Fixing your fixed operations process

October 31, 2022

There are many benefits to streamlining your service department

When it comes to Fixed Operations, Wolfgang Koehler and Andy Campbell can best be described as “The Fixers.”

They run an automotive consulting company called Firing On All Cylinders (FOAC) to help dealerships run a leaner, more profitable after-sales department by making changes to their day-to-day systems and processes. Since they began their company four years ago, the two Kitchener residents have been hired by dealerships across Canada and have also done some online training in the U.S. and Europe.

“Fixed operations is the focus of a lot of dealers these days — that’s what we’re finding — and we’re getting busier and busier doing all kinds of things with fixed ops,” said Koehler. “We are both very passionate about fixed operations. We love that business.”

Both Campbell and Koehler have extensive backgrounds in the dealership business. Campbell has almost 30 years experience, including nine-plus years as co-owner of Brantford Volkswagen from 2008-19 and 19-plus years as the General Manager of BMW Waterloo. During his time as an owner, the dealership racked up many awards, including the VW Gold Pin given out annually to a select number of the manufacturer’s top-performing dealerships in the world.

Koehler worked in the automotive industry for almost 40 years in parts and service. After 11 years as the Fixed Operations Manager at Mercedes-Benz Kitchener, he moved to Switzerland where he worked for MB as an After-Sales Manager for two stores. He started at one of MB’s first MAR2020 Concept Dealerships in the world, helping with design, construction, hiring, purchase of equipment and development of processes. He said it was a new concept that all the MB stores will eventually resemble.

He moved back to Canada and hooked up with Campbell, with whom he had previously worked, and they started FOAC, feeling they could offer expertise that was lacking in after-sales, specifically with processes in the day-to-day operations. Campbell said he had dealt throughout his career with consultants with no automotive experience who were brought in to provide training on after-sales and they didn’t “get” it themselves.

“Unless you’ve lived it, built it and fixed it, you don’t know how to do it,” said Campbell. “There’s not enough people that have been knee-deep in it that want to get involved with this in Canada. What we’re trying to do (with dealers) is show them there is a different way of doing this.

“We don’t come in with a manual and say, ‘Here’s how you’re going to do business.’ That’s just crap, and that’s what’s been wrong with automotive training for so many years in the after-sales. There’s no one way of doing it right.”

The process begins with a consultation with the dealership. It is followed up with four to eight one-hour online teaching sessions that cost $225 each time and/or a four-day, on-site visit, spending eight hours a day. The cost is $2,250 per day plus expenses. There are follow-ups for as long as the clients want them, and they have access to proprietary software Campbell and Koehler developed.

A key element of their business model is teaching dealers how to best use their staff. For example, two days before a service appointment, the order is reviewed to make sure the technicians have the parts they require so both their time, and the customer’s time, is not wasted. Another element is creating the equivalent of an express lane for simple things such as oil and lube changes. And rather than ask the customers when they want to come in, they give them a set time for their specific work, depending on whether it is a simple service that can be done in 45 minutes or less, or something more extensive that takes longer.

“If a technician comes to the dealership and gives eight hours of their day — and we always say it’s a gift of eight hours because it’s a talent — how much of that day are we as management and service advisors utilizing for them to work on cars?” said Koehler. “We found there’s a lot of dealerships that don’t utilize that time, so they might be working at 70-75 per cent productivity, where they should be at 90 per cent, minimum.

“Technicians are wasting a lot of time, and that’s where the lean process comes in. It’s a different mindset of changing how we train dealers and how we look at technicians to try to maximize that productivity.”

Koehler said a lot of times the process isn’t right with the service department, parts department, and even the sales department.

“We look at how they are conducting business today and how maybe they want to conduct business in the future,” said Koehler. “We do training with managers and a lot of it with service managers because they are responsible for filling up the workshop.”

Ryan Williams, General Manager at Taylor Volkswagen and Taylor Audi in Regina, was looking for some fixed ops training help for his stores and became aware of Campbell and Koehler. He talked to them for 45 minutes and was impressed with what they had to say. They spent four days at his operation, where Williams mapped out the stores’ processes.

“They offered a whole different perspective on just simple things like booking a customer, how to get all the information but do it efficiently,” said Williams. “What Wolfgang and Andy were offering was something where you were setting yourself up for more success. It took basically a broken process and fixed it. I’ve got plenty of fixed operations experience and the perspective they offered me was mind-blowing, and it wasn’t just me, it was the entire staff.

“It didn’t take very long for buy-in from the management all the way down to the service advisors and technicians, because they saw the benefit of what was happening, too. Their needs got way more organized. Andy and Wolfgang took our process and they made it better. They give you the tools necessary to get your staff engaged.

“It gives us an opportunity, too, to discuss the merits of what we currently do right or what we are doing wrong and how we can do it differently.”

Michael Crosby, Dealer Principal of Crosby Auto Group in Kitchener, knew Campbell and Koehler and hired them in 2019 at the behest of the manager of a store that was being renovated. What began with addressing the process of the drive-through operation and greeting clients spread into looking at the service and parts operation and working with the managers. It worked out so well, Crosby hired them for all four of his stores.

“They bring expertise, they know when to push (the managers) a little bit,” said Crosby. “They have a very good style. They are there to work beside and with the people. They have the knowledge and the skill set, but the way they work with the management team is a big asset because they get buy-in. If you don’t get the buy-in, nothing is really going to happen. It’s just going to be talk.”

During COVID, Campbell and Koehler did their business entirely online and wrote a book, Stay In The Bay, which basically explains what they are teaching to the dealers but in a casual format.

“The idea for the Stay In The Bay book is to keep technicians working in the service bay turning wrenches,” said Koehler. “That’s good for the dealership, good for the tech and good for the customers because they are getting their jobs done quicker.”

He said he and Campbell work online with 15-20 dealerships a week and visit on average one a week.

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