I've skimmed this subject in other blog posts, but I've never really explained how the whole situation plays in both our favor and the in the favor of the customer. In our shop we use a system called Mitchell, created by the company Snap-On. If you've ever messed around with your car you are probably familiar with Snap-On and their wildly expensive equipment which is considered the top of the line for anyone in automotive service (it is not considered strange for a standard wrench to cost $80 from this company! Not a set...a single wrench!). Because we repair many different makes and models of cars, the software that Snap-On provides tells us exactly how long a certain repair will take. For example, most brake jobs bill out at one hour which, when done correctly by a fairly new mechanic, is about how long it takes. For the seasoned technician, this is about double the time it takes. But, some cars are manufactured with brake calipers that require special tools or even scanners to put on something as simple as brake pads. On these cars, Mitchell has designated longer repair times to compensate for these special tools or procedures. In these cases Mitchell is the mechanic's friend. In the case of the customer, this is occasion to yell, "how much for friggin' brakes?" In other scenarios Mitchell will rebel against its friend, the technician, by designating an alternator replacement as a mere two hours, and in this instance it is the mechanic who may receive the poke in the eye from the sharp stick when, four hours later, they are still putting the car back together.
Of course, as technicians become more familiarized with a particular type of vehicle, even with a four hour alternator job, the work becomes easier and faster. Now, the four hour job is actually done in two hours or (gasp!) less than two hours. For technicians on flat-rate, which is to say those being paid by the job and not by the hour, this knowledge is crucial for bringing home the bacon. If you are a slow technician relying on this pay scale, it is brutal. I've mentioned that we pay our technicians on salary rather than hourly, and therefore it is the shop owner who eats dirt when repairs go over time. However, when mechanics become adept at repairing a specific type of car, or just doing a specific type of repair, this works out for the shop. Which brings us back to the original dilemma: to charge for how long the repair takes or how long the books designates the repair to take.
So, for a business like sprinkler repair, there is no book to go by and everything is estimated at how long the owner of the business thinks it will take. But, for automotive repair shops that do this (and they are the exception not the norm) it is akin to shooting themselves in the foot. All the time energy and money that has been put into training technicians to do repairs more efficiently helps make up for those years when that certainly was not the case. Even then, book time is no guarantee that the repair will go as planned. See below.
That is Glen in that truck, and no, he doesn't sleep there at night, and yes, he is always that happy-looking. Glen is actually happy because he is paid salary, but the dude taking that picture...he ain't as happy. This is what happens when a bolt breaks off in an aluminum engine. So, we went from a fairly straight forward engine repair to pulling the engine completely out of this truck. Not only that, be we had to buy a specialty $550 dollar tool to extract the bold and insert a sleeve for a new bolt. The customer, however, is only getting charged book time for the original repair. While this is not really our fault, and we could charge the customer, we aren't. And, that is just how it goes. For every job that goes swimmingly and where we make money, there are jobs like this that balance the scales and put us in the hole. Now, there are occasions where the book time is incredibly far off from what the actual repair take, and in those cases we will often cut the labor time down for the customer, but usually the book time is accurate. The sad part is, the book time doesn't even account for all of the specialty tools and research that is required to do a repair correctly. The upside is that the longer a shop has been in business, the more of that equipment we have on hand, and the more efficient we can be. After ten years in business - I think we're doing ok.