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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By Joe Marconi
According to Zip Recruiter, tech pay on average is about $41,000 per year. Is this an issue? I know many of you pay more than average, but do you think that we need to increase tech pay in order to attract more people to the auto repair industry. One other thing to consider, the shop and shop owner needs to be profitable and make the money first in order to pay anyone a decent wage.
By Elite Worldwide Inc.
Whenever a customer tells you they can’t afford to do the repairs, and they ask you if you can help them out “this one time’”, you need to give careful thought before you lower your price.
First of all, there is a cardinal rule in sales that says before lowering your price, you need to build more value in your service. Yet as we all know, there are going to be some occasions where no matter how good your sales skills are, the customer simply won’t have the ability to pay for the recommended services. In such cases, you and your advisors will have three options. One, you can let the customer walk; two, you can drop your price; or three, you can follow the proven path we have provided to tens of thousands of advisors over the years.
First of all, if you let them walk, both you and the customer have lost. They’ve lost the time they’ve invested in having their vehicle inspected, and when they leave your shop their problems still exist. You’ve lost the marketing dollars you invested in bringing the customer through your door, you’ve lost the time you’ve invested in inspecting the vehicle and estimating the job, and you’ve lost the opportunity to help someone in need.
The second option you have is to lower your price, and while you may close that sale, you’ll also be sending a message to your customer that if they wouldn’t have asked for a discount, they would have paid too much. If that’s not bad enough, it gets worse, because they know if they ever decide to come back they’ll need to negotiate with you, regardless of the prices you quote. The good news is, there’s a third option, and it’s one that’s used by the top shop owners in America with great success….
Putting first things first, you’ll need to see if the customer qualifies for any legitimate discounts you offer, such as Senior Citizen, AAA or Military discounts. You can also limit the number of repairs to the ones they can afford at the time. Another option (which works well in some cases), is to scale back on some of the benefits, such as the length or terms of the warranty. If you and your customer find none of those solutions to be acceptable, you can consider telling them that you will keep their vehicle at your shop (space allowing), and perform the repairs if and when your time allows (when another customer cancels their appointment at the last minute and your tech has the downtime, for example). What your customer would be sacrificing is the immediacy and convenience.
Please bear in mind that when making any decision to lower your price, you need to ask yourself who is ultimately going to pay for the discount, because the answer will inevitably be your other customers. Secondly, if you have the right advisors, with the right principles, they’ll know in their hearts it’s just not right to charge two people different prices for the same service. To put it another way, I’m sure you would not want your mom or dad walking into any business and buying a product or service when you know the customer right before them… paid less. Never forget, principles, not shell games, lead to two things: higher profits, and the ability to sleep at night knowing you are not playing games… with other people’s money.
Since 1990, Bob Cooper has been the president of Elite Worldwide Inc. (www.EliteWorldwide.com), a company that strives to help shop owners reach their goals and live happier lives, while elevating the industry at the same time. The company offers the industry’s #1 peer group of 90 successful shop owners, training and coaching from top shop owners, service advisor training, along with online and in-class sales, marketing and shop management seminars. You can contact Elite at [email protected], or by calling 800-204-3548.
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It’s Doing the Same Thing Being on the mechanic's side of the counter, I've often wondered what does "the same thing" really mean? Nearly every time a customer comes up to the service counter, who has no background in automotive repair, or any idea at all on how repairs are made and what's all involved, but tells me, “It’s doing the same thing”, I have to ask myself… “How do they know?” Is it really doing exactly the same thing? Funny, how it turns out (99.9% of the time), that it’s NOT doing the same thing. I hear this rhetoric from customers now and then, but when my wife starts in on me with the good ol' 'It's doing the same thing', now I'm more than a little curious. Here's an example. We were about to head on our vacation when the bulb warning light on the dash came on indicating one of the rear lights was out. It was a side marker light on the driver’s side of the car. Easily changed and taken care of, and with all the commotion and last minute preparations, the warning light problem became a distant memory. So off we went on our little adventure. Several states and hundreds of miles later while the wife was driving, and I was taking a nap, she nudges me and says, “It’s doing the same thing”. Now I understand there is always the possibility that it really is doing the same thing, but really my dear … you’re married to a mechanic. Can we at least re-think how to inform me of such things? Yes, the light on the dash is “doing the same thing”, but let’s try rephrasing it to the guy just waking up from a pleasant-no-stress-day-off. How about: “The warning light is back on, dear.” At least that way I won’t feel like I’m back at the shop trying to decipher the latest “doing the same thing” dilemma. I’m on vacation for heaven’s sake! At the next stop I performed the usual "walk around" and noticed the passenger side marker light that was out this time. Not to be outwitted by a little warning light, I gave the lens a little tap. Low and behold, the filament lit up, and off we went. As we traveled down the road I had plenty of time to ponder how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “Doing the same thing”. Over the years I’ve seen this escalate into complete madness at the front counter or end up with a tap on a bulb lens. As in my wife’s case, the dash warning light could only indicate that a bulb was out and which end of the car it was. However, when a customer lays down a chunk of their hard earned cash their interpretation doesn’t include the possibility of multiple issues controlled by the same warning light. From their perspective, it's doing the same thing. A few weeks ago I had a 1995 Saturn in the shop that had been all over town, as well as to every relative who owned a tool box. No one seemed able to get the air conditioning to cool. Part after part was changed, but still no cold air. When I finally had a crack at it I was surprised at what I found. The connector for the A/C compressor was exactly the same style and type as the low coolant level sensor mounted in the over-flow bottle. Somebody had flip-flopped the connectors. Once I found the problem the cure was simple… just reverse the connectors and “Ta-Da” cold air. All the functions were working, cooling fan, line pressure, vent temperature, everything was great. Even the “low coolant” light was operating correctly. But where would this story be without a 'It's doing the same thing' scenario. A few weeks later I get a call, you guessed it… “Doing the same thing”. Now, I’m no dummy, I know what they meant. They're actually telling me that it's not making cold air again. I informed them it was probably leaking refrigerant or something like that, but I seriously doubt somebody switched the connectors again. They weren’t buying that, they kept insisting that it’s doing exactly the same thing as before. Even after reading the description of the repair on the invoice, and telling me they totally understood it… they still can't break away from the common reply... it's “Doing the same thing”. This follows right along with the typical scenario right after changing out a blower motor for a customer and a week later they're back because their air conditioning isn’t cold. I’ll ask, “When did you notice the air wasn’t cold?” The usual answer, “Right after you changed the blower motor.” I should have a guy in the background with a drum set patiently waiting for me to ask, "So when did you notice the problem?" and when the customer delivers the inevitable punch line, the drummer could bang out the classic drum roll-rim tap and cymbal crash. A priceless moment for every counter person. The way I see it, the consumer brought their car into a repair shop for a professional evaluation of a problem, and expect to never see a related or similar problem ever again. But, as soon as the work is done and some other problem creeps up that seems to be more than a little bit like what they just had repaired, the mechanic is soon to have the same thing happen again. The fact that there are other things that can go wrong can be a huge mountain to climb. But, with some diplomacy, and tact, a good counterman can get through these situations. One thing for sure, as the mechanic, you've got to get in there and solve the problem no matter if it's the same thing or not. Generally, (from my past experiences) the same thing is hardly ever the 'same thing'. The Saturn, was a faulty compressor due to the fact the last shop didn't add enough oil to the compressor, the replaced blower motor problem, was a faulty low pressure switch, and the wife's car, well... she hasn't had to tap on the bulb lens ever since. But to me.... it's all the same thing.
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Looking forward and thinking about business goals for the future, I'm wondering if there is such a thing as a sales volume, personnel, or facility sweet spot for profitability. I'm in a semi-retirement mode already, so having profits to spend is a priority over simply growing the business for growths sake. I really enjoy being in business and planning and reaching for goals, but wondering about what those goals for the business should be. I've reviewed some industry financial data without any clear conclusions, but I'm wondering what folks here think or have seen or experienced.
A little about where I'm at currently. I started this business from scratch 7 years ago. We currently have 8 employees and did 1.3 in 2017. Any wisdom from you who have been doing this longer?