How Mr. Bean, The Rock hoist service business

Mr. Bean is the title character of a popular British TV comedy. He’s also helping Street Toyota in Amarillo, Texas, sell more wheel alignments.

The dealership’s service department awards a Mr. Bean bobblehead as the prize in an ongoing sales contest among its 12 service advisers. Each time an adviser sells an alignment, he or she takes possession of Mr. Bean until the next sale.

Other objects — a replica Toyota Racing helmet, a bobblehead of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, a rock with the image of actor Dwayne Johnson, who is known by his nickname, The Rock — are prizes in other contests among the advisers for sales of tires, brake jobs and Toyota Care Plus maintenance plans.

Three times a day, at random, a timer sounds in the shop. Whoever holds one of the prizes tosses two dice and wins $2 to $12 per roll, depending on which number comes up. The advisers are immediately paid in cash.

Jason Reed, Street Toyota’s service and parts director, says advisers win $500 a month, on average, in the contests.

“It’s a relatively inexpensive, fun and effective way to help sales,” Reed told Automotive News.

The contests are having the desired effect. The shop performs an average of 275 alignments each month, at a typical price of $89.95, up from 45 to 50 a month several years ago. About 70 percent of customers who are told their vehicles need an alignment opt for it, Reed says.

The bobblehead competition is a modest example of Street Toyota’s broader service turnaround. In the previous decade, the department lost as much as $200,000 a year. Its customer satisfaction scores were poor. Alignment sales were sparse. Oil changes routinely took more than two hours, says Reed, who became the dealership’s service director in 2015 after being an adviser and service lane manager.

Things had to change — and they did.

Reed persuaded his bosses to hire a fourth three-person team of lube techs in Street Toyota’s eight-bay express service operation. The express lanes serve as many as 2,200 customers a month, Reed says, and three-quarters of oil changes now take less than an hour.

Entry-level technicians work under a hybrid pay plan, which combines a 45-hour paid workweek with productivity bonuses, Reed says. More-senior techs in the main shop work under a flat-rate plan, he adds.

Street Toyota has taken similar steps in recent years to boost its alignment business, by requiring closer communication between service advisers and porters in the service drive to conduct alignment readings. The service department uses a Hunter Quick Check system. Reed says the department pays particular attention to cars and trucks with more than 20,000 miles for alignment checks.

Longer-term changes also are paying off. By making it easier for customers to book service appointments online and on their mobile devices, Street Toyota has more than doubled the number of scheduled visits, from 800 a month five years ago to as many as 1,700 now. The dealership’s business development center assigns six agents to handle service and parts calls exclusively.

Reed notes that in the past five years, Street Toyota has increased its corps of service techs from 26 to 37, while the number of service advisers has risen from 10 to 12. Despite the general shortage of service technicians, he says he prefers to hire techs without a great deal of experience at other shops, preferring to train them in the dealership’s culture.

“We had to grow a team culture,” he said, “with people working well with colleagues and customers.”