The fixed operations space is experiencing unprecedented changes in the way it does business. As technicians and dealers look to adopt new tools and techniques, it becomes more important than ever to get a boots-on-the-ground view of the service department. On this episode of Inside Automotive, host Jim Fitzpatrick heads to Ocean Cadillac in Miami to meet with the store’s service director Jim Pena, a graduate of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Academy with 14 years in the car business, to discuss the status of dealership repair and maintenance work.
Service departments have become busier since the onset of the COVID pandemic, notes Pena. Not only have the number of work orders increased, but so too have the hours needed to complete repairs. He explains that car owners are now keeping their vehicles longer in an attempt to stave off a new car purchase until prices come down. This has translated into higher profits for many dealers’ fixed operations.
While business is better than ever, Pena notes the automotive industry still struggles to fill service department roles. “It’s a challenge to find skilled technicians,” he remarks. Rather than searching for talent outside of his dealership, Pena looks in-house where possible. “What I’ve tried to do is build them from within.” Ocean Cadillac helps its fixed operations employees advance their careers with extensive training and pays for its employees to attend renowned education programs.
Since the pandemic, service departments have also witnessed a change in how customers prioritize convenience. “COVID…taught me that people just want convenience more than anything,” explains Pena. More often, he continues, fixed operations clients are choosing to add amenities such as pickup and dropoff to make the process faster and easier, even if these options come with greater costs. Because of this new focus, Pena believes mobile service will soon become one of the dominant methods for providing light vehicle repairs.
The fixed operations world has also been forced to adjust to more electric vehicle work after a sharp increase in production and development. While some dealers worry that the new technology will disrupt service revenue, Pena dismisses this concern. “We are seeing a lot of very complex electrical repairs that bring a lot of labor hours…” he notes. Furthermore, even if they need less care on average than gas-powered vehicles, EVs also bring new growth opportunities. For example, tires wear out much faster on EVs due to their heavy weight. Pena urges service managers and dealers to consider entering the tire business in the near future. “I believe the statistic is 85% of people buy tires on the first pitch,” he explains, “and you keep that customer.”
For those looking to enter the car business, Pena encourages them to consider a career in fixed operations. “Automobiles will be here for a very long time, whether they’re gonna be internal combustion or EV…and they’re always gonna break…” he comments. “It’s definitely a great business, and it changed my life for sure.”