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When Performance is Measured, Performance Improves.

Calculating Effective Labor Rate

Calculating Effective Labor Rate is a simple exercise that every Service Manager, Dealer, and GM should be able to do. The stronger Service departments in North America make sure advisors, technicians and any other productive personnel understand this key metric since it drives a significant portion of the Service Department’s profitability. Unfortunately, too often the numbers are just pulled from the DMS without any real analysis on how the metric is calculated and what it means. Let’s explore the basics:

The first step to make sure everyone is clear on what Effective Labor Rate is. Ask any Service Manager what their labor rate is and the vast majority will give you a posted door rate.  This, of course, is a fictitious number that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Let’s say your door rate is $90 – do you charge $90 an hour for an oil change? Are you menu priced items billed out at $90 an hour? Moreover, if you have an extremely complex repair job that requires the highest skill level in your shop (and therefore the highest wage scale), shouldn’t you be charging more than you would for a generic maintenance? So if your team equates Effective Labor Rates to Door Rate, you’ve got some work to do.

Effective Labor Rate can be defined as the actual amount of money you receive from the customer for an average hour of work. Sure, that’s generalizing a bit but it is sufficient for our purposes. This is most easily calculated by taking your total Sales dollars divided by your total flagged Hours. You can do this for different labor categories, for individual advisors or technicians, on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, or any other breakdown to assess performance. You may find when breaking down ELR to very specific areas that you can gain $5 or $10 an hour quickly and easily, which adds a ton to your bottom line. If you find that your ELR is low across the board, it is a management issue: Are you charging enough for your services, especially the highly specialized repair jobs that require a dealership’s expert technicians and equipment? Is your menu pricing accurate in the DMS and do you regularly review times paid to technicians for accuracy? Are you dispatching labor properly, with low-cost labor going to lube techs and apprentices? Are your advisors discounting unnecessarily? Do you have enough Parts Personnel to adequately service the technicians’ needs? Do you have to constantly interrupt jobs for special order parts?

Next, if you find that there are a couple individuals that are seeing lower ELR, you can take into account technician pay at a more focused level to determine if your labor costs are in line from a billing perspective; in other words, are you properly billing out labor? To investigate this, you would need to calculate Hours in a different way than simply pulling your flagged hours from the DMS:

1.       Determine your total Cost of Sales over a given time period, which represents your technician pay. If your financial statement and DMS may not provide the accounting version of Cost of Sales, you would simply subtract your Gross dollars from your Sales dollars;

2.       Divide your Cost of Sales by Hourly Tech Pay, which gives you Hours as calculated by total tech pay ($$) divide by tech pay per hour ($$/Hour). If you are calculating Hours for an entire department or labor category, this can be tricky since you will have to compile numerous technicians’ hourly wages into one average. As a result, this is a much better exercise to do with individual technicians;

3.       Proceed as before, dividing total Sales dollars by Hours.

As noted, this is an exercise best done with individual technicians since the hourly tech wage is difficult to calculate when you are looking at multiple techs with different pay scales. Moreover, one of the biggest advantages of doing this exercise is in comparing the Effective Labor Rate calculated with flagged hours versus the ELR calculated with COS ÷ Hourly Pay. If the technician is paid flat rate, based on their productivity, these two metrics should be very, very close. If they are more than one dollar off, there is probably an issue worth investigating.

Effective Labor Rates are a key performance metric in your Service department and should be tracked on a regular basis to uncover opportunities, compare productive employees, and ensure levels of accountability. But first you have to make sure you are calculating them correctly and understand how they can be affected, for better or worse!

6 Responses

  • Kris says:

    What is the industry standard for ELR as a percentage of door rate? Does this vary from domestic to import dealers?

    • Good question Kris, I’ll give you two answers: 1) If your ELR is within 90% of your Door Rate, you are doing very well. We track the data for the top 20% of dealers we work with and most will be in that 90-100% range. Our data doesn’t show differences between domestic and import dealers, and this benchmark is not market specific. 2) This is a tough question to answer because the definition of both ELR and Door Rate are open to interpretation. For door rate, is the number on the wall in your drive-thru really accurate? Does it cover everything from oil changes to high-tech jobs? A more accurate door rate would be a true average of all the hourly rates you bill (or a range from low to high). Also, how are you calculating ELR? The DMS may or may not be accurate and you would have to be pretty specific about separating labor categories if you wanted to calculate on your own. I usually tell dealers to try to calculate their ELR as closely as possible, then work on improving it!

      Hope this helps, let me know if you have further questions!

  • Randall stansell says:

    So if your dispatch system is feeding the easy maintenance jobs to your higher in tech then this will lower your affective Labor rate. also if whoever is booking the repair order is given the tech more time then the hours posted this also will lower your affective labor rate considerably.

    • Absolutely Randall, both of these points will have a serious effect on your numbers, especially if you are calculating ELR using the Tech Pay to determine hours rather than just “flagged” hours. This is a key area of focus for whatever distribution process you have in place, and it will be immediately evident in your gross margins as well as your ELR.

  • Terry Keefe says:

    Michael, I appreciated the ELR comments. I have a related question;

    I have an understanding that the door rate should be a multiple of 3.5 – 4.0 x your tech rate. I promote this to our team as a basis on getting your rate in the right zone for a heavy-duty shop. It seems it comes from “tribal knowledge” passed from others but I’d like to know your comments.

    Thanks for your information.


    • Thanks Terry, and I have heard this as well. Really, your door date and tech rate are dictated by your market and they tend to move together. Looking at the data that we have, door rates seem to be in the 3-4 times range, so I wouldn’t disagree with that assumption. However, I also believe door rate is pretty irrelevant to your business. You have a range of door rates, which should probably be more in the range of 2-5 times what you pay your techs….

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