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Lessons from Failure

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Joe Marconi

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This past April 25th, 2010 marks the first full year since opening our new facility. As many of you may know, we built an additional 4-bay shop which offers while you wait service and welcome walk-ins. This new shop features basic services, maintenance work, tires, brakes, accessories, oil changes, state inspections and other minor services and repairs. It also serves as a feeder for more complicated work and diagnostic work, which is sent to our existing 6–bay repair facility. This business model, for those shops large enough to accommodate it, is the future.

 

The lessons learned this past year have been both positive and negative. With all the planning we did for the years and months leading up to the opening of our new facility, nothing is like real-life. Our projections and prayers came to be, adding some 60 to 80 more per week to our workload. I still say that a healthy car count equates to opportunity, however control is crucial in effectively managing the increase.

 

First, the successes: The image and look of the brand new facility increased our visibility in the market and made us shine in our community, creating a draw for many first-time customers. Consumers and businesses in the area took notice of our growth; many questioned how we grew in a time when most businesses were feeling the effects of the recession. Our marketing and advertising programs worked and added a steady stream of new customers on a daily basis. Sales increased, car counts went up and the rate of new customers also grew. The new shop was featured in many local publications, which help to brand our new business model. The increase in sales and income is paying the expenses and we are running in the black. A lot of our one-time expenses incurred are being paid down on time and as these expenses get paid in full, will add to our bottom line as profit.

 

Now, some of the failures: The sudden increase in car counts caused workflow issues at times, which resulted in mistakes and comebacks. Our quality control system was not being followed consistently, which added to our problems. Mistakes that should have been noticed slipped past and customer satisfaction slipped also. Our process was and always has been to review all work order before the job is started, maintain communication with the tech during the job and review the work and any up sells with the tech after completion. Also, all vehicles go through a quality control check list before the car is delivered back to the customer. In our effort to maintain the increased workflow, short cuts were taken and quality suffered. Shop morale began to fade and stress among staff members grew more and more apparent. The work conditions in the shop and the demands we were making on everyone were taking their toll which on added to the ever-growing series of problems. Something needed to be done…and fast!

 

Last October I held two strategic meetings, one with the technicians and the other with my service advisors and office personnel. I simply told them not to hold back and tell me was not working, tell me what they don’t like and tell me what we need to change and how. This proved to be a valuable and eye-awaking experience. Out of these meeting came solutions and ideas that allowed us to tweak our processes and get control over the workflow issues. Our main goal: Creating solutions to solve workflow issues, reduce comebacks, improve morale and customer service.

 

So, based on the suggestions and ideas from all staff members, I created a revised work flow process with new scheduling requirements and quality control systems. I held a general meeting with the entire staff and unveiled the new plan.

 

The new plan outlined a more balanced schedule which limited the amount of diagnostic work and big repair jobs for our 6-bay repair shop. This will leave room for up sells and additional work sold from our new facility. We limited the amount of scheduled while-you-wait customers and spread out the work more evenly throughout the week. We gave customers options which were more in line with our schedule. The plan also included the addition of another service advisor, another technician and one more lube/tire tech. The added support staff was the number one concern from both the technicians and service personnel. We rewrote our workflow process to include more safety and quality control checks which made it easier to process the cars and paper work.

 

It took us a full six months to implement the new plan and we stumbled a few times and fully expect to stumble again, but things are definitely better and shop moral is back to where it was.

 

No company can grow and expect to be problem free. You learn more from failure sometimes than from you accomplishments. We pushed the envelope last year and luckily we were able to see the negative effects in time. Growth is a good thing, businesses need to grow. But growth needs to be managed properly and the lessons we have learned will help us to continue to grow.

 

Growth and change are two of the same, and the pain and uncertainty associated with it is what people fear the most. No gain can be accomplished without change and growth, and if we fail at times…. well, that’s ok too.

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