Is your business down 40 or 50% like many on this forum? If so, I have an idea to help a bit now, but especially in the future. And even help the impression of our industry.
You probably have more time available to spend with your customers. It’s the perfect time to build or cement a great relationship, to create that illusive trust with your customer, that’s mentioned in just about every trade magazine, but they never tell you how. May I suggest “The How” that I’ve been using for years? This will be handy now and in the future when this is over.
Learn more about your customers. Become “friends.” Talk about everything: the lousy situation we’re in, ask about their job, their kids, their past vacation, their future vacations, their weekend jaunts. Exchange good news. Exchange not-so-good news. Listen. Talk about what comes up.
I treat our customers like friends, like former high school friends. And these friends know we have to make a profit (EVERYBODY knows that!)
For me, it’s a given that we’re going to take care of their car. If they tell me their dad just went into the hospital or nursing home, we’re done talking about their car. I ask, “How’s dad?”
But still do your (digital) inspections. And write down everything, even the stuff that can wait six to nine months. This may affect the service writer or shop’s approval percentage, but so what! Your percentage will be lower, but you will do more work on the car this way. (Notice that I didn’t say you would sell more work. I don’t “sell.”) No decision now on the future stuff, it can wait.
If their car came in with a problem, this is what will fix it (there’s no selling: this is the solution). I point out the other thing that needs attention now. There will be some explanation, but no selling: it needs it. No decision for the customer, actually. Their car needs it.
Next I say, “Here are the things that can wait six to nine months, but I want you to be aware so there are fewer surprises.” No selling, no decisions on their part. Plus, I’m the trustworthy guy who’s telling them they don’t need everything now.
“Now let’s come up with a plan for these other things I found about your car.” I’m explaining, not selling. “You can do these now or in two or three months.” NOBODY wants to come back in two or three months so they are leaning in that direction, but no pressure from you. They will probably ask; “What would you do?” I say, “If you hate bringing your car in, do it now.” (this is where you would bring in a little value, benefits and safety) Again, not selling, suggesting; letting them make the decision. Notice that the first two issues didn’t involve them making a dreaded decision: It needs this, doesn’t need that.
If your inspection has 5 things, they will do 2 to 4. If the inspection has 8 things, they will do 3 to 5 – with no selling. You are their friend, you are advising. List everything!
Now think about that phone call. There is only a little selling value or benefits: maybe some safety. So there’s no pressure on you, no bad news. You are the car detective, reading the cars clues and helping your friend thru this.
When you take care of the customer in this fashion, you come from a place of trust, like taking care of a high school friend.
You will be happier because that call back won’t be stressful, you will have more work, and they are more likely to refer your trustworthy, easy-to-work-with shop, which means even more work.
Has the Coronavirus (COVID-19) impacted your auto shop business? If it hasn't yet, it has the potential to do so soon. Please share what you are currently doing, how your business is impacted, what plans you have in place, etc.
Some things to consider:
Do you have a plan in place should you or one of your employees become ill? With school, event, and business closures, how will this affect your shop? Are you sending anything to your customers in terms of sharing your plans around keeping your customer and employees healthy and doing your part in your community? Many small and large businesses have been sending email communications to their customers. Are you marketing to your customers in terms of not delaying car repair, should there be a need to temporarily close? Are your parts suppliers sharing their plans, should the pandemic affect supply chains? Are you stocking up on business and shop necessities? Please share your experience in this topic and stay healthy!
In the media:
The coronavirus and its growing tally of sick and dead victims around the world have been roiling financial markets, prompting countless hand-washing reminders and ruining more than a few vacations, and that’s before anyone knows exactly how widespread the effect will be on the automotive industry, including your local repair shop. Source
“By mid-March, the shortage of supplies will be felt and members are projecting they’ll experience disruption through May or June,” even if operations in China soon get back to normal, said Stacey Miller, senior director of communications at the Auto Care Association, a trade group representing 150,000 auto aftermarket and service businesses. Source
A bit of a clickbait title, but not inaccurate. The shop is doing amazing, and I haven't been here but a few hours here and there since last June. Prior to that I had been the shuttle driver and not much else. I sold the shop to my manager, something that has been in the works for over 3 years. Spending the next couple days at the shop getting a few things settled (vendor accounts, recurring payments, etc) before the final handover on Saturday. I'm retired now at 55, and I won't have to work another day. My wife and I are moving onto our boat and we're going to sail around the world a few times.
The moral of the story is that you CAN get there. You don't have to be particularly bright, I'm certainly not. You don't even have to be an amazing manager. There are thousands of shop owners who are better managers than I am.
You do have to work hard. Way harder than the average guy, and a lot of guys work pretty hard.
You do have to be smart about your business. Don't spend money you don't have yet. Cash in the bank fixes a world of sins, make sure you have plenty.
You do have to take calculated risks. Business ownership is not for the meek. You'll have to take risks that the average guy would never dream of. Be fearless, but DO THE MATH before you jump.
You do have to fully understand your financials. If you can't read a P&L and be able to see there's a problem that needs further investigation, you better learn how. Same with your KPI's.
You do have to do great marketing, and lots of it. There are guys out there who claim they don't need to do any marketing and are swamped. Maybe there are, but I'm not one of them. Odds are you aren't either. Get busy marketing.
And you do have to get good business coaching and listen to what they say. You could be stupid like me and wait 12 years before you finally get a business coach and start making money, but why would you want to do that? Get one now. If they don't pay for themselves many times over, odds are you didn't do the work to go with the advice.
By Joe Marconi
My Thoughts on the Coronavirus and Business
In my 40 years in business, I have lived through many economic downturns. From the stock market crash of the late 1980’s, the housing bust of 1990’s, the tragic event of 911 and the great recession of 2008. This is different. The fears and the realities of the coronavirus has affected us all. And some areas of the country have been hit harder than others. In all other situations, I fought like hell to make a difference and beat the circumstances. Again, this is different.
I am not an alarmist, not a defeatist and I do not get sucked into the sensationalism of the press. Just today, I heard a sports announcer on a talk radio show advise her listeners to stay at home, don’t go to work, don’t go to the movies, don’t go out of the house and isolate yourself from other people. Is this rational? I can’t do that.
I am an automotive shop owner. What I do matters to my family and the community. I…WE….need to be there to ensure that the doctors, nurses, police, public officials and everyone else has their transportation ready to perform. Stay home? Us? Is that an option?
But again…this is different. This afternoon, I was getting ready to go to Church; 4:00pm Mass, when my wife got an alert that Church as been canceled. Wait; let me say this again real slow…Church… has…. been…canceled.
Fear has a way of eating at the fabric of our rational being. I fully understand the reality of what is happening. This virus will take people’s lives. But, do we run away in the face of a threat? Is this who we are? What do we do? Close our businesses for a few weeks? A month or two? How many of us can afford that? We all know the answer to that question.
As automotive shop owners, technicians, service advisors and all the other valuable employees of this great profession, we need to take the proper precautions. Do all you can to protect yourself and your family. If you decide to continue to operate your shop during this challenging time, have a meeting with all your employees. Take the proper steps to protect yourself, your employees and your customers.
Business may get ugly for some. My company has taken a 40% drop in business the past three weeks, directly contributed to the coronavirus outbreak.
I write this to tell you how I feel; not to decide for anyone what to do. I will not force my employees to do anything they feel would put themselves or their families in harm’s way. For me, I intend to fight. I will take care of myself, take care of my family. But there are too many people depending on what I do, and way too may years behind me to hunker down and wait this out.
Stay safe, stay healthy. Take this situation serious. But please don’t give up. We will prevail and we will get through this together. We are the hardest working, most resilient, toughest people on the planet.
Let’s show the world and this virus who we are!
By Joe Marconi
The year was 1980 - the year I founded my company. And, like many new business owners, I didn’t have a clear understanding of what was needed to grow a successful business. I thought that success would be determined by my technical skills and my willingness to wear the many hats of the typical shop owner. It wasn’t until I began to let go of trying to do everything that I realized that success is not just dependent on what I do, but by the collective work accomplished by the team. I eventually discovered that I was not the center of my universe. After a few years in business, I began the transition from simply owning a job to becoming a businessman. And, while technology has reshaped our industry throughout the years—and will continue to do so—there is one constant that will never change: success in business rests largely on the people you have assembled around you.
By the late '80s it was obvious that I was doing way too much. I looked at each role I had my hands on: shop foreman, service advisor, shuttle driver, bookkeeper to lot attendant. And, as long as I’m confessing all this to you, I need to disclose that I was also the shop’s maintenance person; making repairs to the bay doors, the slop sink and equipment. You name it, I did it. I was literally too busy to be successful.
In order to lead my company, I had to first clearly define my responsibilities. These are working on the business, recruiting and hiring the best employees, becoming a leader of people and making sure that my business was successful. I also needed to fulfill the obligation I had to my employees. I realized that this required a deep understanding that putting people first is the best strategy for success. This was difficult at first because it requires working on things that have no immediate impact on the business. Unlike working in the trenches and having your hands on everything, working as a businessperson means that you need to spend time building for the future. The things that are most important to your success in business are the things that have a payoff down the road.
I also clearly defined the duties I should not be doing and assigned those tasks to others. This is a critical step for any shop owner. Warren Buffett says that in order to be successful in whatever you do, it’s crucial to focus on the things that generates the greatest return and that you can’t do it all, and that means sometimes you have to say, “no.”
By the late '90s it became clear that the most valuable role I played in my business was that of coach. All the best marketing plans and the best business strategies mean nothing without a team of great people around you all pushing in the right direction. And that takes a strong leader. Not just a boss, but a leader. Leaders inspire people. Leaders get others to reach down deep inside themselves and perform at their best because they are aligned with the leader’s vision.
Leaders inspire others through praise and recognition for the work they do. When people feel their work matters, they have a purpose. People are motivated by the heart, not the wallet. That’s not to say earning a decent wage isn’t important. But a focus on money alone is not a strategy for success. Focus on people first and profit will follow.
Spend time with your employees. Get to know them as people, not just the role they have in your company. Find out what their dreams and goals are. And then find a way for others to achieve what they want out of life. People cannot be motivated until they realize that what they do every day helps them to achieve what they want in their personal life.
There are other people in our business world that we must never forget. And that’s our customers. If you were to ask me, who is more important, my employees or my customers? I would answer, “They are equally important.” You cannot have a successful business without the right employees and the right customers.
One last bit of advice I can give you is to focus on your success, no one else’s. Be very clear about the pathways you take and never forget about the obligation you have to others. Build a company culture of teamwork, quality and integrity. Focus on what’s in the best interest of the customer and the people around you. Put people first, and everything else will fall into place.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on February 4th, 2020
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