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Financial understanding in the garage business

By autotech-nath on October 13, 2020

Once upon a time, conventional wisdom suggested that if there was money in the bank account at the end of the month, things were going reasonably well. Bookkeeping and accounting were fine, but only for accountants. Servicing and repairing vehicles were for garage owners and technicians – people like you and me.

However, in a world of compressed and declining margins, what was good enough for our predecessors will not be good enough for the competitive and ever-challenging business climate you and I face today, and certainly not good enough to sustain an efficient garage business in the future. Understanding your numbers – especially the Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that tell you just how well, or not so well, your business is doing at a glance, is CRITICAL.

The demographics of most garage business up and down the country have been born out of good technicians who really have the skill set in repairing vehicles all of sudden owning a garage business. Most do not have the essential skills in marketing, customer service, operational management, reception management etc. And why should they? There is no qualification required to run a workshop, unlike Germany where you would have to undertake a 3-year graduate programme before you can manage or own an independent garage business.


The garage business, like most other service businesses, is all about raw materials and finished goods. It is all about commerce – the exchange of goods and services for the compensation of one kind or another, in our case revenue. It’s about creating value, adding value, and creating services and products that we can sell for more than what they cost us, in order to make a profit. Isn’t that what business is all about? Is profit something to be ashamed of? Is it a dirty word?

The only commodity that a garage sells is labour, we can call it skill, time or knowledge. Some may argue that we also sell parts – well we may do, but we do not have control over these purchases, these are by-products of what and how much labour we sell.

More to the point, most garage owners and managers fail to recognise the value they add to the process in terms of service, skill, competence, quality, reliability and ability to respond to customer wants, needs and expectations. So, what happens is that garage owners set their labour rates because it is the going rate in the given area. The only thing we sell, our only revenue stream, we decide the value of by picking a figure from the sky.

Consequently, garage owners who don’t realise or understand the value of the products and services they provide are subsidising the cost of repairs with unrealistic low prices. Almost every problem this industry of ours faces – acute shortage of trained qualified technicians, the lack of interest in automotive services as a viable profession as youth chase those white-collar jobs, the technological advances in vehicle design and the absence of succession planning or exit strategies – is the result of an inadequate revenue stream for both the garage owner and his or her employees.

“So, what do we need to know? I believe you cannot manage a garage from underneath a vehicle in today’s increasing competitive marketplace. You must adapt to managing the business rather than the business managing you. Having the ability to reflect the health and strength of your business at any given time or a specific period is crucial for your success.”

For most garage owners, each day is simply a matter of one foot in and one foot out, focusing on a daily dose of crisis management and damage control. I know, as like you I have been through it many times. The problem with not knowing your figures is simple – good numbers are critical for good decision making and bad numbers certainly lead to the wrong decision making.


Your numbers and accounting are only useful if they are used as a means to an end, a catalyst to change your behaviour, your processes, your attitude in order to change the direction of your business for better financial performance in the future.

It wasn’t really very complicated for me even in my early days as I realised how staying on top of my day to day data capture was crucial to my success. I made sure it was complete and relevant to what I was trying to measure, whether productivity and utilisation of my technicians, to my labour and recovery rate, or even knowing that every labour we sold gave us approximately another £18 profit on parts.

Take a moment to think about the financial reporting that you currently have, which KPI’s you use? Are they comprehensive enough? Are they providing you or your bookkeeper what they need to know? Where do the numbers come from? Are they accurate and, more importantly, do they help you plan for the future or merely represent something that occurred in the distant past?

Think about how much time you spend learning and understanding and what they are trying to tell you. Determine whether or not your financial professional is helping you to understand these numbers more clearly. Start the journey right now and I can assure you, your garage business will benefit.

If you’d like to find out more, check out Andy’s 30-minute YouTube video on labour rates here:, and visit for details of his Roadshow training dates over the coming months.



About Autotechnician
Autotechnician is a magazine published nine times a year, delivering essential information to independent garage owners and technicians in the UK. Delivered both digitally and in print, autotechnician provides readers with technical, training, business advice, product and news, allowing our readers to keep up to date with information they need to run and work within a modern workshop.
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