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Business Observer Thursday, May 7, 2009 13 years ago

Maintenance Maneuvers

A one-time auto repair shop owner is using his industry knowledge to help bring sanity to a company's car repair bills.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

A one-time auto repair shop owner is using his industry knowledge to help bring sanity to a company's often-overlooked expense: Car repair bills.

Pat Brennan might have run his own car repair shop for 16 years, but he's not looking to win any popularity contests among his former brethren.

Instead, Brennan is on mission to help businesses with high repair costs save money when bringing a car, truck or van in for repairs. The Sarasota resident has started his own company, Fleet Cost Control, to do just that.

Brennan says he could save businesses 25% to 60% percent on an annual fleet maintenance bill through his system, which includes his proprietary software and database system. Says Brennan: “I'm not a repair shop owner's best friend.”

Brennan believes he's perfectly suited for this line of work. After selling his shop in Buffalo, N.Y. and relocating to South Sarasota County, Brennan found work as an independent consultant for local repair and auto shops. He worked with shop owners on setting up computer systems for more accurate billing and on how to improve the shop's marketing and community image.

“I went into shops that weren't making money and taught them how to make money,” says Brennan. “I never realized I could play the other side of the card.”

But a recent success Brennan had with one customer in particular showed how well his systems could work. “Most companies don't have the working knowledge of the repair shop's pricing structures or the time to pursue these cost savings,” says Brennan.

That was the case with Sarasota-based Tri County Air. In late 2007 Brennan began looking at a five-year span of the company's repair bills for its fleet of 60 cars and trucks. What he found was a chaotic, undisciplined and costly mishmash of a maintenance system.

For example, one van was brought in for an oil change just 100 miles after its last one, despite having only 25,000 total miles and not showing any service issues. That same van then went three years and 33,000 miles without another oil change.

And Brennan discovered it was more than oil changes that were out of control at Tri County. Other issues on various cars and trucks included brake repairs made too early in the life of the vehicle and transmission work that was done too late. Plus, the employees didn't seem to have a grasp of auto shop price structures or the timeliness of a warranty.

Brennan put all of Tri County's five-year fleet service data — 3,400 invoices — into a spreadsheet system he creates specifically for each client. Then he took over the company's fleet management, setting up regular maintenance schedules and working directly with auto repair shops to get the best prices.

The results for Tri County, which had 2008 revenues of about $5 million, were nearly immediate, says Brennan: In the first six months of 2007, before Brennan, the company spent $84,900 on vehicle expenses. In the first six months of 2008, the company spent $43,700 — a savings of nearly 50%.

Brennan says despite success stories such as Tri County, finding clients in the recession has been tough. He hopes to boost his client base by pushing his fee-based payment system: He charges a percentage of how much the company saves in repair bills, usually a 25% fee.

“It's a difficult story to tell because people don't believe it,” says Brennan. “They don't understand how I can do this.”

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