Remaining competitive in the engine service industry

Lucas Deal

August 10, 2017

Engine repair is hard enough as it is. But in today’s industry, being an independent engine service center is downright arduous. Keeping up with new technology and competing with dealers to service them is an enormous task.

At the Association of Diesel Specialists (ADS) Convention & Tradeshow Thursday in Las Vegas, a trio of successful independent service shop representatives shared their thoughts on how their businesses continue to thrive in an increasingly competitive industry.

Putting technicians in the right spot

This is an area where Thursday’s panel was unanimous. For engine service providers, the best fuel system repair technicians aren’t always great when moved into general drive-in work. The panelists each said they’ve had success keeping those fuel-centric techs in one department, and hiring other technicians to man their bays.

On the latter, the trio all mention they’ve found success hiring automotive technicians when unable to find diesel pros for their shop. Mike Perkins at Diesel Plus believes it works because in most cases because if a tech “knows the basics they can change over quickly” to the new industry.

Gord Reid at NW Fuel Injection Service says that’s been particularly true for his company when it comes to diagnostics. Light-duty gasoline techs are accustomed working with diagnostic software and tools, so asking them to do the same on diesel trucks is a quick transition.

“Our best diagnostic guy came straight from a Toyota dealer,” he says.

Advertising for business

The panels opinions were much more mixed regarding advertising, with each speaker having different preferences for how they market their business.

Andy Girres says Diesel Specialists has had success with television advertising. Girres says he doesn’t run ads all the time—usually a couple months on, a couple months off—but says when he does it, the payoff is evident.

“We’ve had times where we run a few ads and then we have two-week wait times in the bays,” he says.

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Conversely, Perkins has found success on the radio. He hosts an hour-long show on Saturday mornings in his area where customers can call in and receive guidance on service and repair. Perkins says most callers to the show might not come into Diesel Plus, but listeners will.

“A listener sees how you relate to a person, how you answer their questions and if you treat them all with respect,” he says.

Reid says social media and online advertising is working best at NW Fuel Injection Service because of its measurability. Reid receives detailed data on how many customers see his ads and how engaged they are with the content. He knows the bang he’s getting for his buck, and he values that.

Quickly completing diagnostics

This is a struggle for everyone. The panelists have each found methods that work reasonably well in their operations, though they acknowledge a desire to be better.

Perkins mentions Freightliner’s two-hour Express Assessment program as one of trucking’s most impressive responses in this regard. He says his company doesn’t have a program quite that fast, but has found success pulling codes and performing diagnostic work in between other repairs. Things are similar at Diesel Specialists, where Girres says diagnostics are not scheduled but find their way into bays when available as soon as possible. He says the company guarantees customers that their assets will be diagnosed within a “day or two” of drop off, and in cases where that work runs longer, the work is scheduled into the company’s workflow.

At NW Fuel Injection Service, Reid has dedicated one service employee exclusively to diagnostics. He says this “floater” moves from new vehicles as quickly as possible so the company and determine what work they have ahead of them.

“The sooner we know what’s wrong the sooner we can get it into the schedule,” he says.

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