Are You Giving Your Service Managers the Support They Need?

Aug. 31, 2021

This MTD exclusive was provided by Dennis McCarron, a partner at Cardinal Brokers, one of the leading brokers in the tire and automotive industry (

Across many successful tire dealerships in the United States, the day starts near the crack of dawn. The owner or store manager opens the shop about an hour or so before the front doors are unlocked. 

Getting the store prepared is an important part of the day’s success: hot coffee brewing, the drawer counted, the overnight vehicles figured out, the night drop vehicles keyed into the point-of-sale system and some quiet time to reflect on the day ahead are all done before the first customer arrives or calls. Maybe you can even get a review of the previous day’s tickets to see how well you executed your processes.

Once the team arrives, doors are unlocked and customers start streaming in, the service manager becomes the most critical aspect of a well-run store.

This job is sometimes called other names - “shop foreman” and occasionally “shop manager.”  Sometimes it’s not one person’s job but a job shared across several employees. Either way, the function of managing the workflow is the brain of the operations once the doors open.

A service manager’s job is complex and arguably the hardest job in a store. There’s a human resources component - keeping techs happy and loaded with enough work, but not too much to where the attitude goes from tension to stress.  

There’s a logistical component in which a service manager must apply institutional knowledge about how long a job will take, plus who has the proper skills and tools to do the job correctly and on time.

There also is a predictive aspect, where a skilled service manager must apply intuition and make educated guesses on additional work needed for each vehicle and bake that into the workload equation.

It’s a ridiculous balancing job of keeping all the proverbial plates spinning for about eight hours a day, every day. It’s not easy. Each day brings a whole new set of decision-based criteria - different from the last day, but similar enough to be a guide. Sprinkle in some back order issues, late-arriving parts or a broken bolt and the whole day must be re-evaluated.

The service manager also must function as the key communicator between sales and service.  In a well-run shop, the service manager is constantly communicating with technicians on job status, relaying that information to sales so they can keep a customer abreast of the time their vehicle will be ready.  

Often when consulting with a shop, I will stand in the service area and watch the technicians working on vehicles, but I’m listening for the service manager, who should rarely be silent.  A quiet shop makes me nervous.

The service manager also is usually the main estimator of work. The job requires him to follow gross profit margins correctly and apply consistent book time of labor to each job at a price the consumer will view as fair.  

This role is often where a jam in time management occurs.  Because customers don’t come into the shop uniformly every 15 minutes, there are times when a shop is overrun with customer requests. Vehicles get inspected and returned for estimates. If the pile of tickets starts to grow unruly, then production slows and people start standing around.  

A good service manager must know when to delegate easier estimates to other employees.  And a good service manager never skimps on an estimate when they are “busy.”  Not telling a customer about a condition you have found is just as unethical as recommending work they don’t need.

It's not very scientific, but when a good service manager is doing his job well, there’s a rhythm in the shop that is unmistakable. The service manager is pushing work forward in a controlled way, while checking completed work for quality. 

Oh, and let’s not forget the after-hours responsibilities, which can include vendor returns, stocking parts, taking inventory of service items, consumables to be monitored and coordinating old fluid removal and new fluid replenishments.

I write about the service manager position to illustrate how vital the position is to the success of a dealership. And promoting the best salesperson to this job is often a terrible idea. The best salesperson should be spending the majority of their time selling.  A service manager is all about organization and accountability.  

As we work our way through a very hectic 2021 - arguably more difficult than 2020, from an employee perspective - make sure you have the right people on the right bus and in the right seats. Pay your key employees well, but hold them to high standards.  It’s not fair to your other employees if their work is held up by an ineffectual service manager.

About the Author

Dennis McCarron

Dennis McCarron is a partner at Cardinal Brokers Inc., one of the leading brokers in the tire and automotive industry ( To contact McCarron, email him at [email protected].