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Old Way vs. New way

by Art Little

Transmission Digest Magazine
This article appeared in the November 2000 issue of Transmission Digest.

Things are changing. Now, there is the "old way" of doing things and the "new way" of doing things. The shop owners in our business have some tough choices to make. The old saying "it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks" is very true in our industry and for good reason. However, if we make the wrong choices or ignore making this transition from old to new, our shop, that has always made us a good living for so long, may end up on the list of failed businesses. Pretty tough game to play.

Let's say you have owned your shop for 25 years. Over a 25 year period, you have a pretty good idea about how to make money in your own shop. You've seen it all by now. Over that 25 year period, you have made shop rules for all to follow because of your past experiences with technical issues, crazy customers, bad employees, shop accidents etc. Some of these rules are etched in granite. But, the question is, "do all of my old rules apply today?"

To answer that question look at the cars out in your shop. In the old days, we only had a rear wheel drive transmission to deal with, no electrical problems to speak of and plenty of technicians to repair them. Over the years the front wheel drive, computer controlled transmissions have gradually taken over the majority of the repairs going on in our industry shops and we have a shortage of qualified employees. Simply put, it takes longer to fix them now than it did in the old days. Some of the old production rules and rules of thumb will apply, some won't.

Policies dealing with recruiting and retaining personnel should also be reviewed. Finding and retaining qualified employees is getting harder and harder. Now, the kids are getting into other fields such as the computer business and passing our industry by. There are a lot of options available today to our entry level and seasoned employees that were not available in the old days. We are also loosing many of the old builders and entry level employees to the dealerships. At the dealership, they only have to concern themselves with the type of transmissions the dealership services. They provide training and they have the latest tools to work with. In comparison, today's transmission shop has to take on all makes and models and proper training programs are lacking in our industry.

In the old days, training was done in house and we had entry level employees coming into the business that were kids wanting to work on cars. They would work long, hard hours to just be able to say they were working in a transmission shop. Today, employees in the industry don't want to work 60-70 hours a week anymore. Life styles have changed and time for their personal life is more important than the money to many employees. But, if it takes longer to fix the cars now, how do we work less hours and still make a profit?

Those shop owners who are going to be in the transmission business for the long run must make the decision to invest in the future. There have been a lot of affordable computer and internet tools developed in the last few years that will help you get more work done with less time spent. Let me give you an overview of what is available to you now.

There are websites on the internet that help you quickly find tons of technical information that will help you deal with the fast changing technical information needed now days. Instead of wasting time looking through books (if you can find them) you simply go online and type in information about your technical problem and the website will pull up the information you need immediately. All of these databases are inexpensive, organized and easy to use. If the answer is not there, message boards and email discussion groups that connect you to other transmission specialists are available. These internet services can turn an average builder into a great builder once implemented in your shop and provide "in the trenches" training for industry employees.

Some shops are turning an office into a computer room for the employees, others are putting a computer with internet access in the building area.If you need more production and have to work less hours to produce it, these sites are a real time saver for today's shops.

If you do not already have it, there is nothing like a shop computer equipped with shop management software to organize your shop. I saw several shop management software programs at the trade shows that are specifically set up for transmission shops. True enough, it take time and money to set it up, but it will make the shop more productive and save you time and money in the long run.

If your shop does not have the proper test equipment for the long haul, I would suggest you purchase the necessary diagnostic equipment as soon as you can. Today's quality employees are looking for a shop that is safe, clean, organized and well equipped to help them perform their jobs. If your shop does not fit that criteria you may have a hard time recruiting and retaining employees. Let's face it, not having the proper test equipment creates frustration in the work place and wastes time.

I know it is hard to change shop policies and procedures that have paid the bills for so long. I know it may be expensive. I am not saying to go in and change everything. Rather, revisit your policies and procedures and be honest with yourself about what works now and what doesn't. Research the new management and diagnostic tools available and then take action to make the changes you can afford make. Safe equipment, computers with internet access and ample diagnostic tools are a necessity in today's shop and will become more important as time goes on. It's your shop. Remember the worst decision you can make is no desision at all.

If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact me at my website or call me on my toll free number.

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