In this article, Craig Baills of Highfields Mechanical takes a look at the Pros and Cons of Third Party Booking Platforms

Craig Baills, Highfields Mechanical

Our industry is awesome, and changing at a rapid pace, quicker than we have ever seen.
If you are like me, you will share a strong passion for our trade, the cars, the customers and the satisfaction that our set of unique skills can achieve.
Keeping up with this change and being aware of the future is something we dare not fall asleep on.
Let’s talk third party booking platforms: love them or hate them, agree or disagree, these platforms exist.

Similar to the hotel, airline and insurance industry online booking websites we are seeing, similar platforms take aim at our industry.
As the name suggests and with reference to our industry, a third party booking platform is an agency that signs workshops up to supply you with customers that book online through the agency.
This process gives the consumer the option of booking the vehicles online, at their convenience, and the ability to select the workshop and advertised price of service that suits their requirements and finances.
This all sounds pretty easy if you are the customer and seems reasonably attractive if you are the workshop, delivering extra work for next to no effort on your part.

Through this article, I want to explain the pros and cons of these sites and how it may effect your business and our industry.

These booking portals will do the following:
1.    Sign your business up and allow you access to their website and marketing programs
2.    Reach a large volume of customers in your area and hopefully bring work through your door
3.    Allow you to individually quote customer enquiries
4.    Allow the client to leave a review on your business on the booking platforms site

They can also:
1.    Set your pricing and advertise it to the consumer along with the advertised price of other local workshops in your area that are part of the platform, essentially driving prices down
2.    Charge monthly subscriptions and commission fees that are a percentage of the sale and eat into your already depleted profit margins
3.    Collect and keep your clients data
4.    Take over any google ranking that you may have established on various Search engines
5.    Educate your customer to shop for the cheapest price

These are the basic pros and cons of these platforms, and it is up to the individual workshops to become more aware of how they may or may not benefit your business and our industry.
I am a massive advocate for the future of our industry, looking 10 years and beyond, and ensuring we are acting to keep it profitable, productive, educated and sustainable. As part of this column, I want you to consider the following:
1.    Are these platforms going to help our industry in the next 10 years and if so how?
2.    Will they monopolise how our customers find a workshop and dictate the price at which they purchase from you?
3.    Will they overcome your online presence taking your business out of play on google searches?
4.    Will these platforms improve our hourly charge out rate or will they drive it down?
5.    Will they help us in attracting new blood to our industry or will the wage rate remain so low that they continue to go elsewhere?
6.    What happens with your and your customers data and information once signed up to the platforms?
7.    What will the customers’ expectations on pricing become?
There are many opinions floating around on all of the above. One thing is certain though, we all need to become very well educated on what these platforms may or may not bring to the industry.
Do they have the industry at heart or their own back pockets? Do they care about your business or do they care about making money from your business? Have you fully read and understood all of their terms and conditions?
Before committing to any of these booking platforms, ask yourself the questions above and think about the future. When you google search your business, do you want to see your business on the front page of google where you have already spent your hard earned cash on SEO or do you want to see the booking agency take over your position.
I feel that once booking agencies gain traction and become the ‘go to’ for online enquiries, you have then lost your edge and the uniqueness that you have worked so hard to develop and quite possibly entered into a race to the bottom that is endless.
With any new changes that are coming our way, big or small, I ask you to consider how it effects Your Future, Your Business and Our Industry and encourage you to look for long term solutions that enhance your business profits, position and sustainability. Essentially, be sure to ask questions, seek advice and avoid falling victim to short term propaganda.

Here’s to a great future.
Craig Baills, Highfields Mechanical
Member of Automotive Repairer Council of Australia (ARCA) Committee