretty much gravy work. It’s always going to be a good ticket. They’re going to do it, they need to get back on the road. So it’s always sucks to lose that kind of stuff. But we have a cancellation list to where right now I can’t take any more work, but I have customers on the list that if tomorrow, if somebody doesn’t show up for their appointment, I have an open slot, I have an open hours worth of time, I can look at a car. I call that customer. I try to call ’em as quickly as possible.
Obviously sometimes I can’t really work and I try to explain to them, I have a cancellation here, you need to get in as soon as possible. I understand it’s kind of out of left field, but you can’t just show up at five and be like, Hey, you have a cancellation for eight o’clock appointment. Can you still look at my car today? Can’t we’re closing soon. It’s not possible. So we still have that list for filling those spots. So it’s almost as if we have a resource pool we can kind of just pull from when we get cancellations for people who
Roy Foster (31:03):
Don’t show up. And it also lets the client know that we want their business. It’s like we really want to help you out. Unfortunately we just can’t take everybody in because we’re already overwhelmed with cars, but we’re going to try and get you in earlier if possible. We know it’s a big concern for you to get your car on the road quickly. So it secures a lot of those clients that otherwise would just move on to the next shop.
Brad Harriff (31:33):
And we still set them up for that appointment on the eighth just so that way they have a dedicated spot. And then if we end up actually filling them into an earlier position, we now have an open slot on the eighth. We can now open up appointments again and take an additional appointment. So that kind of helps fill in your schedule and to where you’re not having days where you just have open appointment slots.
Bill Connor (31:56):
And when do you start working that? Do you start working at two days before? One day before? Is there a
Brad Harriff (32:05):
For the cancellations?
Bill Connor (32:07):
So if somebody calls and cancels, well, it could be one of two things. I mean they could go and call and cancel and move their appointment three or four days from now. Or it could be that something that you had planned to do today, all of a sudden the part that showed up has been previously experienced or the wrong part. Now you’ve got a hole in your calendar.
Roy Foster (32:25):
Exactly. There’s always a lot of variables. So yeah, it could be any number of things really. Yeah,
Brad Harriff (32:33):
But typically if we’re scheduling out, it’s at the very top is the first person you call wanting get on cancellation list. So we just start at that list and go down kind of thing.
Bill Connor (32:47):
Cool. That’s very cool. So again, because you’ve slowed things down, now you’ve got a cancellation list, there really is a shortage of good quality technicians and good quality shops. So the better shops seem to be able to go ahead and get that waiting list up and get that long lines of people and instead of having the tendency that they’ve done in the past of just hurting them through it, getting ’em done, because everybody’s in a hurry. They just say, no, we’re going to slow down and we’re not going to compromise our reputation based on just trying to herd somebody through here quickly.
Roy Foster (33:23):
And that’s pretty much how we explain it to ’em as well. We want to give you the most value possible when you bring your vehicle into us. Exactly. And it’s going to take time.
Brad Harriff (33:33):
Yeah, it’s a lot of money to fix cars and it’s a lot of money to look at cars and it’s a lot of money to pay someone to fix cars and explaining that to them in a real sense. You don’t want to just blow smoke up. You don’t want to just lie to ’em and tell ’em, Hey, we’re the smartest, we’re the best kind of thing. You want to be able to be real with them and be a person with them. Explain to them how this is expensive. It takes a lot of time to figure out your stuff and we want to make sure it gets done right. You’re pinning me, you’re giving me a lot of money and trusting me with your only mode of transportation that you put your kids in. Do you really want me to put the least experienced guy and work through as quick as possible
Roy Foster (34:11):
Through? Yeah.
Bill Connor (34:15):
Here’s your conversation when a new customer comes in and drops off their vehicle, how has it changed since you started out with the digital inspections in 2018 versus how that conversation goes today? It’s
Brad Harriff (34:29):
A lot more work. Before it was just the kind of thing where it’s, Hey, is this your primary concern? This is how much it’s going to cost, sign here. Thanks for your keys. We’ll call you when we get an answer. Now it’s a lot more work where it’s you want to make sure you have the right node still. You want to make sure you have the right story, but then you need to show ’em the process of the inspection because this is your one time to educate them on how you’re going to deliver that information. And you don’t want confusion. You don’t want frustration on their end because if they’re frustrated with opening the app or they’re frustrated with having to figure it out, they’re going to be frustrated talking to you and they’re not going to really want to give you money to fix their card. They just want to get out of that situation as fast as possible. So if you take 10, 15 minutes when they first get there to explain the process, go through it all, you have less anxieties on the backend. You have better understanding and an overall easier sale on the backend. So whatever time we’re spending in the mornings explaining it to ’em, we’re spending half the time explaining the repairs and the diagnostic and the money tool. So we’re saving time overall. It’s just in the morning you spend more
Roy Foster (35:35):
Time well and they begin to see the value and then the price just starts to go away completely.
Bill Connor (35:42):
That’s right. Anytime the value exceeds cost, then people don’t kind of worry about that pricing anymore. They understand. So when you started out doing that, you’ve obviously made a lot of changes over the way and you’ve made a lot of discoveries. So do you have anything that you’d like to say that this is where I’m at today, this is how I would’ve went ahead and started out differently to get to where I’m at faster than where I’m at? I mean, you’ve had really good growth over time as far as ARO weekly revenue, but is there anything that you would go back and change to go ahead and make that transition easier, faster, more comfortable?
Roy Foster (36:30):
Well, I think so. I think we fine tuned it. So knowing what we know now, it would be a lot easier to implement. So that’s the advantage that these guys have that are trying to start up or whatever they can learn from our mistakes. But I think the things that Brad talked about are really crucial, having an inspection on his cell phone that he can show him exactly what to expect. This is what it’s going to look like if you just click this link and it’s going to open up and we’re going to send you a complete inspection and showing them the value. Another thing that we’ve learned along the way that’s been helpful is when they schedule an appointment, an appointment, they let the client know this is the time to drop off your car and have a consultation with the service advisor. This is not the time that the work begins. So this is when, because I don’t know how many times in the past where we’ve got that call, well, I had an eight o’clock appointment, my car’s still sitting in the parking lot. They get upset that they think their eight o’clock appointment means their car’s going to be on the rack at eight o’clock. So by explaining all those things on the front end, it just really washes away a lot of problems and a lot of anxieties that people have.
Bill Connor (37:52):
So really you’re actually trending toward what the industry seems to be going toward is setting your shop up kind of like a medical office. You’re going to go ahead and do that intake review. You’re going to go ahead and do your initial health inspection or whatever and then if it needs other services or whatever where it has to go to a specialist or whatever, that specialist will be scheduled out at whatever time and stuff so you can keep them guys rocking. Does that sound about right?
Brad Harriff (38:20):
Yeah. And you can use that medical analogy with a lot of people too. If a doctor ever takes a blood sample from you to do tests, that’s a fortunate circumstance where they can take a sample and you can go about your merry way. I can’t just take your car, your only mode of transportation, have you go on your merry little way, but it’s still going to take the same amount of time. I still have to do all these tests, even though you don’t see what the doctor’s doing with your sample, they’re spending hours in a lab, testing through it and running all these certain tests. So it takes a lot of time. It’s just unfortunately we have to keep the remote transportation in order to actually do the job properly.
Bill Connor (38:58):
Yep. That’s kind of interesting. But you find that by going ahead and keeping the customer informed all the way you’re telling them, and again, go back to a doctor if they tell you that I’m going to do some surgery on you, and when you wake up, it’s going to hurt like hell. They’ve managed that expectation and you’re kind of doing the same thing with the customer that comes in. You’re managing everything that’s going to happen as they go through from beginning to end telling ’em what’s going to happen and then of course, living up to what you told them. For sure.
Roy Foster (39:29):
And the one thing we need to do better as a shop that the doctor’s office does is they exit scheduling. So I think that’d be a good episode to have to talk about that at some point because for whatever reason that seems to be a struggle, but I think it’d be really an effective tool in managing our schedule and managing expectations.
Bill Connor (39:56):
I heard you volunteer along with Brett Spalding to go ahead and talk about that particular topic. Right. Exit scheduling.
Roy Foster (40:02):
I’m not very good at. I know the value, but we haven’t mastered that yet.
Bill Connor (40:11):
It’s like the last frontier when people go ahead and get that and get it done and learn it, then everything seems to come full circle for sure. So if you had a step-by-step to go ahead and come in, kind of walk through how you would go ahead and work with your staff, you would tell ’em it’s coming, you’d tell ’em we’re going digital, you guys would go ahead and as a manager or a owner, you would go ahead and learn enough about it to go ahead and be a little bit less than dangerous and then you would go ahead and kind of grow into it. Does that sound about right? Yeah,
Roy Foster (40:47):
That sounds about right. We need to understand it so we can teach it. And then I think the team meetings getting feedback from not only the advisors but the tech on the inspection has been really big in the evolution of our inspection sheets. And as they give their ideas and make the changes within the process, then they kind of own it as well.
Bill Connor (41:18):
So in your case, I know a lot of shops struggle with the service riders, getting them to go ahead and prepare the customer that you’re going to get the inspection, please look it over and then call me back. They still have a tendency to want to call that customer as soon as it’s done and explain everything to them. What was the transition like getting your service advisors to change from waving their hands in the air, trying to explain it over the phone to letting the tool do the job?
Brad Harriff (41:44):
Lemme take that one more time, Bill.
Bill Connor (41:47):
So what is your transition like to get your service riders to go from what they did in the past, trying to explain complex systems and procedures to customers over the phone by waving their hands and drawing pictures in the air to getting the customer to look over the inspection results, leave them alone and let them call you?
Brad Harriff (42:06):
The best example I can come up with is we’ve had cars in here recently that have pretty difficult either electrical draws on the system that have a bunch of graphs that we have no idea what they mean. The best tech we had that was a guy named Ted, he went to engineering school and love working on cars and his diagrams confused. Roy, one of the best techs I’ve ever met, as well as Dave, one of those smartest techs I’ve ever met. And if they can’t understand it, I can’t understand it. The customer definitely isn’t going to understand it. So I think you need to not really be a hundred percent upfront and be like, Hey, here’s these 15 graphs that I have no idea how to explain. So hopefully you’ll know something about it. To condensing it kind of down into a simplistic way, which is our job as a service advisor, I usually try to stick to certain graphs or certain pictures that the tech has showed me that I know would be easy to explain to the customer.
And that’s something that we’ve had to work on. I can’t just have you send me 15 pictures, Mr. Technician, I’m not going to be able to explain that properly to the customer. And we’re kind of losing the value there, even though the tech did spend a lot of time on it. So they kind understand to take more simplistic pictures for one or two examples to explain it better to this customer. So if you can kind of shorten it down and condense it and fine tune it and then explain it more simply to the customer, they’re less likely to get frustrated and overwhelmed from all those notes. So I think that’s really just something that it’s a job as a service advisor and it’s a skill that you learn as you go with these digital inspections to not really include everything. You’re kind of taking the waving arms down a minimum.
Bill Connor (43:54):
Cool. So if I understand this correctly, the service advisor’s job is to go ahead and break things down into a simple educational tool for the consumer, but you’re not going to go and tell the technician, don’t take the pictures they’re comfortable from, they might want them for their records or compliance reasons or whatever, and you would just hide them. Exactly.
Brad Harriff (44:13):
And you can do that simply with a push of a button on the inspection so you’re not taking away, because they work really hard on doing that. That’s a lot of expertise and knowledge that they probably needed to continue forward in their diagnostic that they can easily reference on their tablets. And that’s something that you definitely don’t want to take away, but you don’t want to overshare with a customer. You want to just only explain, not bare minimum, but just dumb it down to where they can understand it a little bit easier.
Bill Connor (44:43):
And do you use the work order section of the repair order to go ahead and send some of those pictures to the customer also? So an example might be show a customer a pre and post repair, or let’s say that they’re doing an evaporator core in a car. Might they go ahead and take a bunch of pictures of disassembly and reassembly to show the customer the complexity to repair? Do you use that part? Not
Brad Harriff (45:06):
So much on the repair portion. We use the work order portion actually for the initial diagnostic, the work order that they come in with. It’ll say oil change, cooling system diagnostic and small inspection. So we explain to the tech that they need to put the pictures and notes of the cooling system diagnostic on that work order line. And that way when we at the counter are explaining it to the customer, we explain it in a way of, Hey, your primary concern will be up here in blue. And that I feel is a way to better explain it to the customer showing, Hey, your primary concern that you brought it in for is at the very top of this inspection. So that way we’re focused on that, that’s what we’re looking at and the remainder of the inspections down below. And I think that adds the value of, okay, cool, they’re not just trying to sell me a bunch of stuff on an inspection and then they want to tell me what trouble with my cooling system issue. They know that I need to get this cooling system issue fixed and this is what I came in for.
Bill Connor (46:00):
So on something that they come in for that’s relatively complex, you would go ahead and make sure the photos and stuff are on there and then you would go ahead and include that in the inspection results when you send it.
Brad Harriff (46:10):
Yeah, we may not include every picture that the text sends in some graphs and some lab scopes are weird, but
Roy Foster (46:16):
We want it to be educational and not confusing. Cool. We want them to be able to understand, so that’s where the service writer becomes the mediator.
Bill Connor (46:33):
So each of you individually, and I’d like to go ahead and start with Roy, what are the top three things you advise the shop to make sure they don’t miss? It might be learning how to edit the pictures properly, it might be the drop off. What are the top three things that you would say that are important that they need to learn and get their staff to understand why they’re doing it? And then let’s go ahead and get it similar from Brad without Brad saying me too.
Roy Foster (46:58):
So for the advisor, you said the top two things
Bill Connor (47:04):
For the staff in general, and it could even be what the owner needs to know because you’ve actually in that particular driver’s seat.
Roy Foster (47:12):
Yeah, so I’d say the owner should understand the system well enough to teach it to onboard people. I think it’s very important that the client, the is explained to them, show them how to use it and show them this great value that we’re giving them this thorough inspection. I know if I go to the doctor, I want to know all my test results. I don’t want to just know if I have some other problem. I don’t want him just to bury it because he doesn’t feel like he wants to give me bad news that day. So I want to explain to them that this is going to be full disclosure. We’re going to address your primary concerns, your safety concerns, and then your maintenance items. And we’re going to adjust, excuse me, address ’em in that fashion so that we can work through the repair for the best benefit for them.
And then number, the third thing is I think the most effective thing for us has been just collectively going through the business control panel, looking at the data and figuring out what really works. And as the technicians and the advisors can see what’s really working, like, hey, when we get to this many pictures and this many recommendations or our research time goes up and our average repair goes up and our average build hours per ARO goes up and everybody benefits, the client gets a better job, the techs make more money on less cars, and the advisors have that extra time to spend with each client and truly listen to their concerns and address all their needs and educate.
Bill Connor (49:08):
So I hear you saying that the business control panel is a good tool for you to go ahead and identify with your staff a couple things to work on and how are you’re going to measure it, you put the plan in place and you see, does the change actually work and then you go onto something else?
Roy Foster (49:22):
Yes. And right now we have an incentive. So our average research time went down, so whichever tech and advisor has the highest average research time for the remainder of November, it’s going to each get a $50 gift card. So helps to bring the focus into that, and you got to make it fun as well. But we know the things now to focus on and we know that as we get collectively as a team to focus on those things, then we have success and we move on to the next thing.
Bill Connor (50:02):
So do you go ahead and view the motorist research time as kind of a correlation between how well the tech and service writer are working together and how well the service writer is actually done at making the customer excited about getting their news, whether it’s good or bad?
Roy Foster (50:16):
Absolutely. Yeah. Without a good inspection, the service advisor has nothing to work with. And without a good edit of the inspection, the customer’s going to get lost in it and just flick through it fast and close it with frustration. But if it’s something they can clearly understand and feel like they’re understanding and trusting and educated themselves, then that’s the goal.
Bill Connor (50:42):
So over time, you’ve actually transitioned from a shop that the philosophy is let’s fix what’s broken on cars to the position that everybody in your business understands. It’s your job to deliver a safe, comfortable, reliable vehicle. And we’re going to do that by slowing things down and creating a wow experience.
Roy Foster (51:02):
Bill Connor (51:04):
Roy Foster (51:05):
Except for our WOW has a different definition here. It’s weed out the weasels, but that’s another story.
Bill Connor (51:13):
Oh wait, we’re not going to go ahead and get into that tonight,
Roy Foster (51:17):
But yes. Yeah, we do want to, like I said, it shows up in our, it shows up in our Google reviews over and over. People love the digital inspection when it’s done properly.
Bill Connor (51:32):
So Brad, let’s go ahead and pretend Roy’s not sitting next to you and let’s get a good solid manager’s standpoint of your top three.
Brad Harriff (51:40):
So the top three things I want to explain to the new people coming onto AutoVitals is that kind of what we’re going for
Bill Connor (51:48):
Or the top three things that you should go ahead and work with your staff on to make sure they have a good smooth transition from paper to digital.
Brad Harriff (51:58):
It’s a team effort. It’s never one person having a frustration. Usually when there’s a frustration with getting into anything new, both this or new, we’re going to get new cars constantly coming in that we’ve never worked on before. And there’s always going to be a frustration with figuring out a learning curve that we have to go through and kind of understanding and being a good team member of explaining it as, Hey, we’re not doing this. I’m not putting this just on you to figure out. We’re going to all figure this out together and it’s going to be something that we’re going to come to a good conclusion on.
I lost one other two. Oh, it’s a big thing that I’ve had to learn myself personally going into this is the point we’re here is to make money. But if you stick to the process and you understand that the important thing is getting the car fixed, keeping the customer happy, keeping the customer understanding, then the money doesn’t matter. The money is going to come in the back end. The money will always be there as long as you stick to your principles and you stick to your understanding that this is going to be better and that we’re all going to do our best job to make sure the customer’s happy. And lastly, honestly, it can always be adjusted. Every problem I’ve run into with AutoVitals, with an error, with the programming, working AutoVitals is always there with a help ticket to address the problem.
And it’s rarely gone past a day or even a couple hours to me still having that problem, it usually gets resolved very quickly. So another thing with the inspections, it can always be edited and adjusted. If you want to just start with your paper inspection and you want to say, this has been working for me, then do that at first. But don’t be afraid to add a few more things to it. Don’t be afraid to not really pile on the workload, but you might get some pushbacks from your tech saying, I don’t want to spend half an hour doing an inspection. You might get pushback from your service advisor saying, Hey, if I got to edit 42 topics, then that’s going to make my job harder. You’re always going to have that pushback. And it kind of goes back to point number one of being a team effort.
You as the manager, you as the boss, or whoever, if you sit down and go, okay, cool, let’s figure this out. Why are these inspections taking so long? What don’t you think is necessary on this? And then it may come to an understanding to where the tech, we’ve run into it, where the tech goes. I’m not inspecting the whole front end as part of the inspection. And we have to explain to ’em, you’re not, you are just looking at the front end for any obvious concerns. If you have a worn out tire rod in that has excessive play in it, you’re to be recommending a full inspection. You spend 30 seconds looking at a tire rod, seeing it’s worn in another minute, putting in notes saying it’s worn out. When you to recommend a full inspection, you can qualm those stresses and those anxieties pretty easily just by knowing you can constantly adjust it knowing that you’re being a team player.
Bill Connor (55:05):
Cool. So you guys have made some amazing progress since 18 to date, and my question is, do you feel you’re there yet or do you think there’s still room for improvement with your existing staff facility and so on by dialing in and working with the tools to go and increase your productivity with your existing staff?
Roy Foster (55:26):
Yeah, I think we’re going to continue to improve. Yeah, we’re not there yet, but we’re on the right trajectory. We’re heading in, we’re heading in the right point, in the right direction.
Brad Harriff (55:41):
If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing, you’re always going to have something that can be improved. You’re always going to have something that can be changed and that’s okay. It’s going to happen. That’s just a part of life. As things change, like Covid, nobody expected Covid to come around. Nobody expected to hit to the businesses as they did, but you need to adjust and you need to fine tune your process of whatever you do, whatever you can do to help. We had customers who were afraid to leave their house, but their cars wouldn’t start and they still needed to go to work. They still needed to go get groceries. So we would go to a customer’s house and pick up their car, fix it, drive it back to ’em, cleaned out. Well sanitized. Here you go, ma’am, you didn’t have to leave your house. That’s not something that we did in 20 19, 20 18, but last year and this year we’ve had to do it just because you’re always going to be changing. You’re always going to be adapting. But that customer was a first time customer and she has not taken her car anywhere else and we have seen her regularly since then and it took half a day to do that for her.
Bill Connor (56:50):
Gentlemen, we’re getting down to the end here. So I’d really like to go ahead and sincerely thank you for joining. Again. I would like to go ahead and get your permission to go ahead and maybe check with you about the same time next year to go ahead and see that. Are we still going up on that trend graph? I’d like to go ahead and see you guys go ahead and squeeze some more out of there. So again, I’d really like to thank you guys for joining today.
Brad Harriff (57:12):
Welcome. Yep. Thanks Bill. Appreciate it.
Bill Connor (57:15):
Cool. So we’re down to the end here. So I’d like to, again thank you guys for being here. I’d like to encourage people to go ahead and find us by going to and joining in register to join US weekly. You can also find us in your favorite podcast platform by searching for the Digital Shop Talk Radio. Also, seek out another shop owner in your area that might be struggling, maybe another member of your Napa Autocare business development group or whatever. Turn them onto a few of those episodes. There’s hundreds of ’em there, ready to go ahead and be harvested and used to go ahead and inspire people to improve for themself and actually improve for the industry. So once again, thank you guys. Have a great day. Go out and make some money and wow your customers. Thanks,
Brad Harriff (57:58):
Bill. Thanks everybody.
Bill Connor (58:00):

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