Out With the Old? Not Exactly

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I own three bikes that are more than 50 years old, so don't read this thinking that I'm bashing vintage iron. I just know that as a business owner, you can't run a service department for the love of old iron. You need to make a profit.

Dave Woods of Simi Valley Honda in California put the problem into perspective when he told Dealernews recently, "I'm seeing an increase in people bringing in and fixing up old dogs that they think will save them a ton of money in gas. They're coming out of the woodwork. And the hard part is that they gag when you tell them what it's going to cost to fix them. And hopefully they're smart enough to go in and rebuild the carburetor on their old `84 Magna and not screw them up because those carb kits are expensive. People don't understand, but it is a lot of work, and more work to do it right. This is old stuff that we're not really working on a whole lot anymore, so you're not as crisp and as fresh on it as you used to be, and that can bite you in the rear as well because you forget."

Shops around the country are challenged with "old dogs" hounding their service departments every day. How can you do what's right for the customer and right for the dealership? To be profitable, servicing vintage iron requires making informed decisions and preparing for the business before that old dog starts humping your leg for attention.

SCOPE OF WORK

Start by meeting with your top technicians and your parts and service managers to decide what you'll work on and to what extent. And, if you're a franchised dealer, keep this in mind: Both your customers and your manufacturer will expect you to assist owners of the brand, no matter what year it is. That means prima donna techs who want to cherry-pick which bikes they work on need not be present at your meeting. You need open-minded thinkers to answer the following questions:

  • What vehicle brands, models and years are your technicians trained and/or experienced in?
  • Which of those can your techs perform full service on?
  • Which can techs perform routine repairs on, such as a tire or rear chain replacement?

Now that you know which vehicles you'll service and to what extent, answer the following and then order the support that you need.

  • What special tools or equipment are required?
  • What factory service manuals and parts catalogs are required?
  • What parts and accessories do you need to stock or that you need to be able to get in two days or less?

TYPES OF CHARGES

For the next step, decide if you want to charge differently for vintage repairs. For example, some shops charge a premium rate for older bikes and some charge by the hour instead charging by the job. Unique fees, by the way, should be posted in the service write-up area to avoid potential arguments in court.

To make your vintage work a lucrative venture, here are some other ideas to consider:

  • Never tell a customer you won't work on their older vehicle, because that will just piss them off. Instead, say what you can do, such as tire, battery and chain replacement.
  • If you can't do the work, you should know of a shop or individual in the area that can. Tell the customer something like, "We'd like to have you as our customer; unfortunately our techs aren't professionally trained on your vehicle and we don't have the special tools that are needed. The good news is I know a mechanic/shop that should be able to attend to your immediate needs. In the future, should you get an XYZ or newer, we want you to consider us for your professional service needs."
  • Collect 50 percent up front on any job that looks to exceed a few hundred dollars. Owners are more likely to pick up and pay for their vehicle with some cash invested.
  • When confronted with a dog you'd prefer not to do business with, don't refuse to do the work — instead, double your verbal estimate. That usually causes the owner to take the vehicle elsewhere. At the very least, your over-estimate will provide you with a nice cushion. Justify the high cost as the price of employing the best technicians in town and the equipment needed to do professional level service.
  • Offer a trade-in program for vintage iron to get the old dog off the road and the customer on a new or pre-owned vehicle the shop can fully service. At the worst, you can probably sell the bowser on eBay or to a motorcycle scrap yard.

MIND THE LOVE

I hope this leaves you with the opinion that servicing vintage iron can be profitable. You just need to be respectful of the owner's love for their vehicle and you also need to have a solid plan to capture the work you're competent in. Do those things, and you'll more than likely make more friends, build a reputation of doing what's right and promote the future sale of newer vehicles that can be a real service money-maker.