Approaching Advanced Vehicle Repair
This story is originally from ADAPT's sister publication, FenderBender. Click here to be redirected to the story as it appears on the FenderBender website.
Sept. 1, 2022— Anyone looking to take on an expansion is reminded that Rome wasn't built in a day. However, what is often forgotten is that the Eternal City grew haphazardly with no clear-cut plan. That resulted in a terrible fire that destroyed much of the city, while floods were a constant fear.
Though we can hope that a shop owner won't face actual fires or floods (or attacks by barbarians), a lack of a plan when considering an expansion could still lead to untold stress and headaches. The failure to address the future can also spell doom for a shop.
"In a nutshell, you have to consider what you hope to accomplish," explains Darrell Amberson, president of operations, LaMettry's Collision. "There are a lot of ways to tackle this."
While there are certainly no crystal balls, and honestly who could have foreseen a global pandemic, followed by massive inflation and record-high gasoline prices, shop owners still need to consider how to address an expansion with what they already know.
Simply put, where do you see the business in five or 10 years, and how do you plan to get there?
We can't predict if there'll be another pandemic, and we don't know if the pain at the pump will result in drivers ditching their big trucks, but we do know that the automotive world is always evolving. Considering where you want to be in that world is the question. That can even include what cars you may want to see roll into your shop, and which ones you'll have to turn away.
"Is there a particular brand or brands you want to work with, and you can go from there," Amberson tells FenderBender. "But, do you also hope to rely on the dealer to perform some of the work, such as calibration?"
That is a very big part of the conversation adds Bud Center, I-CAR director for technical products and curriculum.
"Shop owners need to have a plan," says Center. "And they need to consider what mix of cars is coming in the door today. We often hear of shop owners investing in equipment without properly analyzing their current business and the marketplace and then not seeing those vehicles come in to allow them to utilize the equipment. You have to have a plan, and you have to know your market."
In addition to the market conditions, you need to make sure the equipment you actually choose can handle the job.
"About one in five calibrations fail," Center also warns.
"We see many aftermarket tools that claim to be factory approved, but frankly we see some issue with it," says Amberson. "Some equipment was off by anywhere from 1 mm to 10 mm and required correction. This is why you also need that training."
Training certainly needs to be a considerable part of that plan—otherwise, shops can be left with equipment that can't be properly employed. Moreover, it is also impossible, say the experts, to invest in everything at once. Even if the budget would allow for it, such an expansion may not be advisable.
"A lot of what you are investing in will also be outdated in a couple of years," says Amberson.
The final consideration in any expansion is making sure you even have the room to handle any new equipment you might be considering.
"You have to think about your facility," says Center. "Not every location is going to have the space required to perform ADAS calibrations."
With the plan in place, shop owners can determine what equipment they'll use, and what training they'll need to provide to actually use it. This can begin with knowing the market, and the demographics.
"You need to consider what are the most common vehicles in the area, as well as what you're already commonly working on, and then you can start your growth from there," says Mike Anderson, owner/president of CollisionAdvice Consulting Services. "It is also important to note that not investing isn't an option. This is especially true of the calibration tools. If you are doing $150,000 or more in monthly business, there should be no reason not to invest in the tools and technology."
There also needs to be that consideration of aftermarket vs. factory scan tools, and today there are a number of manufacturers that will sell the tools to do the calibrations. Choosing a quality scan tool is critical, otherwise, the money could be wasted.
"It should be the best replacement when possible," says Amberson. "It may not matter whose tools that you use, but you need to get the target in the exact spot the manufacturer specifies. Most OEM scan tools would be able to do that, but some aftermarket products won't have the ability to get into all the modules on a vehicle. It may not even be clear which modules you're not getting into."
Shops should also take advantage of whatever opportunities that the OEMs are currently providing.
"There is a lot of training available from the OEMs for both certified and non-certified shops," Anderson continues. "Training is absolutely necessary, and you may have to do some research because there are so many myths around calibration."
“I-CAR’s educational programming includes an optional ADAS role which includes 14 online courses and two hands-on courses where students receive expert instruction in ideal learning conditions including all of the necessary tools, equipment, and facilities,” says Center.
Once those facets are understood, the next step is focusing on how any equipment can be incorporated into the shop.
"This is where we recommend 'bland' walls, dimmable lights, and of course plenty of space," adds Amberson.
And if you're even thinking about taking on electric vehicles (EVs) in the shop, there are other considerations that will need to be addressed.
"EV stalls will need to be larger," says Center. "It is safe to say you'll need, at minimum, one and half the amount of space for an EV stall."
Following any upgrade or expansion, there will likely be some second-guessing on whether the right decisions were made. Yet, this is where proper planning also helps—so that you don't feel like equipment acquisitions and the requisite training that comes with it were wasted effort.
"I don't think there is really ever a case where training is wasted," says Amberson. "And when it comes to equipment, if you approach this conservatively, at best you purchase something you don't use as much as you may have thought you would. It is still necessary to take these risks, but also understand that expansion is something that is going to be ongoing and that in time things will need to be replaced."
Such upgrades and expansion should be seen for the opportunities that they can provide.
A well-planned and well-executed expansion can allow a shop to grow, and provide quality service to the customer for years to come.
"You can start with the aftermarket calibration tools, and based on your needs and finances and willingness to grow you can determine what brand to focus on," suggests Amberson.
"Many shops will find that they're going to invest in the equipment for the cars they're most commonly fixing," adds Anderson. "This will have other advantages. Repetition is key, and the more you do, the better you'll get at it."
With these investments in the shop, the business can also expand its services.
"This could include working with rental car companies, or glass companies that do replacements and then you can provide the calibration," says Anderson.
"You have to understand where you want your business to go," concludes Center. "You could dive in and you can tackle multiple vehicle lines, and even EVs, but you have to remember that every vehicle you choose to service may require an investment in specialized equipment and training."