How one shop owner made the decision to invest in EV training and what to consider before taking a step into the EV world.
By Leah Marxhausen | Photos by Annette Sundberg
SPARKS AUTO AND TIRE
ST. CHARLES, MISSOURI
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 7 (3 TECHNICIANS,
2 SERVICE ADVISORS, 2 OWNERS)
SIZE: 10,000 SQ FT
ANNUAL REVENUE: $1.8 MILLION
AVERAGE CAR COUNT: 210 PER MONTH
WITH THE ELECTRIC VEHICLE INDUSTRY CONTINUING TO GROW, many shops are trying to decide when the best time to invest in EV training. The time and money needed for proper training and equipment without the guarantee of a quick return on investment can be prohibitive for some shops. Although this decision may be difficult, knowing what is involved can help determine when it’s time for you to take the leap.
Co-owner of Sparks Tire and Auto in St. Charles, Missouri, Jessica Carrino made the decision to begin their transition into servicing EVs in 2019. This decision has allowed the shop to retain its customer base and prepare for the future.
Sparks Tire and Auto in St. Charles, Missouri opened in 1984. Ron Tinner started working there a year later and eventually took over ownership in 2000. From there, running the shop became a family endeavor. Ron’s wife Sonja Tinner began working in the shop in 2001 shortly followed by daughter Jessica Carrino. Carrino worked in the shop as soon as she turned 16, helping out on the weekends. After graduating with a degree in architecture in the middle of the housing market crash in 2008, Carrino came back to the shop to work in bookkeeping and marketing, and never left.
Over a decade later, Carrino is Co-Owner of Sparks Tire and Auto and does everything from billing to marketing and keeps the shop running smoothly.
Sparks is an all-service automotive shop working on everything from diesel to hybrids. In 2019, Carrino and her team made the decision to invest in Electric Vehicle Training. Ron Tinner was serving on the EV board with NAPA Auto Care and could see what the future of EVs might look like. The shop took a leap into the world of EV and isn’t turning back. “We’ve always liked to be one of the first to try new things,” says Carrino.
EV is a new market that takes a lot of training and equipment and it isn’t always an easy transition.
“We had to go through all the trials and tribulations and figure out what training was good, what training was not beneficial,” says Carrino. “We talked to people in the industry that have been through those trainings and got their opinions. That's a very important part of it, relying on others in the industry to know what your essential tools are and the classes to go through.”
Learning from a shop like Sparks Tire and Auto can help you make smart decisions when deciding whether to invest in EV training.
WHY INVEST IN EV TRAINING
The decision to invest in training your technicians to service electric vehicles can be daunting. With an uncertain future of how EV’s will impact the auto repair industry, this decision is weighing heavy on the minds of many shop owners.
Sparks Tire and Auto makes sure to anticipate changes in the industry and prepare accordingly. Carrino takes a portion of all profits to set aside for unforeseen advancements in the industry. This savings allowed them to invest in EV train training and equipment after noticing an increase in demand.
Carrino noticed some of their regular customers were beginning to make the investment in purchasing electric vehicles in addition to their
ICE vehicles. As an attempt to keep these loyal customers, Sparks Tire and Auto made the jump into servicing EV’s.
“We want to make sure that we can provide the best service for our customers and be able to service every vehicle in their household,” says Carrino. “That was really why we decided to jump headfirst into it.”
This decision allowed Sparks to keep their loyal customer base rather than lose them to a competitor.
WHAT IT INVOLVES
After the decision to service EV vehicles was made, Sparks chose two employees to send to a week-long training in New York. Within
three and a half days, they received 48 hours of training. Both employees came back with a wealth of knowledge and essential tools to get started working on EVs.
Sparks was lucky to have eager employees ready to dive into the industry, including Co-Owner Ron Tinner. Carrino warns that without willing employees, training like this is a risky investment.
“You must have someone on staff that wants to learn and not just make them learn, because if they're not interested, they're not going to take all that knowledge and apply it,” says Carrino. “I don't want to invest in something that my guys aren't going to fully adapt.”
WHAT SERVICES ARE NEEDED
Once training is completed, it’s important to learn what services are needed that may be unique to EVs to teach not only your staff, but also customers who may not understand how to maintain their new vehicle.
EVs still require regular maintenance such as replacing steering fluid, brakes, and suspension parts along with additional services that come with the battery and extra wear and tear on the suspension.
With a 12-volt battery that takes 4 men to lift into the vehicle, EVs are much heavier than a standard gas vehicle. This causes additional wear on the suspension that may require maintenance more frequently. Educating your customer on the need for these services may help prolong the life of the vehicle and prevent a potential emergency on the road.
HOW TO ATTRACT EV CUSTOMERS
The EV market is just beginning to take off. While you may not see immediate return on your investment, being one of the first shops in your community to service EVs may help you beat out your competitors.
“EV customers are a breed of their own, and I don't mean that in a bad way at all,” says Carrino. “They know what they want, and they're not going to shy away from that. Whatever it costs, a service or vehicle, they're going to pay for it. They're kind of like your luxury line vehicle customers. They expect a clean facility, top-of-the-line service, and a stellar experience. They care more about the planet and care
about what's going on. So, they want to see that youas a shop do as well.”
One thing Sparks has done to attract EV customers is become a green-certified shop. “We are a green-certified shop,” says Carrino. “We fly that logo and customers love that and make comments about it. ‘Oh, you're a green shop. That's awesome.’ It's really about making sure that you understand the customer and adapting yourself to that."
The integration of EVs will be gradual as the country continues to build infrastructure to be able to handle mass amounts of electric vehicles. Although EV service is still growing, having the ability to service them now allows you to gain a customer base while shops around
you begin losing customers due to inability to service EVs. Learning from those already in the EV industry can help you make the best decision for your shop and prepare for what is to come.