Creating a service department to be a rose, not a thorn

By Jeff Sheets

Everyone hates thorns! When you get pricked by them, they can be extremely painful and make you bleed. We want to avoid thorns at all costs. On the contrary, a rose is something that looks beautiful and desirable. My hope is that your service department is the latter rather than the former, but if it is “thorny,” this article is for you.

Your goal should be to make your service department the centerpiece of your business — just like a rose is used as the centerpiece in a floral arrangement. I tell many owners that I would like to see them be so proud of their service department that they would put a floor-to-ceiling window in their showroom so that customers could actually see what is going on back there and watch their equipment being serviced. If you could ever get your service department to look that good, you would be in the top 1 percent of all OPE dealers. Now that is a goal that would take your business in unparalleled directions.

Here are my recommendations on how to proceed and create a service department that can make you proud.

#1 Good Technicians = Good Compensation

The biggest complaint by most owners is they can’t find good technicians. I agree 100 percent that this is true. There are many reasons for this, but I think compensation is the biggest key in both attracting and keeping good technicians. How are you going to attract great service technicians by paying them only $12 an hour? The odds of finding someone that can help you build a good service department with that pay rate is about .0000001 percent. You need to be prepared to pay up to 30 percent of your labor rate, as long as the technician is efficient. It also means you must set up efficiency standards as to what is and isn’t acceptable regarding the time it takes to repair a piece of equipment and making sure that your technicians rarely if ever have to leave their 10×14 space for anything. When you find these people, then you want to hang onto them, which may mean increasing your labor rates so that you can raise your compensation rates accordingly. The number one question I am asked with regard to compensation is, “Should I pay my tech on a full flat rate?” I usually respond by saying if your technician prefers to be compensated that way, then yes. However, most technicians prefer to be compensated with a base salary plus commission because of the nature of the OPE business, which can be very up and down and inconsistent when it comes to service work. If you find a great person or want to attract a great person to be an employee, you need to show that person there is a reason he or she should work for you, and compensation is a great way to show that you value that person.

#2 Right Processes = Asking the Right Questions

Your service department cannot become a rose without analyzing your current processes and then making necessary adjustments. The difficult part is that even after you make those adjustments, you have to keep tinkering and making sure that the processes are not being corrupted. How do you find the right process? Look at where there are delays or kinks in your service department and often those can be found in your customer complaints. Are your repairs taking too long? Are you promising completion dates that aren’t possible? Do you waste the time of your service technicians by having them spend two hours or more a day away from their workspace? Who is taking in the repairs, and does that person know anything about servicing or repairing equipment? How efficient is your parts department at processing the service department’s parts orders? These are just a few questions that you should be asking.

My suggestion is that you streamline everything, so that there is no wiggle room in the process. At some point, a service technician should see the equipment before it goes on the lift, so that he or she can evaluate whether the repair or service is properly diagnosed and whether more needs to be done. That gives you a firmer idea of the parts necessary and whether to call the customer for further approval if additional work is necessary. I favor not having the technician moving the equipment at any point of the process. I also favor putting equipment into areas that indicate what point they are in the process (e.g. waiting on parts before the equipment can be repaired). Equipment in need of service should also be placed close to the service bays, so there is no great distance to retrieve it. I realize that there is no “one-size-fits-all” way of setting up these processes, but the most important thing is that you save time by trying to get the equipment in and out as quickly as possible, no matter what time of the year. This is critical because you can have the best service technicians, but without good processes, they will be inefficient and unable to reach their full income potential.

#3 Cleaning and Organizing = Great Workplace

My idea of giving people the ability to look into your service department and see how it is working would be a problem for most dealerships. If I worked in some of these service departments, I would be pretty depressed. They are dirty, unorganized, and not well lighted. They would not be places I would want customers to see. Many dealers hold onto old equipment and old parts, which take up way too much room and make the service department look extremely unorganized. My advice: Throw that old stuff away! I have helped dealers with tossing out old equipment and old parts in service departments across the country and know that some owners have a pre-disposition to hoarding these type of items because at some point “we might need them.” I always tell them that they are in business to sell new parts and not put used parts on equipment. Get out of the used parts business and sell them for scrap. Keep your service department organized and get rid of old used parts.

My other suggestion is to paint or finish your floors in a way so that light can reflect back into the department, along with the extra lighting. If your technicians are going to be efficient, they need the best lighting possible, so they can see every part of the equipment they are servicing. These are just two suggestions in this area. Work constantly on making your service department look like a place you would want to show off rather than hide from the world. It should be a place that an employee would be proud to work in as well.

All businesses have thorns or painful areas where changes need to be made. The thorn needs to produce enough pain to make sure that we make changes to that particular area. If your service department is “thorny,” then look at ways to make it a success rather than just accepting it as a failure. I like the following quote from Summer Redstone, executive chairman of the board of CBS and Viacom: “Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes, it’s built on catastrophe.” Realize that your service department can be better and that there are possibilities for change. I have seen service departments change and participated in helping change them. No matter how bad your service department is today, it could blossom into the “rose” of your dealership in the future. Never give up on trying to make it better.

1504_OPE_FS_Profit Center Series-Part III-Service2_author-Jeff Sheets-webJeff Sheets is the founder and owner of OPE Consulting Services. Whether a business is thriving or struggling to survive, Sheets’ rich experience in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors allows him to partner with business owners to customize unique strategies for their needs. For the past nine years, he has worked extensively with hundreds of outdoor power equipment dealers to create best practices in business structure, personnel management and financial profitability. For more information, he may be contacted at or (816) 260-5430. You can also follow him on Twitter @opeconsult, connect with him on LinkedIn, and visit his website at


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