Today fed up with my overpriced town mechanic and needing some specialized service on my car I decided to try out a “jua kali” garage. My friend gave me the instructions to get to the place and after a few wrong turns I pulled into a muddy ‘mabati’-fenced garage with a boldly drawn Mercedes-Benz three star on its gate. I was apprehensive but I had been assured the best mechanics this side of
Great customer care, consistent service, and a professional set-up attract me most to my town mechanic. The jua kali mechanic lacks all the above but sufficiently compensates with sublime technical skill and competitive pricing. What put me off though most was that the jua kali mechanic takes on the role of administrator, sales man, customer care rep, and mechanic at the same time. He ends up giving your car staccato attention as he shifts from tightening a bolt, to buying spare parts, to appeasing a delayed client, to negotiating for a job.
Body repair work at the garage
As I waited, frustrated at how slowly the job was moving and consoling myself with the few thousands I had saved, the entrepreneurial spirit seized me. How many other similarly dissatisfied car owners like myself are out there: wary of the expensive town mechanic whose spare parts you can count on being genuine but whose skill in fixing them you can’t; or those willing to put up with technically superior jua kali technicians with great quotations for a job but who need to be baby sat and change prices on the fly?
The more I thought about it the more excited I became, I quickly got my laptop out of the backseat and started on a proposal for setting up a garage which would combine the best of both types of garages. There are hundreds of thousands of cars in
THE GARAGE PROPOSAL
The Garage (the “Garage”) is an automobile repair shop located in the outskirts of
The area where the Garage is located is home to several different automobile-based businesses including: petrol stations, used car dealerships, garages, and auto spares shops. There are at least four other garages in the immediate vicinity with an estimated combined workforce of fifty mechanics.
The Garage has the following organizational structure: a senior mechanic at the top, other mechanics who are employed on a permanent basis and semi-skilled handy-men who are recruited for one-off jobs as the need arises. The senior mechanic is also responsible for management of the garage which involves: sales and marketing, administrative issues e.g. receiving money, purchases, and customer care. As he is also the foremost mechanic this has led to a situation where he unproductively splits his time between his managerial and technical portfolios. From observation it appears that his managerial skills are also worse for the wear.
The Garage does not issue receipts for payments made to them and will ask the customer to meet any expenses incurred as the work is being done. This includes the likely suspects: petroleum, spares, oil; but also includes things such as: torch cells (to power a torch as work is done at night), paying a petrol station attendant for use of his pressurized air nozzle, sandpaper. It is not clear what the mechanics do when a customer is not available to pay for these impromptu costs. The end result is a feeling by the customer that he is being cheated, as he ends up paying more than he was initially quoted for.
During the author’s observations of the workings of the Garage it was noticed that the progress of work was very slow on the author’s and others’ jobs. The initial view was that the Garage was stretched thin and understaffed. However this view was hard to reconcile with the fact that on numerous occasions the mechanics were absent from the Garage. The more likely reason for the slow work and “overworked” nature of the mechanics may be hypothesized as thus:
- the mechanics are not punctual in reporting to work, and have a large number of AWOLs;
- where the mechanics meet an obstacle they will abandon the job and possibly transfer it to another mechanic;
- the mechanics will not work on a job unless there is pressure from the customer and possibly his presence;
- the mechanics in many instances do not know how to perform the job given, and spend more time diagnosing other problems than fixing the identified problem
The Garage was observed to have five to ten mechanics, who were working on two to three cars at any given time. The nature of the work being carried out included: gearbox repair, body work and spray painting, and engine repair. The Garage however had in its compound approximately 15-20 cars, some of which appeared to have been in the Garage for a very long time evidenced by their peeling paintwork and layers of dust. Most of these cars were not worked on by the mechanics during the author’s period of observation.
The owner of the Garage intimated that at its peak the Garage earned KShs. 300,000 per month. It is not known whether this figure was of sales, gross profits, or net profits. As the garage operates only on weekdays and Saturday this would translate to roughly K.Shs. 11,500 a day. I came to know of the Garage after a friend referred me to a mechanic there when I complained to him about a car problem that my town mechanic had been unable to fix. The Garage in the senior mechanic was touted as having the foremost specialist in the repair of the specific problems of the my automobile. It is not clear though whether the Garage has an established system of referrals. It is not known at this time whether the Garage has any sales and marketing strategy.
The Garage was observed to have the following assets:
- a quarter-acre property off a main road.
- an approximately 1000 sq. ft building complete with roof, walls, and windows and partitioned into approximately three rooms;
- a three-walled building with a two-story high roof with approximately 1000 sq. ft. of floor space;
- office furniture (heavily worn);
- spray paint machine;
- car batteries;
- hand-held tools including: spanners and pliers;
The question I pose to you is: From these observations, what strategy can be employed to convert the Garage into a leading automotive repair shop?