Two top-flight shop owners share the accounting features they look for in a shop management system.

From the paper processes on which their shops were founded to the shop management systems they brought in after, Carrie Hall and Andy Arndt always understood the value of the business side of running a repair shop.

With tax season in full swing, the two shop owners shared three reasons why they’d never go without the integrated accounting tool equipped on their current shop management systems — one they say transforms accounting best practices into systems and processes that are easy to follow, trackable, and provide the checks and balances that drive and protect their businesses.

Reason No. 1: Are You Really Tracking Cores and Returns?

Arndt remembers the moment well. He had just signed up with ShopPros, and his primary coach, Jack Chapman, spent a week at his shop to observe what was and wasn’t happening at his Malta, Ill.-based Arndt Automotive. Each day, Chapman would report his findings over lunch or dinner. Arndt knew his shop wasn’t perfect, but he was shocked to learn his manual process for tracking cores and returns wasn’t working.

“We had this notebook to cross things off when we got the credits, but it wasn’t happening all the time,” Arndt recalls. “And we weren’t using the system provided by the shop management software we had. So, we had no idea what we were losing in cores and returns because we weren’t doing a good job of tracking it.”

That’s when Arndt realized managing core returns and even warranties needed to be integrated into his accounting activities — something his paper process and Peachtree (now Sage Intacct) accounting tool couldn’t do.

Today, Arndt has that system. It starts with purchases, moves to payables and receivables, and ends with his banking accounts, with the software not allowing a single step to be skipped. That means his integration solution forces his shop to complete all returns to satisfy the accounting portion. So, once a credit slip is received, it gets matched to the return items listed in the tool’s accounts payable. Even better, the software does not allow his advisors to delete parts from a work order. Instead, everything is tracked through accounts payable.

Reason No. 2: You Can Save Your Shop Between $20,000 and $30,000 a Year.

Meadowvale Automotive Repair Specialists is on its third SMS since replacing the well-designed paper process installed when the shop was founded in 1981. And it didn’t take long for the second-generation owner, Carrie Hall, to see the time-savings her current SMS’s integrated accounting tool saved her. The biggest surprise was how much money she now saves.

Hall doesn’t have an accounting background, but she has always been a quick study. She took an office job right out of high school with a business owner that operated three separate businesses. Within a year, she understood every aspect of each company. Her work ethic caught the attention of the owner’s friend, who offered her a job at Frito-Lay. Within a year, she earned 11 promotions. She got so good at her job she struck a deal with her boss that would ultimately lead her to join the family business.

“At 2 p.m. every day, I would finish, and my boss, who was amazing, said, ‘Carrie, I can’t give you any more work because everyone else is complaining,'” Hall recalls. “So, we made a deal. My dad was short-handed, and his shop was just down the street. He needed someone to answer phones. So, I asked my boss, ‘How about you tell everyone you put me on part-time hours, and from 2 p.m. on, I help my dad out?”

Part-time became full-time, with her role evolving to running the business, which “was a whole new level of challenges.” Through a supplier, she began taking online courses on managing the business. “It taught us all about efficiency, proficiency, margins, markups — you name it, they threw it at us,” she says. “I came back ready to revolutionize the business. I just learned how something like labor hours can make or break your company. So, that set a whole new tone.”

The business was still highly reliant on a bookkeeper. She was using accounting software, but it wasn’t integrated with her SMS. That meant activities like daily reconciliation weren’t very efficient. That all changed when a shop coach recommended an SMS with an integrated accounting tool designed for shops like hers.

“By Day 3, I was like, ‘Whoa, why didn’t we do this sooner? I don’t have to do this anymore, and I have don’t have to do that anymore. And no more doling out money for a bookkeeper,'” she recalls, estimating that the software saves her business $20,000 per year in accounting fees. “Everything you need to run a successful business is now within one software solution.”

Reason No. 3: You can’t expect what you don’t inspect.

What Arndt and Hall agree on most is the importance of monitoring business health in real-time. “It was all paper and pencil when I first started, and I used an accountant for years,” Arndt says. “He would generate a profit-and-loss statement for me maybe once a year from my ledger and the stuff I kept by hand. That doesn’t work today because you need to be monitoring this stuff weekly, monthly, and quarterly.

“I look at my income statement every night after the shop closes,” he adds. “So, with the solution they have now, you gotta have this stuff to be competitive. We didn’t 30 years ago, but now we do.”

Arndt doesn’t have an accounting background, either, but thanks to his current solution, he doesn’t need one. It offers two settings, a single-column view for accounting novices like himself and a double-line accounting view with debits and credits — the latter being the only option provided by accounting software like QuickBooks and Sage Intacct. Having that single-column view, he says, made adoption easy — a sentiment shared by Hall.

“When you operate a business, you want to be able to see your general ledger, your balance sheet, and your income statement live at any given time,” she says. “Back in the day, you’re waiting and submitting everything to a bookkeeper, then an accountant, a then its three to six months after the fact until you see your year-ends. So, you could be losing your business and not even know it.”

Arndt and Hall have one other thing in common: They’re both users of Protractor and its built-in accounting tool. “It’s incredibly efficient. You don’t have to spend money on a bookkeeper, and you know what’s happening in your business every minute,” Halls says. “I have reviewed other options over the years, and I always say, ‘No, we are staying with Protractor.'”