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The Productive Shop: How Business Plans Shape Work Bays

Automobiles operate in a linear manner – forwards or backwards – but managing an auto repair shop is more like a game of three-dimensional chess, with pieces moving up, down, and sideways. Optimal productivity depends on all the moving parts working together as one, in multiple dimensions. Shop owner Andy Fiffick, interviewed in Ratchet + Wrench, explains that optimizing workflow starts with answering the question, “What is your business plan?”

From that initial question, managers can identify the kinds of vehicles and owners they want for customers. Then they can look at their facility to determine how it supports their business plan’s goals, and make changes to accommodate those goals.

Time and space are two vital dimensions in the productive workflow equation – the time it will take a technician to perform a specific task, and the space needed to perform the task efficiently, especially having parts and tools available without long wait times. Techs will naturally gain speed with experience, but inefficient space utilization is something that requires close scrutiny from management.

A productive shop’s layout places specific types of parts and tools close to the work bay where that type of work is being done – oil change parts near the oil change bay, for example. Installing workbenches and modular drawers and shelving will let shop management rearrange supplies of parts and tools to meet the current business plan’s workflow, and adapt for future changes without additional costs for new millwork.

Bulky items such as tires and engine blocks often take up valuable floor space that could be put to use as additional work bays. By storing these “space hogs” in vertical lifts, shop managers can regain usable space to add to their productive workflow plans.

Auto shop management consultant Rick White states that a tech’s time is worth $3-6 per minute. Every minute spent hunting for a replacement part or waiting for a tire to be hauled down from a storage rack is a minute of lost revenue. An efficient shop layout is one of the productivity keys defined by answering that essential question: What is your business plan? Create a sound business plan and the shop’s workflow and layout will come into focus.


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