If you’re reading this article that means that you are still in business and have weathered the economic storms of 2009. While we are not out of the woods yet, things are definitely looking better than a year ago. 2010 will continue to bring us challenges and obstacles, but we all know that whatever doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.
Independent shop owners across this nation have proven their resolve and refused to participate in the recent recession. When thousands of dealers shut their doors and unemployment tipped 10%, automotive shops found a way to survive. I am not saying it was easy. I have heard from many frustrated shop owners this past year that questioned whether they should go on. Some did give up, but most did not. The fight goes on and 2010 will once again test your resilience.
Many of your customers are still out of work and many small local businesses and local contractors are suffering. Both business and personal bankruptcy is still rising. These issues will no doubt continue to impact your day to day operations. We have already seen taxes go up in many areas and who knows what the health care calamity will bring us. The government will continue to spend like a drunken sailor on shore leave, which will have deep, long lasting affects on our economy for generations. The housing market had a few up ticks in 2009, but is still a long way from a recovery. Too many years of unrealistic growth combined with too much subprime mortgage lending nearly killed a once-touted safe haven for your money…real estate. Also, let’s not forget the war on terror, the global warming issue, the green movement, the volatile stock market or emerging Chinese dominance.
Ok… I got the bad news out of the way. Now, here’s the good news. When the dust settles, who do you think will be there as a shining star? You will. Because the success and survival of your business rests totally on the person you look at each day in the mirror….You! You have no bail out. You rely on your own resources to make things work. You are tested each day and somehow get things done. That makes you strong. We are all sitting on a gold mine of opportunity. It may be hard to see, but it’s real. However, it’s an opportunity, not a gift. You will need to prepare for it and act swiftly. Those of us that plan now will reap the benefits later.
There has never been a better time in history for the automotive service and repair industry. The motoring public is confused. They have lost faith in the American car companies. The government bail out to GM and Chrysler has made them look weak in the eyes of the consumer. Ford stands alone, not accepting a bail out. This may prove to be their silver lining. New car sales in 2009 were dismal for most car companies, including Toyota and Honda. Empty new car dealerships sent consumers scrambling for alternatives.
We need to take advantage of what is happening in the economy and use it to our benefit. We need to show strength. Our day-to-day attitude must be positive toward customers and with our employees. Take a look at your operation, everything from the exterior facility appearance, waiting room, bathrooms, shop appearance, uniforms and everything else about your business. Make sure that your shop looks top-notch. I know it’s hard, but spend the money and make improvements to your operation. This will help boost your image and help increase confidence from your customers and the potential customers in you market area.
Review your advertising and marketing strategy. Be consistent with your advertising. While others are pulling back on advertising, you need to keep forging ahead and stay in the consumer’s eye. Provide the very best in customer service. This is an area where you must not fail in. People will judge you more on how they are treated at the front counter than what brand of parts you install or what type of equipment you use. Trust me on this one. Customer service will make or break your business. Listen to your customer, they will tell you in which direction you will need to go. Your success in the coming years will be directly related to the level of customer service you provide. Make sure you have the right people at the front counter and answering the phone.
Lastly, work on your leadership skills. As the business owner, you are the company’s leader. This puts you in a tough position where hard choices and decisions will have to be made. Make those decisions with the best of your abilities and don’t second guess yourself. You can’t be right all the time and being too fearful of making a mistake can cause indecisiveness, which will hold you back from achieving your goals. The good thing about making a mistake is the knowledge you gain from it. Be supportive of the people who work for you. Encourage them to be the best they can be. Promote the good things they do, rather than focusing only on what goes wrong. People want to be appreciated and recognized for the work they do. Remember, happy employees boost morale, which increases productivity and creates happy customers.
Being in business is not easy, if it were, everyone would be in it. Being an auto shop owner in today’s economy is extremely difficult, but this career was our choice. The reward for being in business is making your enterprise your personal success story. Don’t worry about the size of someone else’s business. It’s not about building an empire like Disney World or McDonalds; it’s more about you and building your empire. That is the true measure of an entrepreneur.