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The Humble Mechanic: Should Repair Shops Be Open?

What’s up everybody? I know that things are absolutely insane right now and I wanted to talk a little bit about how the automotive industry has responded — some very positive, some not so much and some really good things that might come out of this for a lot of us on the other side of it.

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For this article, I’m putting aside a couple of things — any conspiracy stuff, talking about whether people are over panicking or under panicking or it was a weapon or any of that — so we can focus on us and what we can do to get through this and come out on the other side of it a little bit better — or at least not as bad. 

So, in the states that the government has shut down non-essential business, they have deemed transportation repair an essential business, and I totally agree. If that train doesn’t get to where it needs to go to deliver those goods, whether it’s food, medical supplies, toilet paper, all of that, the plane, the over the road truck, the delivery cars, if those don’t run, that disruption that we’re experiencing gets exponentially worse. Hopefully now the population at large will understand a little bit better how important those people are, how important that technician is to their daily comfort, convenience and health. I also hope that most people have a little bit more appreciation for all those restaurant workers, grocery store workers, medical care providers and all those people who are doing really amazing things right now. From me to you guys, “Thank you.” 

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Now, I’ve heard from a lot of you in the automotive world about what’s been going on — everything from our shop has shut down to we’re open for business

There are the owners who don’t want to mess with it; they’re closing. We’re going to be off for a couple of weeks and we’ll come back to work strong, ready to go. That is a small category.

In the middle there are those staying open. We’re adjusting our schedule and we’ve made a lot of changes to our daily routine in an effort to help keep our customers safe and our employees safe. Love that. 

And then there’s the third category, business as usual. We’re doing nothing different. This is where I get super disappointed, however, not surprised in the automotive industry. 

Would you like to watch Charles’ video? Click here.

I think it’s a bold decision by an owner to completely close a business, and I have a lot of respect for them making that choice. I hope for the sake of the business, the techs are getting some sort of compensation, whether it’s unemployment or whether it’s just paid from the owners or maybe you have vacation time you can use. 

Shops in the middle: thank you shop owners for doing what you can to keep your employees working, but more importantly, keep your employees safe so they can come in and still earn their living and make a paycheck. 

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I really hope some of the things that these shops are doing continue on at least in some capacity as we move past all of this craziness. Things like eliminating waiters. No one is allowed to come in and wait. I love that. It’s less stress for everyone if the customer is not there standing and waiting. 

Shops are also eliminating any face-to-face employee-to-customer contact, such as dropping keys in the night drop box, using wonderful technologies like the telephone, text messaging and email for all their communications. 

They’re doing their best to clean and disinfect the cars. There’s a lot of secondary- and third-level sanitation and disinfecting that needs to be done. Beyond cleaning the door handles, keys, steering wheel shifters (the grossest things in a car) but I worry about things like the HVAC system, the pollen filter — what is that trapping, what is that holding, what’s on the dashboard, what’s on the windshield, what’s on all the rest of it that’s not getting cleaned — but they’re doing something.

They’re insisting employees wear gloves, which I would anyway, but now changing gloves between cars. But what happens when we grab our screwdriver when working on this car with our glove on, then we grab that same screwdriver without disinfecting it after we’ve changed gloves? So that’s kind of like the third-level stuff that I worry about. 

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In addition to keeping techs working, servicing their customers and taking their health into consideration, shop owners are doing a lot of great stuff like supporting local businesses by buying the techs’ lunch from a different local restaurant each day. 

Don’t let this craziness stop you from loving your employees and taking such good care of them. You know there’s a lot of businesses that have mission statements touting how they care about their customers, and though that may be true, I truly believe if you are not caring more about your employees, all that stuff you said about your customers is a load of garbage because you cannot take care of your customers if you don’t take care of your employees first, period. 

Now let’s take that third “business as usual” group, the We’re not doing anything different shops. To me that’s crazy.

I know there are a lot of people who are overblowing what’s been going on lately, however, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take preventative action for our employees and our customers, to make sure that nobody comes down with this. While I’m personally not as worried about myself getting sick, what I’m worried about is working on Mr. Smith’s car and then the next car that comes in is Mrs. Jones’, who is elderly. I’m more worried about me transferring something to her and her getting sick. 

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So what’s the right choice? Do we close down completely? I don’t love that. Do we work in the middle and do as much as we can while staying open and taking care of our employees and making sure that they’re able to feed their families? I really hope the flat rate shops are taking good care of their technicians. Yeah, it might really stink as an owner to have to pay your employees a little bit extra, give them bonuses, thank them for coming in, but technicians don’t get hazard pay, they don’t get overtime when they’re on flat rate. 

This is the time for businesses to be able to shine. And unfortunately I think most of them aren’t going to. These are also the shops that say it’s so hard to find technicians. Well, look at how you treat your employees. 

So what would I do if I were a technician today? I’m struggling with this. I really am. I’d like to think that I would stay home for a couple of weeks and be with my family. I don’t know that I would do that. Today’s Charles is a little different than 10 years ago. I probably would’ve gone to work, trying to do my best to make my paycheck and support my family. I totally feel for you guys that are doing it cause you feel like you have to. I really, really do.

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OK, that was a whole bunch of negative stuff, let’s talk about some positive things. I feel like this is a great opportunity to put some ideas down on paper on how we can all be a little bit better and make being a technician even better. Let’s talk about some really amazing things that are going to come out of this. This to me says that being a technician, whether it’s diesel, industrial, automotive, aviation, railroad, is still a very good, viable, reliable job and a good career to be in and there’s still tremendous opportunity to be had at a good shop and that’s the key at a good shop.

So what would I be doing if it were my shop? I think I would be taking the route of limiting my business, taking care of my employees, understanding that this is going to be hurtful to me as a business owner. However, it’s a lot easier to get a couple more customers or explain to a customer, Hey, we’re on hold for a little while than it would be to find a new high-level technician, a new really great service advisor, or a new parts expert. I would be limiting as much as I could to take care of my employees as best I could. Understanding the key here, this is all temporary and we’re going to get through it and a lot of businesses I think are going to come out much stronger on the other side than they were going into it.

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Let’s continue this conversation. In the comments section below my video, let me know what’s going on in your shop. Are they taking really good care of you? Are they being awesome? Are they closed? And that’s a good thing? Are they closed and you’re mad because now you can’t earn a paycheck? Are they functioning in the middle or are they businesses usual? 

 I want to hear from those of you guys who are deeply affected by this, whether you are sick, know someone that got sick, having complete life disruption. I’m sending good vibes, thoughts, prayers, all of that from me and my family to you guys. Best wishes. Keep your head up, keep your attitude positive. We will get past this. It’s going to be hard for a little while, but, let’s keep our sanity up and our head up and our attitude high as best we can. And, let’s try and capitalize on some of those opportunities that are going to come out on the other side of this, because I promise you they’re going to be there. 

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