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Chris Collins $25,000 Service Manager Winner

In my book, Irreplaceable Service Manager, I’ve outlined the 90-day roadmap to increase your profits, your CSI, your effective labor rate. It’s not the kind of book that a normal consultant would write. The end goal is not to get you to hire me, because I don’t consider myself a consultant. It’s a book that gives you a lot tips for running a healthy, profitable service department, and my goal for the book was that if somebody took the time to read the whole thing, then they would really have a roadmap and a system that they could then implement to get results instantly.

Vicki Johns recently won my Service Manager Challenge, and we took some time to chat about her experience.

Chris:   Some of the stuff coming from the book and some are just your skills, you increased your effective labor rate by $40, and you tripled your net to gross, and almost doubled your customer pay sales in a very dramatic fashion. And you’re one of my favorite people in the whole world and the most fun person to work with. But, what do you think about the effective labor rate increasing by that much?

Vicki: Well, I’m very happy with it because for a long time our effective labor rate was so low and I was surprised that just how easy it was by following the tips and the advice that you gave in the book and how dramatic and how fast that it changed. I’m not going to say overnight but I would say within the first month I knew that by following those tips that the sky’s the limit for us. We’ve grown and we’ve increased every single month and its fun on top of it. It’s kind of different way of doing business because you’re a real part of what we do every single day and you keep us focused on what we’re doing.

When we may at times tend to lose focus but you come in with your consultants, with your trainers and you always keep us on track. And on top of it, it’s fun and it’s motivating for not only myself as a manager but also for my service advisors, my technicians. They’ve never experienced anything like this. People come from different stores and they do not expect to have so much fun coming to work every single day. They don’t expect to be playing games. They don’t expect to be given the spiffs that they get for selling things that they maybe they thought they could never sell before. And I think that it’s really great when we’re having a good time in my office and you see people, maybe from the sales department or parts departments, they poke their heads around and they want to see what’s going on in the service department because they hear that it’s fun and we are absolutely blowing any other record that we’ve ever had before in our sales, in our gross, in our net-to-gross, in our expenses, in our CSI and having a good time doing it.

Chris:   If you remember back, it’s been a couple of years when we were in the middle of the downturn. Everybody was very scared. You were laying off people, definitely cutting back, right?

Vicki: Uh-huh.

Chris:   The mindset at the time was that your effective labor rate had to low and you have to discount. Do you remember that right?

Vicki: Right.

Chris:   And then we just kind of took a leap of faith and we are going to try this system and do it a different way even in a down market and you had tried for probably about a year to go after the independence and discount and you were chasing that. And then we went with “hey, we’re gonna be profitable and we’re going to give better service and we’re going to put a system into place where we’re going to kind of wow the customer”. The advisers are going to have to step up their game and really connect with the customers in a different level. But our competitive pricing is going to be fair in the discounted stuff but we’re going to be profitable in the other stuff. And, it worked, right?

Vicki: It worked, it worked surprisingly well. At first I was very skeptical because we have just spent probably $5,000 on this huge mailing piece that we sent out and it was discount coupons galore and I remember you were not very happy coming in knowing that were gonna ride that way with all these discount coupons. And the thought process was that we have to be competitive with the independence and the price scheme and that was not what we ended up doing. We ended up raising our prices and we were still getting busier and busier every single day and again in the beginning I wasn’t quite sure on how that was gonna work because that was something that I haven’t experienced before. But we did, we went back to fair pricing, not the cheapest, not cheapest to the independence but very fair pricing from what our service was to the customer, which was top-notch service.

Chris:   Customer service drive practice, customers greeted within seconds of pulling in, right?

Vicki: Uh-huh.

Chris:   And then a big difference for us in your store was the adviser is going out to the customers and greets them as they are pulling in, right?

Vicki: Uh-huh. Well, before, what would happen is the customer will just come into the driveway, they’d sit in their car and the greeters would go out to them but really don’t care if they’re there or not because they have no investment into these customers at all. Sometimes they talk to them, sometimes they wouldn’t. Customers would sit there, they’d get up, they’d go to the waiting room and sometimes we far forgot about. Now, they come to the cabana. We have the pre-write which we never have before. We have the pre-write that goes on the windshield. We’re doing the hat system, so all the service advisers have their own hats so they know when their customers coming into the driveway. They get up in their chairs, imagine that, they get up of their chairs, go out in the service driveway and talk to the customers at the cars. And they start a relationship with the customer when they’re walking out to the car. It’s very exciting. I was just, awesome. I was surprised at the way that it worked because we never have that in the driveway. It’s always been what we have for ten years. The change was smoother than I thought. Getting advisers out there in the heat and the cold and such, they saw the benefit for it. Nina comes up, she does the training, and she shows then how to pet the dog by walking around the car. They see the benefit, they see the advantage of why they need to have a relationship with the customer so the customers can feel comfortable when they start calling them and suggesting additional work on their vehicle. They’ve met them. They’ve had seeds planted by looking and turning the tires, by looking at the tires. And when service advisers call them later and tell them they need tires, they know. That’s right; I saw it in the service driveway. Or the hoods up and they’re looking at hoses, and the customer thinks again, that’s right, I saw it in the service driveway, you showed me that. You, Joey, showed me that. Not you, service adviser 402, showed me that. The relationship bonds them together and makes them feel comfortable.

Chris:   And the most important part of that is the customer connection and the customer feeling welcomed, right? You did it not too long ago, I think with Mario, right, with the smile game?

Vicki: Yes.

Chris:   Where you practiced with the service advisers getting customer to smile. You can see their posture change when the advisers are really just focused on connecting with them and creating that relationship. It’s completely different. It changes the whole dynamic, right?

Vicki: It does. And the smile great game is awesome and the service advisers have so much fun with the customers when they are telling them, look, my manager is looking at me and if you smile for me I might get a ticket and I could win a prize and the customer plays along with it. They walk by my office and they say “Hey, I’m smiling!” And it just completely, at 7am, completely sets the tone for the rest of the day. It’s fun and exciting and engages the customer at the same time. And I think that it sees, the customer sees us as not just a place to ring in their cars, they see that we are human and that we are likeable and that we care about them and what’s the best thing for their car and for the best service of their car.

Chris:   Yeah, most service drives are like mortuaries and you’re looking for an adviser to help you. There’s no clear path and they kind of miss that whole point of not only having a system but making it really fun and connecting with them to keep them coming back. So tell me, you and I have worked together for a long time and we’ve come and grown up together in some ways, but tell me about starting off in this business, where you started off and then what it’s like being a female service manager in our business.

Vicki: I started with BMW, up in Chico, California. And my dad was the service manager, my mom was an office manager and they’re both in the car business. I started as the pencil follow up girl. What that meant is we would keep a paper file and I would call the customers and say, “hey, you know your, at that time, your Volvo needs to come in for an oil filter change and this is the involved that you need to bring her in.” And that’ how I started, moved into becoming a warranty administrator which I loved, had BMW and Volvo had at that time were now. And then moved on to BMW Conquer where I am right now and I’ve been there since 1987. So long time, it’s a great dealership.

Chris:   Yeah, it is a great dealership and you bleed that dealership and very loyal. What do you think your strongest points are with your service advisers? I’m always so impressed how you recruit these service advisers, they’re so good and talented and they just fall into your system and they just drive. You won Manager of the Year last year in our adviser competition because your advisers just frankly out-performed everybody else in the competition for most of the year. What is your philosophy and key to recruiting those bulldogs and getting them to perform to a higher level than they normally they would think as possible?

Vicki: Well, I think that we expect nothing less from them than to be top performers. We let them know what we expect from them and there are no surprises. We don’t play any games with them as far as what we need them to do. Of course, we play all those games with such a whole different tone in a dealership. I don’t know if any other dealership besides yours that you get to come in and play Scooby Doo and the wolf or Roll the pigs or candy land on the morning meeting and to be able to do that for fun, plus it really focuses the service advisers. So, I think that by the system that we’ve set up, they see it as something special, that it is something different and that they want to be a part of it. They know that they can come in and they can make, earn top dollar because we have available to them and if they work hard and they do their best, them I think that they understand that they could really have a career there. And we have the competition that we do every month which is absolutely a huge motivator because, I wanna win. I wanna win for myself, I wanna win for my dealer. And I’m very proud of the bulldogs that I have. As you know, I only want the white bulldogs and I don’t want to share them with anybody else. I think that it is unique and it works. We’ve seen that time and time again how it works. You put those processes in place and they maybe work, and they maybe thinking outside the box. I remember when you first came there and you said the first thing we do is hire more service advisers. And I couldn’t believe it, that we’re going to hire more service advisers because I don’t think we have the work to keep those service advisers busy. And I soon learned that yes we do, and we need to hire more technicians on top of it because we were just getting busier and busier because we took the time with the customers and we didn’t write 25 repair orders, we wrote maybe 15 repair orders. But when we have an average of hours per RO at four hours per RO from where we were at maybe two, because we’re doing more quality and sitting down with the customers than just having quantity and just running them through and running them through which didn’t do anything for the customer and didn’t do anything for our bottom line.

Chris:   You were mad at me when couple of our stores asked that we adopt our service process to the sales department and so they wanted us to start a competition with their managers and their sales staff to compete every month in a competition. And your first question was, how are they going to get a bulldog if you’re mad at me? But we made a different color bulldog and it’s different, right?

Vicki: That’s right. Those bulldogs are very important. Anybody that’s an SSS will tell you that those bulldogs are important. They represent all our hard work; they represent camaraderie with all of us in SSS that I frankly didn’t want to share.

Chris:   I understand. Those are very hard things for me. Tell me what the SSS means to you and how it has helped you?

Vicki: I remember the first time that we flew down to the SSS and the anticipation of meeting all the other service managers because I was nervous, very, very nervous. I didn’t know if I can live up to their expectations, I didn’t know if I can be as good as them because I’ve heard so many things about them. What their profitability has been, what their net gross has been. Never knew if could be as good as Carol, because Carol does an amazing job or Terry at Pacific BMW. I was really nervous but I was really looking forward to it because I knew that I could learn a lot from them. I think that’s where I gained a lot of my knowledge from my peers. It was exactly what I though it was going to be. The things that we learned from each other are invaluable. It is like a 20 group without the fluff. To be able to sit there and share financial statements and get ideas from each other on how we can do it better or how they’re getting this percentage of personnel or how it that they lower car expense was is this and freely being able to share that information has helped me grown so much. I talk about that all the time still, you know, the service advisers asks me, what do you do in all those meetings? And I talked about what we do down there and I don’t go a month where I don’t have to call one among them or they don’t call me. It either service customer of ours that we share, ones at my store, ones at their store. Or I call Carol and say, “Carol, I just get my personnel down on my specialist. What are you doing?” Or, when we talked to Natalie and she changed pay plans with the shop phones. I just adopted those pay plans.

Chris:   She came up with that great idea for shop phone pay plans.

Vicki: And to be able to share that and not be afraid of sharing that information that somebody will steal something or that somebody will be better than you, that’s what you hope when you want to share information. To be able to sit in a meeting and talk about something and you see one of the other managers that you admire get out their pad of paper and write that down, makes you feel really, really good. And to share when you’ve won, and thank goodness, I’ve had my share of winning, and be able to read our motto and for you to hand us our bulldog and I take it back to my workplace and proudly put it up on my filing cabinet, its nothing like I’ve experienced.

Chris:   Yeah, it’s really tightening the grip now, right?

Vicki: Very much so, we have some new people coming in and it’s always like “Oh, how are they going to fit in, what are they going to do, what they going to share. But it’s working out really well, and I think we really look out for each other. You just have that extra bond when you see them at conventions or meetings. It’s different from just seeing some other service managers because you knew that they’re the best.

Chris:   Yeah, another quite, humble ones in the back of the room, right? Trying to be the quite, humble ones, who is it?

Vicki: It’s so exciting; you want to share it with everybody.

Chris:   Yeah. It’s funny, sometimes in those conventions; it’s hard to tell who’s real and who’s not. You know people exaggerate the results.

Vicki: It is amazing being in those conventions and talking to other service managers and you realize, wow, I’m really doing a good job. Because they’re not making a profit, they don’t even know our hours per RO is, they don’t know what our effective labor rate is and they’re running the department, sometimes very large dealerships. But they don’t have a clue and yet, they don’t seem to want the help either. And you just kind of go, smart up a little bit, you know, maybe see somebody else from the SSS and you kind of go, “Okay, we’re doing okay.”

Chris:   It’s funny thing that the SSS is like a safe place to ask those questions that you don’t understand or you know, it’s a safe place to lance, where everybody is rooting for everybody.

Vicki: I agree, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable because call us on the carpet, you look on our expenses and you call us out on it and you have really strong conversations with us which only makes us better. It never is something that hurts; it always moves us towards our goal which is making us a better service department, a more profitable service department, keeping the customer coming back, which is our goal, which is where we make our money. We have loyal customers and as we do, we’re making the process better. You don’t hesitate to call us on it, in front of everybody or in private.

Chris:   I think that’s what makes the group so tight. You know, I use to hate going to 20 group meetings because you sit there and you looking at the 20 group composite and you know, at the time I was number one in the country, were selling cars and breaking sales records. We were like one or two of the 20 group overall profitability and we will just sit there and didn’t say anything and the guys that were talking were the guys losing money on the right hand side and they had everything figured out. They were the experts, they knew it all and it used to crack me up and nobody was doing how are you doing that? Explain to me how you get that. You know, how can I sell more cars? What’s your system? Nobody talked about that. It was just a big ego feast, so it’s really important to me that the Secret Service Society be about results and about the truth and not about how people feel. I think that’s the big thing, right? If people tell you how they feel, we’ll tell you what we know. We’re making mistakes constantly figuring our how to improve customer experience and how to run a better business.

Vicki: Like in the meeting today, when one of those service managers were talking about doing coupons or doing discounting and you know, there was not really a choice given to her and it was something that she was really struggling with and there were things that came back and some truths that were told that maybe weren’t that easy to listen to, but I think that it only helped everybody go forward. We’re in the event this weekend and we’re really proud because we’re at this top dog event. I’m the manager of the year, my sales manager for BMW is the sales manager of the year and my Mini sales manager is the sales manager of the year. So, we’re very proud and it’s just brought us closer together from service to sales because we have this common ground with each other with the SSS and the top dog events, and let me see your bulldog, what color is your bulldog. It’s very exciting and it’s not something that we’ve ever shared before.

Chris:   Do you have your speech prepared?

Vicki: No.

Chris:   So tell me, where to you think this industry is headed?

Vicki: I think that the industry is headed back to more personalization with our customers. I think because we have all these gadgets, we have all these means to communicate and I think that people are feeling like they’re not being connected enough to the people that are helping them in many industries, in the travel business, in the banking business and such. And I think that we have so much technology in our life and I think that it needs to come back down to the basics. My dad was a service manager in the 70s and what I tell him I do, he says “So, what are you telling me something new about? What are you telling me, you’re going out there and you’re greeting the customers; you’re getting to know the customers in the personal basis, so how is that new?” But it has evolved back to that. Before it was, let’s try this, let’s try that. It’s like people wanting to lose weight. God knows I know what that’s about. But it’s all down to the basic. You eat less, you exercise more, same thing with customer service. You have to be somebody who is personal with the customer and have to be genuine with the customers because they see all through the bullshit. They don’t any of that kind of stuff. They get it when they’re working on their daily lives. They want to come in and they want to know that you recognize them as a person and know you’re going to work them off, and you’re going to tell them what your car needs and you’re going to sell it to them in a fair price in a nice environment with exceptional service.

Chris:   I saw you today and you’re currently talking about tablets and digital inspection systems and all that?

Vicki: I think that is just an excuse because you could have the tablet, you could have all these fancy things in the service driveway, into this, into that, but if you’re not doing anything, if you’re not following through, that’s one of the things with you, is you make us consistent with follow through. A lot of consultants come in, they charge you a baloney fortune and then they want to change everything up instead of going back to the basics and then they leave. You never see them again. And then you go right back to what you’re doing before because that’s all you know. With your group, you come in, Nina comes in and Mario comes in and we have to be consistent of what we’re doing because the process works. And myself and Carol are good at that.

Chris:   What are you gonna do with the money?

Vicki: I have been with BMW since 1985 and I have never seen a BMW plant. And I’d like to put that towards a trip to Germany and love to see the Fulsome building, my heritage is German, I’d love to go to Germany. And one of the things I want to do is to be able to go to the factory and I’m really looking forward to that.

Chris:   Wow, that’s awesome. I didn’t know that. That’s really awesome. So, what would you say in closing to service managers out there about their quality of life and having fun and loving what they’re doing or be miserable and hating what they’re doing? Kind of coming in, grabbing the cat by the tail, getting dragged around all day and going home not knowing whether they won or lost, right? What would you say?

Vicki: I would say that if you keep going to work and doing it and try to find new ways to improve things that you know how to do it right, and you do it consistently, and then you are going to exceed, succeed and be successful. But if you’re always having people lead you in different directions, your general manager or your consultant and you don’t really have a feel for that and that or you don’t believe in it, you’re never going to progress. And the way that you all have us do it, again the process being successful and doing it single day with fun, were there more than we are with our families. We’re there with the service advisers, with these technicians, with the graders, the cashiers more that we are with our families. We need to be able to enjoy what we’re doing and enjoy the people that we work with. And I think that people don’t come to work wanting to do it wrong, I think that they come to work wanting to do it right and feel pride in their jobs and feel success. I think that with the systems we have setup now, they do. And they’re very happy of what they’re doing, and in playing the games.

Chris:   Yeah, well, thank you very much and congratulations, and I hope you have a good speech tomorrow for manager of the year.

Vicki: Thank you.

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