Director of Service and Parts – Mentor, Ted Dollar
Ted has been the manager of the service department for one of the most successful Lexus dealerships in the US for twenty-five years. He worked his way up in the automotive business starting as a detailer then an auto technician and service advisor before becoming a service manager. Besides his job as a service manager, his article discusses career opportunities in the auto business for technicians and service advisors, jobs that pay as much or more than many careers requiring a college degree. Ted also talks about what he looks for when he hires people for these positions, the training and continuous education requirements once you are hired and how you advance through the various levels of certification. His article will be of interest to anyone who is looking to lean more about these career opportunities in the automobile business, careers that offer the opportunity for advancement and good pay.
I got my first job in the auto business was when I was still in high school working weekends as a janitor at an auto dealership where my brother was an accountant. I later learned how to detail cars and began working more hours after school during the week and then started detailing cars on my own on Saturdays. When I graduated from high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I told my father that I wanted to make some money but that I did not want to go to college. He worked for a railroad and got me a job as part of a track gang. That was hard, physical labor that I knew I did not want to do for the rest of my life. After a year, I decided that I would go to college. I went to Oklahoma State University and studied business management. I ran out of money after two and a half years and went back to the same auto dealership doing detailing jobs. But that job gave me the opportunity to start working on cars as a technician. Back then there were no technical schools that taught auto mechanics. You trained on the job by working with someone in the shop.
After I had worked as a technician for four years and gained some experience, I moved to a BMW dealership where I thought I could make more money. I was always at work early in the morning while the service advisor and service manager were often late. I was first offered the service advisor position, which was a hard choice because it paid less than what I was making as a technician. But I did well and the service manager’s job was quickly offered to me. After working at the BMW dealership as a service manager for seven years, I wanted to make more money and was looking at service manager positions at other dealerships. One of the people I was talking to at the time just acquired the franchise for the Lexus dealership in Tulsa and invited me join him. When we started that dealership twenty-five years ago, there were three people in service – one tech, one parts manager and me. I now manage fifty-three people in the service and parts department.
All the people I hire are upbeat and are self-starters. No day is the same working at an auto dealership. I want the people I hire to not be afraid to take on each day’s challenges and be problem solvers.
The technicians and service advisors are paid based on their productivity and their ability to provide good customer service following the process I have established in the service department:
- We have a system for how we get the customer checked in. This starts with the service advisor who first meets with customers and listens to any problems they might have, then talks to the customer about what is needed and gets the customer’s approval for the work.
- We have a system to get the work assigned to a technician based on what type of service is involved.
- There is a quality control process with the technician to make sure the work is done correctly.
- We have a process for delivery of the car back to the customer where the car is cleaned and inspected and all the work and costs are explained to the customer by the service advisor.
Our goal in the service department is to keep the cost of ownership as low as possible for our customers. This means that we emphasize regular maintenance that prevents expensive repairs. Given the improvement in the quality of automobiles, cars last longer and have fewer major repairs if they undergo regular preventive maintenance. About two thirds of our service business is this kind of routine maintenance rather than repairs.
It is also important to me that our dealership provides all the services a customer needs including such things as tires and oil changes not just major service and repairs. We want to be a one-stop service center for our customers so when they come to us they know they are getting a good price. We also make sure they come to a place with a comfortable waiting room and if they want can get a loaner while we are working on their car. If customers go somewhere else for things like tires, they can also end up having that shop do other service like brakes and suspension. I want to keep that business. I always know what the competition is doing and what they charge for things like tires, oil changes and other routine maintenance. Because we are a large dealer, we can buy tires in bulk and often get better discounts than a tire dealer. So when one of our customers needs to replace their tires, our service advisors can quote them competitive prices that will keep that business at our dealership and allow us to continue to do all of the maintenance on the car. As the service manager I set all the prices. A lot of my job is making sure I know what the competition is doing and that my pricing stays competitive.
I have a number of people working for me that earn as much or more than many college graduates. Here are the best paying jobs:
Service technicians start as apprentices and then become Certified Technicians, Senior Certified Technicians and then Master Technicians. I only hire people as apprentice technicians who I feel are self-motivated, have the ability to get along well with other people and who show that they like learning new things. We can teach people how to become technicians if they have these personal characteristics but you cannot teach people the personal traits they need to be successful as a technician.
When you start out as an apprentice, you begin training in the shop and we send you to classes taught by Lexus. We also send you to a technical school where you are taught classes that concentrate on Toyota products. Technical schools do have classes that emphasize particular brands. So you have to decide on whether or not you want to work on domestic or foreign cars if you take this kind of technical training on your own. Even with domestic brands, there are specific classes that concentrate on GM, Ford and Chrysler products. So you will have to specialize if you want to work for any dealership and will become more valuable to them as you gain experience with their brand of cars. It generally takes about two years to complete this technical training and about three years total before you become a certified technician.
Once you are certified, you still continue to train and are evaluated every month by team leaders. If you have an interest in one area of service you can take further specialized training. For example, some people like electrical while others like nuts and bolts engine repairs. It generally takes three years to become a senior certified mechanic and another five years to become a master mechanic. To maintain your certification, you have to spend at least five days every year receiving factory training.
As a technician, your compensation is based on performance. Each service job you are given has a specific standard as to how much time it should take to complete it. For example, the standard to put new struts on a car might be three hours. You are paid for three hours when you do the service. But as people gain experience, they can do these jobs faster. So if the technician can finish in two hours, he keeps the difference and earns at one and a half times his base hourly rate. This compensation program means that it is important you work at a dealership where there is a steady service business because you get paid based on how productive you are not on the number of hours you work. Good technicians who work efficiently can earn eighty to one hundred thousand dollar incomes at our dealership.
As a technician, you do have to work longer hours than some other jobs. Our dealership is open from 7 to 6 Monday through Friday and 8 to 5 on Saturday. I schedule my technicians to come in to work 7 to 5 or 8 to 6, which staggers their time. But it still means that you are looking at ten-hour days and rotating weekends.
If you want to be a service technician, it is important to prepare yourself in high school. You need to have good math and reading skills as well as know how to use a computer. There have not been printed service manuals for over twenty years. All that information is now on line requiring you to have good computer skills to retrieve that information and to record the work that you have done on a particular car.
Service advisors are the first person to see the customer and get the car checked in. They are important to our dealership because their work has a big influence on customer satisfaction. If there is a problem, the advisor must be able to listen to the customer and do a preliminary inspection and accurately convey this information to the technician. If the technician recommends a repair or the car needs regular maintenance, the advisor explains how the costs are broken down by labor and parts. It is important to me that our service advisors are able to talk to customers about recommended service in a way that the customer understands why the recommendations are necessary. I don’t ever want our customers to think we are trying to sell them something that is not necessary. We don’t do any work on a car without the service advisor getting the customer’s approval.
When the car is delivered to the customer, my advisors explain the bill in detail and let the customer know about the next regularly scheduled maintenance. Because Lexus and most other cars have become so reliable, regularly scheduled maintenance now represent about two thirds of our service business.
Service advisors are paid based on their productivity selling maintenance and providing good customer service that keeps people coming back to our dealership. Experienced service advisors earn fifty to eighty thousand dollars at our dealership.
How to Prepare to Work in an Auto Dealership
- It is important that you learn good math skills in high school. You will use math every day at an auto dealership if you repair a car, order parts or maintain a parts inventory.
- You should learn good reading comprehension in high school. You are going to be looking at service and parts manuals everyday and will need to study service bulletins to keep yourself current.
- It is important that you have good communication skills. Try to get experience in high school where you learn to speak in front of people and learn to listen well.
- People in an auto dealership work as a team. Get into activities that let you work with other people as a team whether it is team sports or clubs where the team is goal oriented.
- Practice time management. When you are working in the service department of an auto dealership you have to realize that you are primarily selling your time and you need to be a good time manager.
I enjoy working as a service manager at this auto dealership. I want to get up and go to work every day. There is always something new to learn and a new challenge to overcome. Selling service involves selling your time and I have always been a good time manager. So my career as a service manager has been particularly satisfying to me because I can see the results of my efforts everyday. This career has also allowed me to provide a good living for my family and has allowed me to send all of my four children through college. If you are a self- starter, like to constantly learn new things, are a good communicator and like to work as part of a team, the careers I have talked about at an auto dealership are careers you should consider.
Salary Surveys – Service Managers, Technicians and Service Advisors
The company Payscale’s most recent salary survey updated in 2015 shows a range of salaries from $38,000 to over $100,000. Salaries varied based on the number of employees a service manager supervised and were higher for a car dealership than a service center or tire store that did service that were included in the survey. Pay also varied by the region of the country with the highest salaries in areas where the cost of living was also the highest like the East and West coasts. .
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics median wage for technicians working at auto dealerships was $41,360 based on the 2012 census. Recent private surveys are higher and show the median average pay at dealerships in the range of $58,000. The median annual wage for all automotive service technicians and mechanics according to the BLS was $36,610 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,810, and the top 10 percent earned more than $60,070. Experienced technicians with advanced certifications working at a car dealership with incentive pay like the kind mentioned in this article generally earned in the top ten percent. This range shows that your training and where you work are important. The averages are skewed lower because a lot of people who do basic services like tire and oil changes as well as brakes and mufflers do not require technical training but are still classified as auto technicians. So like every occupation, advanced education and training is important to your future earnings potential.
The BLS estimates that employment of automotive service technicians and mechanics is projected to grow 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
A review of recent job postings for service advisors at just auto dealerships showed experienced advisors at large dealerships looking at total compensation packages ranging from $58,000 to $80,000. Service advisors in all categories earned average annual salaries of $36,000 as of 2013, according to Indeed.com, which included automotive stores that did only simple routine maintenance such as tire and parts stores. People working at large auto dealership got paid the highest salaries for this job category.