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Why do You Work So Hard Chasing 2 ½% Gross While Ignoring 70% Gross?

Gross Earnings

Breaking News: You take more money to the bank grossing $0.70 per dollar than you do grossing $0.02½ per dollar!

According to the NADA DATA report released earlier this year, the average new car gross is 2 ½% and it’s been dropping every year for almost a decade. Service labor gross, on the other hand, has consistently been at 70% gross for as long as I can remember.

So, why do dealers and general managers work so hard chasing 2 ½% gross while largely ignoring 70% gross? I genuinely don’t understand. I’m serious; if you know the answer, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I’ll include it in a future article.

I want to be clear: I am not suggesting dealers diminish their efforts to sell new and used cars, nor am I downplaying the importance of variable ops. I’m just saying that, as an owner or general manager, if you would devote some of your time, talent, business savvy, sales experience, and leadership to fixed ops, the financial impact to your bank account would be remarkable.

Let’s look at the numbers to back this up:

NADA says the average car sells for $34,670, so at 2 ½%, that’s $867 gross profit. According to yourmechanic.com, Lang Marketing, and many other sources, consumers spend $9,000 during the first 10 years of ownership to maintain a car. If you figure a parts-to-labor ratio of 1:1, a labor gross of 70%, and parts gross of 35%, then that is $4,750 gross profit. That’s $475 gross per year. Granted, in the early years, a vehicle needs less maintenance than it does later in life. (Yourmechanic.com estimates the first year of maintenance to be $150 with each year increasing $150…hence the second year is $300, the third year $450, etc.)

The cynic would say, “Hold on, Charlie, by the time the vehicle owner starts spending serious money on maintenance, they have long ago defected to the aftermarket.”

This is unfortunately true in many dealerships, but that’s why retention is so important—even the OEMs see the long-term value of retention and include it as a key performance indicator in evaluating a dealership’s overall health (more on this topic in a future article).

Recapping the main point, the average new car sale produces a one-time gross profit of $867…once. The average service customer produces a recurring annual gross profit of $475…every year. (Note: The average age of vehicles is 12.1 years. Wow!)

The only way to capture that recurring service gross is to sell preventive maintenance. Here are some items for your next service sales meeting. (It will have even more impact if the dealer or general manager attends the meeting.) Consider the following sales training topics:

„ Eric Twiggs, a training coach at ATI, says one of the most important things in sales is attitude…not the attitude of the customer, rather the attitude of the advisor. For example, if the service advisor perceives that his customers all live hand-to-mouth and can barely afford basic necessities, then his attitude causes him to never offer tech-recommended services.

Twiggs says an advisor must realize that his perceptions are not always the customer’s reality.

In other words, teach advisors to set their perceptions aside and lay out all the technician-recommended service and repair. Don’t over-think this; just review the multi-point inspection form and the estimate with the customer and ask them to buy.

„ Twiggs goes on to warn about confirmation bias. This was a new term to me, but it means using a singular event to confirm what you already believe—even though the evidence doesn’t support your conclusion.

For example, if the advisor believes your services are over-priced and thinks, “Oh, brother, I’d never come here for service work,” then the first time a customer questions the price, it confirms his wrongly-held belief.

I have seen this happen to many advisors and they just shut down. Their thinking goes something like this: “Yep, I knew our prices were outrageous…nobody in their right mind would pay this kind of money.” The result is they become spineless order takers.

„ Don’t sell your own wallet. This happens daily on the service drive. An advisor knows his wallet is getting pretty thin, and it’s still four days until payday. Since he can’t afford $750 for an AC compressor, he assumes the customer can’t either. His perception is not the customer’s reality, but his attitude kills the deal and the sale is lost.

„ Zig Ziglar said it best, “Your attitude more than your aptitude determines your altitude!” Amen. Savvy managers help their advisors maintain the right attitude toward the dealership and toward the customers. Management must continually remind fixed ops personnel that selling preventive maintenance is a high calling and a noble mission.

These concepts are profound because of their simplicity. Fifteen-minute service sales meetings once a week will help your advisors maintain the right sales attitude. I know dealers spend a lot more time training their new and used car sales team—chasing a 2 ½% one-time gross. Surely 15 minutes a week is time well spent—chasing recurring 70% gross.

This got me to thinking about my wardrobe; who’s making the most money on my clothes, the menswear department at Macy’s or my local dry cleaners? My shirts are very traditional—long sleeve with button-down collars. I can usually catch the brand I like on sale for $50 per shirt. My dry cleaners charge $2.65 per shirt and I take them in about 20 times per year—that’s $53 annually.

To recap, the retailer makes $50 one time, but the dry cleaners make $53 recurring annually. Frankly, I don’t know how long I keep my shirts, but I bet it’s somewhere around three years.

Conclusion: There’s a lot more money to be made servicing cars (and dry cleaning shirts) than there is selling cars (and selling shirts)! Car dealerships do both. (When I say both, I’m referring to sales and service—however, if you want to add dry cleaning, I’ll take medium starch in my shirts!)

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