Approximately two years ago, several owners of independent repair shops — ones not affiliated with a specific manufacturer — felt the need to band together to form a group that would allow them to better promote their business interests while also providing a more consistent service experience for fleets.
The shop owners approached John Stoeckinger about starting the group, and today he serves as president of Independent Truck Repair Group, an affiliation of 127 independent service shops across the U.S. “We are adding new members every month and are targeting shops doing $1.5 million of business and operating with six or more service bays,” he says.
Stoeckinger says he thought the group members’ first concern would focus on parts and figuring out a way to consolidate buying power. After all, according to Stoeckinger, 40% of the revenue on a repair order comes from parts. However, improving parts purchasing was not where the members wanted attention to be focused.
“What they said they wanted was training,” he says.
Electrical training was the first thing Stoeckinger tackled. To date, ITRG has trained close to 450 technicians. Training classes take place on weekends and run for three days. Every ITRG member is required to have a minimum of three technicians go to the group’s training within a year’s time span. However, the training is also open to fleets and others who are not members of ITRG.
The group chose to start with electrical training, Stoeckinger explains, because “for every 10 trucks that go into a service bay, six have electrical issues.” He says it takes an average technician one hour and 15 minutes to diagnose an electrical problem, but claims that once technicians have completed the ITRG training, they are able to find the problem in 10 minutes. For ITRG members, this means the shop can repair more vehicles in a given day and therefore increase revenue. For fleets, it means less downtime, as repairs can begin more quickly since the problem is identified sooner.
Aftertreatment and hydraulic training courses are in the works, as is an online training component that Stoeckinger hopes to have up and running by mid-year.
One of the goals of the organization is to provide consistent service across member locations so fleets can have confidence that technicians at all ITRG locations will have the same training and skills. Therefore, the fleet can take its vehicle to any ITRG member location and have a similar experience, much like that of a dealership network.
Stoeckinger believes the time was right for an organization like ITRG. “Service is a big deal right now. You have a lot of equipment out there breaking down.” Meanwhile, many dealerships are overflowing with work, especially as fleets are outsourcing more of their service work. “There is a real need for this [type of network] right now, especially with all the new technology on trucks.”
He also hopes to set up forums on Facebook that will allow technicians and shop owners to talk to each other. A longer-term goal is to set up a toll-free number that will allow technicians to call in with a problem and talk to another technician who can help them solve that problem.
“The training and the connectivity between these independent repair shops is the most important piece of what we are doing,” Stoeckinger says. “Our goal is to represent 60% of the thousands of independent truck repair shops in the nation.”
It’s too soon to say whether ITRG will benefit fleets, but if technicians at its member shops are better trained, that should help fleets get their trucks fixed right the first time, and maybe even fixed faster.