Formula for Success: Honesty, Hard Work and All the Right Shop Tools

As Mitchell 1 celebrates the 20th anniversary of its shop management system, we’re sharing the story of how Paul Lannon, one of our very first shop management software customers, has used the system since its earliest days to streamline shop workflow and establish best practices that have allowed him to grow his auto repair business and achieve long-term success.

Paul will be at the Mitchell 1 Booth #644 at AAPEX in Las Vegas from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. He is our special VIP guest of honor and will be sharing his tips, insights and experiences with Manager SE. If you’ll be at the show, we invite you to stop by and meet Paul! 

Formula for Success: Honesty, Hard Work and All the Right Shop Tools

In 1995, Paul Lannon took a big risk and gave up a full-time job as head technician at a well-established auto repair shop in Baltimore, Maryland, to open his own mobile automotive repair business. That same year, Mitchell 1 launched its first generation shop management software, called Series I.

The two events were unrelated, of course, but it wasn’t long before Paul discovered the software and put it to work in his shop – a move that proved vital to his business success. He has been using the Mitchell 1 shop management system ever since. And, in fact, it has been one of the most important tools of his trade – helping him run his business at peak efficiency to deliver a consistently excellent repair experience to his customers. “Mitchell 1 has helped me carry this business,” he says. “From the very beginning they have helped me stay in business and make money.”

And So It Began…

Paul Lannon, owner of Paul’s Automotive

From pumping gas, he quickly moved to doing oil changes and by the time he graduated from high school had secured a full-time job there as a technician trainee. He had the good fortune of being mentored by an experienced technician who took him under his wing and taught him everything he knew about repairing vehicles.

Paul worked his way up through the ranks and eventually left the gas station to become head technician at another shop, while also doing mobile auto repair jobs on the side. In 1995, with a wife and small child at home and $600 in the bank, he established Paul’s Automotive. He knew it was risky, but his clientele of happy customers was enough to sustain him and his business started to grow.

From the very beginning of his career, Paul had been using the Mitchell repair information as his go-to resource – first the printed Mitchell Manuals, then the OnDemand repair information software. So when the time came to purchase a management system, the natural choice was Mitchell Series I. “I’ve always used Mitchell. The software has just always made sense to me,” he says, “very user friendly.”

Fast forward to the present, and it’s clear that Paul chose the right career – and the right shop management software. His shop is thriving and the business savvy he has picked up along the way has allowed him to make good decisions and build a loyal following of vehicle owners who keep returning and also refer his shop to others.

Front to Back

He’s now running Manager™ SE, the latest version of the shop management software, to manage his business from front to back. “For the front office,” he says “it allows us to quickly put together accurate, reliable estimates. It usually takes me about 5 minutes to write up an estimate. And since I can check the profit margins in advance, I have confidence in committing to the estimate and presenting it to the customer. And customers really like how quickly they get their estimate – they haven’t had to wait around for 30 minutes.”

Paul gets under the hood

On the back end, Paul’s technicians have the information to get started right away on the repair. “I load up all my technicians with Manager SE and ProDemand® on their laptops, so they immediately have all the customer history and repair procedures,” he says. “It’s a lot less work for them, right up front. And the new search functionality in ProDemand – 1Search – automatically puts everything my techs need right there. They enter what they’re looking for and BOOM, it’s there.”

Paul also uses the extensive reporting features in Manager SE to be sure all aspects of the business are on target. “I love reports but I don’t love office work,” he says. “So I use the reports I absolutely need: the Balance Due report, along with Revenue by GL Code — I use that one a lot. Reports that I look at every week are the Invoice Profit Summary, Canned Jobs Usage, Coupon Utilization (to see how many discounts we’re giving), and the Tech Pay Hours for Commission report. From time to time, I also run the high level Business Summary report when I want to see how I’m doing in the big picture.”

Staying on Track

When asked how Manager SE has helped him improve his shop performance, Paul didn’t hesitate: “The biggest impact has been in the office, with the ability to keep my gross profit margins where they have to be. When I started out, I had no clue about gross profit margins, and I didn’t pay much attention to those features in the software. But as I learned the business, I discovered the value of those features and have been able to put them to use to run and grow the business. Another huge impact has been the ability to keep our inventory levels on track so that we don’t fall behind and cause an unnecessary delay to finish a vehicle repair.”

One of his favorite features in the software is being able to customize the columns in the Work in Progress screen for different views of shop information. “I need my columns to look a certain way, but my guys look at it differently. I look at the customer information from a status standpoint. And I’m constantly watching the profit margin percentage in the Work in Progress screen; if I see a ticket falling behind, I want to find out why and make adjustments to get it back on track. My techs arrange their columns to see who is working on the car, and my service writer arranges his columns by invoices. The flexibility is great – everybody can adjust their view to see the information that is important to them.”

What’s the one feature in Manager SE that Paul could not live without? Again, the answer is easy: the integrated electronic parts catalogs. “When those were added and we could order parts directly from the management system, it was revolutionary. It really changed the way I work. In fact, I will not deal with any vendor if they don’t integrate with Mitchell 1. It’s that important to our workflow.”

No More Tunnel Vision

Paul gets down to diagnosing…

Through the years, Paul has seen the shop management software evolve a lot – “It’s completely different now; it just keeps getting better.” He keeps up with the software advances and industry trends by taking advantage of the Manager Forum, an online community of Manager SE users, and also the Shop Management Workshops offered by Mitchell 1 several times a year. Being able to interact with his fellow shop owners through both resources has been invaluable. “It’s so easy to get trapped in tunnel vision, so seeing other approaches from other shop owners is really helpful,” he says. “There’s a huge body of knowledge in the Forum, and everybody in there is so nice, and willing to help. The workshops have helped me learn short cuts and new features I didn’t even know were in the software. And it’s nice to meet other shop owners in person and learn how they’re doing things in their shops.”

When it comes to running his shop, Paul says his guiding principle is simple: Be honest. “Don’t B.S. anyone, because they’ll see through it and it’ll backfire on you. If you mess up, admit it, fix the problem and be fair. Always keep the customer happy and they will keep coming back.”

With that customer-centric attitude, a lifetime of automotive experience and expertise, and the right tools to run the business, Paul has hit on a winning formula for long-term business success.

About the Author

Jill Schafer

Jill Schafer is the Marketing Communication Manager at Mitchell 1 and has over 20 years of marketing experience with high-technology organizations, including over 10 years in the automotive information industry.