Planning the Perfect Bay - Tire Review Magazine

Planning the Perfect Bay

eir job is to use the opportunity to make you money.

OK, Now What?

Once you’ve assembled a list of recommendations, the next thing to figure out is which changes will give you the most bang for your buck. Spending $50,000 on a new state-of-the-art alignment system may not be a wise investment if your alignment bay is empty most of the time. Spending $10,000 on a new tire changer, on the other hand, may be a smart investment if the machines you have now can’t keep up with the pace.

If you’re considering new equipment that would allow you to offer additional services to your customers, make sure you’re not trying to compete in an over-saturated market.

For example, if you’re thinking about doing mufflers and adding a pipe bender, look closely at the health of the exhaust market in your area. Are there too many muffler shops already? Have other competitors recently gone out of business? If so, why?

Quick lube bays are a good way to generate a steady flow of bay traffic – which can lead to future repair work and tire sales. But if there are already a zillion quick lube shops in town, nobody may be making much money on oil changes.

The key here is to analyze the market, figure out where the needs are, then to fill those needs with the right menu of services. Or, do just the opposite. If there’s a glut of shops offering the same basic service, maybe you don’t have to compete. Maybe your quick lube bay should be converted to something else your competitors can’t offer.

Equipment Upgrades

Assuming your dream bay upgrades are limited to improving existing bays, what sort of changes should you consider? Do you need more equipment? Better equipment? Dedicated equipment? Or more versatile equipment?

Suppliers will be more than happy to give you free advice on equipment you should consider. They can tell you what’s needed to service today’s vehicles and help you figure out how many jobs per week it’ll take to pay for new equipment. They should also be able to tell you how much of a return on investment you can expect. That doesn’t mean you’ll get the promised ROI, but it should shed some light on the economics and logic of upgrading equipment.

Don’t buy anything until you bounce it off your employees. Remember, they will have to use the equipment day in and day out, so they should have some ownership in the decision process. The biggest mistake you can make is to go ahead and buy something only to find out later that everybody in the shop hates it or refuses to use it for one reason or another. Expensive dust collectors you don’t need.

Vehicle Lifts

Obviously, lifts are critical to productivity and safety. So if you’re thinking of changing or adding lifts it’s vital to research what’s available, and what you really need.

There are a lot of high-tech features on today’s lifts. Some feature computer-driven LCDs that display vehicle service instructions, as well as vehicle lift points. Another recent advance is an adapter that turns a two-post lift into a drive-on lift for all passenger vehicles.

When considering a new lift, there are three factors to consider: 1) Available bay space; 2) Weight of the vehicles you service; and 3) Future plans.

Look around the shop and carefully plan out where a lift should go to best maximize space. Ask a lift supplier to come to your shop and make any suggestions on lift needs and placement. They can also advise you of any roadblocks – overhead obstructions, wiring and air needs, the ability of your shop floor to handle the weight, local code issues, lifting capacity requirements ®“ and help you make the best decisions.

When considering above-ground lifts, check with the manufacturer on what floor specifications are required. Also, it’s best to drill test holes in various locations to verify the floor’s thickness. Double-check up-front to eliminate extra costs or installation delays.

If you’re leasing the building, you’ll probably need the owner’s permission to make any "permanent" installations. Consider also your future business plans. Lifts are built to last a long time, so if future plans call for relocating make sure you find a lift that’s easy to move. Obviously, in-ground lifts are another issue altogether.

Vehicles do not all weigh the same, and lifts are designed with certain weight capacities. Research the vehicles you typically service – as well as any new services you may add. Your lift supplier should be able to recommend the right lift for your business plans.

Tire Changers

One of the first pieces of equipment you should take a long, hard look at is your tire changer(s). You can’t make money changing tires with slow, outdated equipment that can’t handle certain sizes or styles of wheels, is constantly breaking down or damages customer’s wheels. If you’re losing tire sales because you can’t handle today’s larger sizes and extra-wide alloy wheels, you need to upgrade your equipment.

The number of tire changers and their location in the shop is also something that needs to be evaluated. A centralized location for the equipment makes sense if the individual service bays are clustered around the equipment. But in a facility with a long row of single bays, the end bays may be too far away from a tire changer located at one end of the shop.

Assuming you have the customer volume to support it, adding a second or third machine can reduce the travel time between the vehicle and equipment. Less time spent rolling tires back and forth across the floor means more time to perform billable labor.

If adding a second machine boosts your productivity only 10%, the added revenue will quickly pay for the equipment and add to your bottom line.

Most custom wheel suppliers are now selling wheels that range in size from 18 to 24 inches. Many of these wheels sell for hundreds of dollars apiece so your perfect bay should have a changer that can handle those larger sizes.

Your dream equipment should also be able to safely mount and demount the latest tire designs. Run-flat tires require tire changers that can handle shorter, stiffer sidewalls. More and more new vehicles are also being equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems that require additional care when demounting and mounting tires.

Asymmetric, centerless, and three-piece cylindrical wheels with no drop center can also be a challenge for outdated equipment. BMW Z3 wheels, for example, have a reverse drop center and AH2 bead locks that require a special mounting/demounting procedure.

Safety beads and closer bead-to-rim clearances on many alloy wheels also mean it takes more air pressure to seat the beads. The old rule of using no more than 40 psi to seat a bead may not apply on some wheels. For this reason, use of an inflation cage is necessary if 60 to 80 psi is required to seat a bead.

Ultra-low profile tires can also be easily damaged if the sidewall is deflected too far when demounting or mounting. Using a shovel-style bead breaker can be risky because if it is placed too high on the sidewall it may damage the tire. For these types of tires, a tulip/rim style tire changer that uses a pair of rollers to push the bead loose works best.

Shovel-style bead breakers are still okay for changing standard tires on steel wheels, but they aren’t the best choice for today’s alloy wheels and ultra-low profile tires. So your dream bay should probably have both types of changers.

Tulip/rim style changers are a must today because the bead breaker applies no force to the wheel itself, only the tire. Consequently, there is less risk of damaging either the wheel or tire. These machines also use a clamping system that grasps and holds the wheel from the inside out (or the outside in, depending on the application) which eliminates the center post and cone. This approach also makes it possible to handle centerless rims. Cushioned jaws are recommended to minimize the risk of scratching the finish on alloy wheels.

The mount/demount head on tulip/rim style changers also does not make contact with the wheel, further reducing the risk of costly damage. The table or tulip that holds the wheel rotates under the tower as the tool head slips the tire up and off the wheel. Mounting is just as easy, too.

Some changers have plastic mount/demount heads to further reduce the possibility of damaging the tire bead. Once the tire is in place, high-pressure air jets may be used to aid bead seating.

Tire/Wheel Balancers

Every tire dealer needs a balancer that is fast, easy-to-use and accurate. Comebacks because of tire/wheel vibrations can kill productivity, so you want a balancer that is as goof-proof as possible for inexperienced employees, stays in calibration, and can diagnose runout problems or variations in rolling resistance that may contribute to vibrations.

A state-of-the-art electronic spin balancer with a user-friendly graphic display will help eliminate common balancing mistakes. If your budget can afford it, go for a top-of-the-line model that can also measure and detect force variation and runout problems, too. Not only will such equipment help reduce vibration comebacks, but it will allow you to better diagnose chronic NVH complaints. Some dealers with such top-shelf balancer have even gained business from local auto dealers s, helping them resolve customer NVH complaints.

Alignment Equipment

Portable alignment equipment allows any service bay to be used for alignment checks, but a dedicated bay means the equipment is in place and ready to go whenever an alignment check is needed.

Most vehicles today need a four-wheel alignment, which requires equipment that is capable of aligning all four wheels.

Again, consider the higher end equipment that includes color screens and "just-in-time" training. The speed, efficiency and precision such alignment systems afford will make your bays more productive.

Brake Refinishing Equipment

Shops that do a lot of brake work can’t afford to wait for rotors. Sending them out for resurfacing is a time-consuming process that slows down brake jobs and adds delays. So add brake-refinishing equipment to your dream bay list if you’re doing a lot of brake work.

A traditional bench lathe that can resurface drums and rotors will give you the flexibility to handle a wide variety of vehicles. But for import vehicles with hard-to-remove trapped rotors and late model cars that are sensitive to runout and vibration, an on-car lathe can save time and prevent comebacks.

Some of the latest on-car lathes are quick and easy to set up and feature automatic runout compensation. On-car rotor resurfacing is highly recommended by a number of OEMs and almost totally eliminates rotor comebacks caused by runout and pedal pulsation.

Starting from Scratch

If you’re building a new facility from scratch, consider using an experienced facility designer. There are a number of firms around the country that have expertise and experience in designing tire and service facilities. They can help you put together a floor plan that will maximize service potential and make the best, most profitable use out of every available square foot.

You should also consider hiring an experienced designer or architect to help plan bay lighting, as well as wiring, air supply and exhaust extraction systems.

One common mistake is to not leave enough room for toolboxes and storage. Another is not leaving enough elbowroom in each bay so technicians can move around without bumping into things or banging car doors into posts, lifts or other obstacles.

Some designers say you should limit the amount of space on workbenches because it only encourages clutter. Yet many technicians say the more bench space, the better. It depends on what type of repair work you’re doing and how neat your employees keep the shop.

Building codes may also limit what you can and can’t do within each service bay. There may be restrictions on floor drains, or special requirements for exhaust venting. Make sure you have all of these questions resolved before you build or remodel anything.

Finally, keep appearances in mind. Service bays that are well lit, have bright, colorful paint schemes and are kept clean and neat will make a positive impression on customers. Dirty, dark, junk-filled bays will not.

The perfect service bay is what you and your employees make it. And what you can make from it.

So why not dream the best?

Expert Advice: Company-Owned Stores

Eric Griffith, Midwest zone vice president for Bridgestone/Firestone Retail & Commercial Operations, says you have to think of each service bay as an assembly line. "What services are you going to offer in each bay, and how can you best provide those services to your customers?"

Griffith says the minimum number of service bays needed by a full service tire store today is eight, with 10 being ideal. "Ten bays should be able to handle 50 to 60 cars a day."

Griffith says a full-service tire dealership should have one dedicated oil change bay. "To be competitive, you have to be able to complete oil changes and inspect the vehicle in less than an hour. Twenty to 30 minutes is best. The oil change bay should be close to the showroom so you can do show-and-tell while the customer’s vehicle is being serviced.

"A drive-thru arrangement is best, but if that is not possible, a drive-on lift would be the next best way to set up the bay. The bay should also have all the necessary oil change tools and equipment including an overhead reel for dispensing bulk oil, an inventory of packaged oil, filters, wiper blades and light bulbs, plus oil capacity reference information."

As for tire service bays, Griffith says the most efficient way to set up the bays is to use two-man teams. "We did a time study on tire bay productivity and found that one bay can easily do 80 tires a day. That includes mounting, balancing and installation on the vehicle. A two-man team should be able to change all four tires in 16 minutes.

"The key is to have your equipment set up in an arc so the work can flow logically from the vehicle to the tire machine to the balancer and back to the vehicle.

"You also need to allow space so tires can be stacked while they are being serviced. Each tire service bay also needs its own set of dedicated tools such as an impact wrench, torque wrench and so on so technicians don’t have to hunt for tools."

Griffith said a tire repair center should be set up near the tire bays to minimize distance (time) if repairs are needed. There should also be a dedicated alignment bay with an extended rack to handle longer vehicles.

As for repair bays, Griffith feels twin-post lifts provide the most flexibility. Each bay should also have its own air and electrical outlets, good lighting and ventilation and be kept clean.

Expert Advice: Independent Dealer

Barry Steinberg of Direct Tire & Auto Service in Watertown, Mass., has overseen the opening of four new tire stores in recent years. "These were all converted facilities," he said, "a former Honda dealer, a couple of old tire stores, and a new mall storefront."

Steinberg says his tire stores all have eight to 12 service bays. "We don’t try to squeeze in too many bays so the technicians can have more room to work. This also reduces the risk of car damage."

When ordering equipment, Steinberg says he relies on experience and his employees input. "We base our buying decisions on what our technicians want in the shop and what has worked well for us in the past. We currently use Hoffman tire changers, Hunter aligners and balancers, and both Ammco bench lathes and Pro-Cut on-car brake lathes.

"We use the same equipment at all our stores so if we have to send a technician from one store to another to fill-in, there’s no learning curve. He’ll know how to use the equipment that’s there because it’s the same equipment in his store."

Steinberg says all his stores use two-post above ground lifts because they allow complete undercar access.

"Our largest store has 12 bays and handles about 120 cars a day. We have eight tire technicians working there, two alignment technicians and five general repair technicians.

"In our eight-bay stores, we have one alignment bay, three tire bays and four general service bays. Each tire bay has its own changer and balancer, with one extra tire changer for overflow.

"The bays in our newest store are air conditioned, which is a treat the technicians really like. Everybody wants to work at that store," he said.

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