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The Best Shadetree Mechanics In Town

Every shop knows the local backyard mechanics, and it is with varying degrees of trepidation that we greet each one when he comes to our shop. We get so tired of some begging for a cheaper price, and for us to put him ahead of paying customers, that we ask them never to come back. One in particular got on our tech's last nerve with his “Are they done yet? How about now? Now? Is it ready?” and had his brake rotors thrown out of the shop onto the pavement of the road (so that's what they mean by “kicked to the curb!”)

On the other hand, some of them have my personal cell phone number and know they can call me for help as if they were a member of my family. What's the difference? It's all in the level of commitment they have to their relationship with our shop.

Larger shops in our area make anywhere from $80 to $125 an hour for flat rate labor. We're on the lower end of that, at $85 an hour. We have full service capabilities of everything short of body work and automatic transmission rebuilds (we sub those out so we are still a one-stop shop).

In our area, there are many backyard mechanics who might charge half of what we do; they tend to have lesser capabilities or other limitations. These are guys who maybe have a full time job somewhere else, but work on cars on the side on evenings and weekends. Maybe they are underemployed and just looking for extra money. Maybe they have a dream of their own shop someday, but can't take a chance on leaving their paycheck for an unknown right now. Maybe they are knowledgeable but have no certifications. Whatever their reason, these are the kinds of guys who can change tie rod ends and idler arms, but have no way to do the alignment. They can change brake pads, but can't turn rotors. Maybe they broke something they can't fix on the way to fix something they thought was easier. That's when they usually find us for the first time.

The rest of this column is written to those “shadetree mechanics.”

Shops can fix mistakes you make and do it faster, so don’t ask for a discount when we are fishing your fat out of the fire. Broke a wheel stud and can't get the rotor off? Stripped a bolt? Can't reset the check engine light? Be prepared to pay our regular labor rate, but then lay the groundwork for a better rate later.

Wholesale pricing does exist, but you may have to prove yourself first. If you are serious, this will be an investment that will work out for you. Otherwise, you'll always be that guy who wants something for nothing, and we'll always be too busy to bother with you.

Wholesale pricing does not mean we have the intention of giving away money. We do not want to do one alignment for you for $50 when we can do one for a customer for $70. However, if you will be sending us five alignments for $50 each, we will happily and unblinkingly give you and yours a discount. Just need to be prepared to not pay the discounted price until we have seen that you are serious about sending us business.

We suggest you send customers to us for the jobs you cannot do, and make it clear that it was you who sent the customer. You can call on the customer's behalf and set up the appointment, and make it clear you are sending us the customer so you will be in our good graces. There's no game playing or pretense here, no reason to beat around the bush. This is a business transaction, make it clear to us that you are doing this expecting us to scratch your back in return. Say that you expect something in particular in return (a commission on the sale, a discount on your next alignment, us to press out a bearing for you that's been giving you a headache, whatever it is you want from this). Be clear what you want in return so we both have the chance to agree to terms.

Send the customer to us holding your business card with a “coupon” for service written on the back of your business card. That way, when the person who was referred by you to us hands us the coupon, we look on the back and see it is your business card, and credit you for the sale. Decide on what the “coupon” is ahead of time - $10 off an alignment, a free car wash with a purchased service, $20 off a set of 4 tires purchased with us, free battery test, and free wiper blades with purchase of a service are some examples of things we have allowed as acceptable coupons for our referrers to promise.

If you do not want to send the customer to us directly because you are afraid you will "lose" them to us, there are ways around that. But really, you are unlikely to lose them. We charge twice what you do. They already knew we were there, after all, we have a sign outside our building and we advertise. They know coming to us is a different matter than going to you. However, if you have this fear, then you can bring the car to us yourself and just pass the cost on to your customer. Call it a “sublet.”

If you are sure of your ability to generate business, you can ask for a rebate, commission, store credit, whatever you want to call it, that would carry from month to month. Perhaps the customers you send us pay full price, but we track it and at the end of the month you receive whatever your set fee is - a percentage of the gross in a commission check, or store credit for a certain dollar amount that you can collect in whatever way works for you (labor hours, x number of rotors turned, x number of alignments, etc.).

From the point of view of a shop, I prefer store credit, it keeps you tied to us and vice versa. Circle of life. If you're happy with us and we're happy with you, good things can build for us both. Plus, if you are spending your dollars with us, we are far more likely to do things for you for free and to do extra things for you, and to do things for you that will help you - move you up in line, “work in” one of your jobs, take something in as an emergency, meet you by the side of the road, give you one of our tech's cell phone number to call when you are in a pinch, whatever.

You can conduct this relationship to the degree that suits your comfort level, but remember, as with any relationship, the relationship itself exists at the level of the party with the lowest level of committment. I would suggest that you take steps to encourage our level of committment to you to increase, and make you desireable as a customer to us. The capabilities, resources, manpower, and flat-out brute force we possess will come in handy for you more than you will come in handy for us. We were already busy, otherwise we'd have handed over our discount prices without you having to ask. But you can get what you want, and have us hurry to help you at the counter, if you can come to the table with something in it for us.


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