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Fixed Ops Question of the Month..How to Determine the Right Number of Bays per Technician?

A huge topic of interest within the industry centers on the question “How many bays per tech should I have in my shop?”  The bays per tech enigma has existed for years, and as with any such large and ambiguous question, there is no one clear cut answer for all businesses.  There is however, a common need revealed by the question that can be addressed as the starting point for determining your own answer. 

  

The stepping stones for finding this answer lies in a better understanding of capacity planning.  I will briefly present four elements of capacity planning to consider for your shop to address this question.  These are work variation, scheduling, staffing, and space utilization. 

  

The benefit here is that I will not present any complex math or “golden ratios” but common factors that can be considered and discussed by any automotive service management team.  The math can come later after you have assigned the appropriate values to the variables being considered.

   

What every service center is really wondering is how they should be staffed for their customer demand to optimize their service offerings.  Let’s first start by asking this question another way and by considering the question instead as “How many technicians per bay should you have?” 

   

Flipping the question around creates a people-centric problem and attacks the preconceived assumption that you cannot have more than one tech per bay, which is false.  It can be done and I’ve done it successfully, and it will work under the right circumstances. 

   

I am not saying that multiple technicians per bay is the ultimate answer or even a desired operating state, but to even entertain the option you need to view the question not as a staffing or space issue but as a capacity planning problem.  This requires a deep understanding of the work content, customer demand, and the capabilities of your workforce.

  

Work Variation.

One of the common practices is to allocate multiple bays per technician on the assumption that if a repair goes sideways, the associate in question can walk away from the work and utilize additional space to begin working on the next vehicle while they wait for additional parts to arrive. 

  

The logic presented here is not wrong, but it seeks to optimize the labor and time of the associate and does not consider the overall shop operation.  When the technician walks away, the shop space and equipment is now being used as very expensive parking space.  Does this happen frequently in your shop?  Should it be considered as normal or as an unforeseen variation in the work schedule?

  

There are certainly scenarios where leaving a repair on a rack unfinished would make logical sense, but how frequently should we expect this to happen?  Under what conditions would we be Ok with this event occurring?  Is the choice to leave the work unattended solely left to the technician?  What is the management review process when this event does occur? 

  

These are a lot of questions to consider but work variation is one of, if not the biggest obstacle, that needs to be addressed when considering the ratio of labor to space.  You can start by setting a target and tracking what happens over the course of a week in your own shop.  This will give you some data points to work from, and help you determine the current frequency of work stoppages in your own shop.   

  

Scheduling

The dealer management system (DMS), or similar customer management application, is only the starting point for understanding the capacity of your shop.  The great news is that a solid DMS is an excellent platform to start from when considering what resources to allocate when no-shows, walk-ins, and over cycle repairs do occur.  Knowing that these schedule “upsets” are bound to happen, it is important to consider how much of your available time and talent will be available to handle these events.   A carefully prepared triage plan for prioritizing work can assist customer service advisors and repair teams in staying on the right track.   

  

Once a core schedule of available appointment labor hours is determined, the next focus is to ensure that the right technician in the right space is available to take on each repair.   Dedicated workstations and bays for “express oil”, alignments, or state inspections are common in many shops and would need to be considered as part of your capacity planning.  Realizing that the unique demands of these dedicated workstations would alter the math on the total “bay to tech ratio”. 

  

How they are incorporated into your scheduling and staffing plans would be an independent team decision. This makes generalities or industry standards around bays per technician ratios difficult to establish and compare business to business as we will see later. 

   

Staffing

Here the focus is on getting the most out of your existing team in their existing space before looking to add or subtract from your total labor or bay allocations.  Once you feel that you are maximizing the potential of each of your team members you can get a better handle on the true shop capacity.

  

Pull the data on your individual associate efficiencies as well as the overall service efficiencies on total billable hours.  What ratio of space does this currently represent?  Is the allocation of space even across all associates or could these existing efficiencies be influenced by the existing work environment?  

  

If for example the shop target is to run at a 120% efficiency target, look for individual outliers both above and below this metric and plan actual labor according to the true shop efficiency rate.  Check both the median and mean performance rates when making your capacity planning decisions as the data could be skewed by the associates at the extreme ends of the performance spectrum.  Next, we can look at how the physical space could impact these numbers.   

  

Space utilization

The last factor of capacity to consider is the utilization rate of each bay.  To define utilization rate as a percentage, divide the total time that value-added work is being performed in an individual workspace over the total available working hours for that space.  This is not the same as the total amount of time that the bay is occupied by a vehicle.  We only want to focus on the total amount of time useful work is being performed on a vehicle in that space over the total service hours available.  This is a very important point because it highlights capacity as the amount of productive work that can be performed instead of as the amount of room we have to work.

  

By starting with the assumption that we will need more bays than techs, we know that the individual utilization of each bay will be sacrificed due to our available labor.  The real limit now is the one brain and two hands of our technician.  If your next thought is “But if I’m waiting for a part, then there is nothing for me to do,” you now understand why I started this article by covering how the frequency of work variation impacts capacity, and not by discussing popular tech to bay ratio theories.   

  

Seeing Constraints     

It is easy to say “I’ve run out of space in my shop and can’t possibly do any more work,” because it is plain to see the bottleneck of not being able to bring in another vehicle.  But a full service area does not mean that we are operating at the limits of our capacity.

  

The limitation of the shop often depends less on the physical constraints and more on the utilization of labor within the workspace presented, and upon further analysis, many times the physical limits of a shop are not the true constraints to capacity.  This really underscores the futility of trying to compare businesses based on a bay to tech ratio as it does not provide a true representation of operational efficiencies.  Furthermore, your customers do not care what this number is, but they do care about timely and efficient service for their vehicle.  The operational merit here is in gauging the performance of your own business.

   

Practical Example

Let’s look at three operating examples of how these bay per tech ratios could present.  Shop A has five associates averaging $10,000 in revenue per month each with 1.2 bays to work in, generating $50,000 per month total in a six-bay shop.  Shop B has four technicians each averaging $12,500 in revenue per month in a similar six-bay shop at a 1.5 bay to tech ratio.  Shop C, our last team, has three technicians in a four-bay shop generating an average of $9,000 per month on a 1.3 bay per tech ratio.

Shop

Ratio

Technicians

Revenue per Tech

Total Revenue

A

1.2

5

$10,000

$50,000

B

1.5

4

$12,500

$50,000

C

1.3

3

$9,000

$27,000

 

Comparing shops based only on the bay per tech ratio businesses A and C would appear “more efficient” than B when in reality this is far from a complete picture of their operational performance.  Be mindful not to oversimplify production capability as a ratio of bays per tech, as in this example we can see that the calculated ratio in isolation tells us nothing about the capabilities or performance of the business.   

   

Next Steps

Now that we have a better understanding of shop capacity, let us go back to the original question and rephrase it to make it easier to answer.  Looking at your targets for next year and applying your existing technician to bay ratio, ask yourself “Is either physical space or staffing the largest limiting factor to success?”  Either yes, or no, the “right ratio” for your shop will be the result of your capacity planning and not as the input for determining your capacity.   The number, however it presents, should be viewed as an indicator of internal capabilities and not an isolated target to achieve.

  

By Michael Pokora at RPM Recon Automotive Consulting

Views: 54

Tags: Bays, Determine, How, Number, Right, Technician?, of, per, the, to

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