COVID-19 affected every single industry on the planet, from construction to agriculture. That includes the auto repair industry. The truth is that automotive shops were affected more than quite a few other businesses, and the repercussions are not yet finished.
Understanding how the auto repair industry has been affected and how the ongoing complications of the pandemic will affect business owners, mechanics/technicians, and consumers is important.
In this post, we will explore the many impacts of COVD-19 on the industry as a whole and how things are changing as the pandemic loosens its grip.
Like most industries, the auto repair industry hit the brakes hard with the initial onset of COVID-19. Repair shops across the country found themselves with little or nothing to do, at least in terms of consumer-facing work. That trend only accelerated as more and more businesses sent their employees home and more areas recommended limited travel.
However, while much about the pandemic was bleak, there were some bright spots. Many auto repair shops emerged largely unscathed, and others were able to grow their businesses during this unprecedented time.
How did they manage such a feat? What changes were necessary to allow repair shops to not just stay afloat, but to improve their profitability?
We will discuss that and more in the next section.
With the decrease in driving, fewer people need regular automotive maintenance. However, many automotive repair shops found that they were able to sell larger orders and more expensive repairs than before. How does something like this happen in a time when more people are forced to pinch every penny?
Part of this trend has to do with reduced driving. Because people are driving less, they visit the repair shop fewer times per year. When they do come in, they’re trying to take care of multiple issues at the same time, rather than scheduling one service today, another next month, and so on.
So, rather than coming in for an oil change and a tire rotation this month, and then scheduling a brake service for next month, and then their 60,000-mile service the month after that, many consumers combined everything in one go. This resulted in larger service tickets and more work at one time.
Let’s face it – mechanic shops are never the cleanest of places. Brake dust, oil, exhaust particulates, transmission fluid…these are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. How were businesses where grime was part of the everyday experience supposed to come to terms with the need to clean and sanitize everything to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus?
Despite the seemingly insurmountable challenge, many repair shops rose to meet it. How, though? Here are just a few of the ways that they were able to improve cleanliness, sanitation, and employee/customer safety.
Another factor in how some shops were able to improve their profitability lies in their steps to improve the technology available to their mechanics and customers, as well as the transparency with which they communicated with their customers.
Touchless technology and processes became the rule with the pandemic. Almost every service was transformed – grocery stores began offering curbside pickup and at-home delivery. Warehouse stores like Sam’s Club and Costco began offering more and more items available for online ordering and at-home delivery. Food delivery services rolled out contactless delivery and payment options.
Many shops were able to implement similar strategies with the help of digital technology. Remote kiosks, call-in service, remote pick-up, text message notifications of service completion – these are just a few of the ways that shops were able to harness technology to deliver safer customer service.
Technology also played a role in improving transparency and driving better sales for many shops. With many digital service offerings, it is possible to include images as well as text-based explanations of service recommendations and problem areas. For instance, it is possible to include pictures of worn rotors with an explanation of why resurfacing is needed. This increases transparency and improves the customer’s understanding of what is necessary, both of which feed into increased sales.
Another reason for the success some repair shops have seen while others have not is a new focus on community outreach. By providing and promoting discounted or free service to essential workers, these shops were able to boost their branding and increase positive publicity.
With some repair shops closing their doors and others laying off mechanics/technicians, it became possible for other shops to hire top-tier talent and deliver a better experience to their customers.
Today, the pandemic has largely eased. Vaccines have been rolled out, different variants have arisen and then subsided, and we may be seeing the back end of things. Most regions in the US have begun relaxing their COVID requirements, too.
However, while that’s good news, it does not necessarily mean that the impacts of the pandemic will vanish overnight. You only need to look at the increasing global inflation and ongoing supply chain problems to realize that it will take many years for things to begin returning to normal.
How is this situation affecting auto repair shops? There are several things to know here, including:
As the pandemic loosened its grip and areas of the US let go of social distancing requirements, more people have felt comfortable getting out and about more. With the surge in road traffic also comes a dramatic increase in the need for automotive service. 2021 saw an initial spike in demand, and 2022 is expected to outstrip that by a significant margin.
However, auto repair shops must be prepared for the realities of the new world in which we live. There will be no large-scale return to the pre-pandemic “normal.” What does this mean moving forward?
The pandemic has cost the lives of millions of people. In the US alone, almost a million people have died at the time of this writing. It has also ushered in tremendous upheavals at all levels of society. The auto repair industry has been one of the hardest hit, with many businesses forced to lay off employees or even close their doors permanently. The global supply chain responsible for ensuring part and supply availability has also broken down.
However, there is hope yet. Many automotive repair shops have not only remained open but found ways to thrive in this strange new world. And, as COVID retreats and we begin to reemerge into the world once more, demand for services and repairs will skyrocket very quickly. Auto repair shops must be prepared for the rise in demand, as well as the new expectations their customers will have regarding things like digital/touchless technology, masking, social distancing, and more.
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