By Joe Marconi
We, automotive shop owners of America, must take the opportunity of a lifetime and turn it into a bunch of success stories. What opportunity? Look around you. The world is in turmoil. COVID-19, social unrest, uncertainty about the presidential election, the economy, how are we going to get out kids back to school, on and on and on.
While the world is spiraling out of control, we have the power to make big changes to our auto repair shops. And it can all be positive!
First, the average age of a car in the U.S. is about 12 years old, attaining well over 200k on the clock.
Second, Uber, taxis and limo companies are suffering. Guess why?
Third, the motoring public in the foreseeable future will be traveling by car, taking road trips like they have never did before.
Fourth, the roads are packed with motor vehicles, as more and more people prefer their own car as their primary means of transportation.
Fifth, as the cars get older and older, more of them will be out of factory warranty.
Sixth, independent auto repair shops have a vast amount of training, resources and replacement parts.
Seventh, the overwhelming majority of cars being build and sold today are still internal combustion engine powered cars. If you factor in the expected average age of car these days, we can safely bet that those gas engine cars being sold today will still be on the road in 2033 and beyond!
Eight, You need more? That's not enough!
Get your plan in place. Get your prices in line with making a profit. Don't give anything away anymore (I am mostly referring to checking, testing, diags of any sort!) Offer world class customer service. Be a leader of your employees. Show the world what you are made of!
Thought it would be a good conversation to understand how your shop is doing through the COVID-19 pandemic. Thought the best way to get a grip on it all would be to get your response to these 3 questions.
1- How was your shop doing in early March - pre-pandemic? Were your numbers better, worse or about the same as last year.
2- What’s the biggest challenge you faced when the pandemic spread?
3- What’s your forecast for your shop moving forward?
Is business getting better? About the same - like nothing has happened? Or are you struggling to get customers through the door?
Look forward to hearing your BEFORE-DURING-AND AFTER to understand where the industry is at. Hope this generates a better “picture” of what’s going on.
“The Car Count Fixer”
P.S.: Join my on YouTube at Car Count Hackers
Grabbed this shot of a crazy 68 Camaro (with wild Mickey Thompsons!) at a car show last week! Thought I would share it to help you remember "where we came from!" - Enjoy!
By Joe Marconi
Due to COVID-19, many repair shops experienced a severe economic downturn, some with a drop in sales over 50%. Without a strong cash reserve and/or SBA funding help, many shops would have gone under.
My 40 years as a shop owner has taught me to always have a cash reserve. However, never would I have ever imagined a downturn like the one with COVID-19.
So, how do we plan for the next financial crisis. And, it will happen. Perhaps not as bad as the the virus crisis, but it will happen.
Here are a few things to consider: Have a separate, and hard to access, cash reserve bank account that has least two months of expenses. Also, secure a line of credit for at least one to two months of expenses. Also, know your numbers, keep payroll in line, and make sure your prices are fair to you too, not just your customers. Keep in good standing with all your vendors and keep your credit score high!
The bottom line here, is truly the bottom line. To weather the next financial downturn, you need a strong balance sheet and net profit to the bottom line.
What other strategies are you considering or implementing?
By Elite Worldwide Inc.
We're excited to announce the arrival of Sales Master University, Elite's online service advisor training service that delivers higher sales and happier customers to your shop!
What is it?
Every month your service advisors will have access to the industry's top sales training delivered by Ratchet & Wrench All-Star Award Winner, Jen Monclus. Plus they'll learn from superstar shop owners and service advisors to help them with real world application, and will benefit from assignments, testing, resources and more. Your advisors can start learning the moment you enroll them, and can complete each lesson at the pace they choose from the place they choose for only $49 per advisor per month! Enroll your advisors in SalesMasterUniversity.com today and get ready for amazing results.
BONUS: Enroll before July 31st and become a Charter Member and receive Mastering Sales Objections and Phone Procedures for the Automotive Professional, FOR FREE!
Visit SalesMasterUniversity.com to get your advisors on the path to higher sales and happier customers today!
By Joe Marconi
As part of our debt reduction, I revamped all of our usual marketing and advertising and put those dollars into customer service and social media. For example, we ramped up our shuttle pickup and delivery service, extended our hours of service, made sure we spend a lot of time with each customer and made sure we called as many customers as possible. We also stepped up our meet and greet process and made sure will followed up with customer after the repair. Lastly, we increased our social media posts and increases ads and boosting. This has made a huge impact on our customer and already starting to pay dividends.
What changes have you made to your marketing strategy since the Virus Crisis hit?
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By Joe Marconi
Your lead tech is not performing up to expectations. Shop production is slipping and you’re not sure why. You hear through the grapevine that some of your employees are wondering when they will get their next pay raise. After a few agonizing weeks of pouring through reports, you make the decision to give across-the-board pay raises. Almost immediately, you see a boost in production. The shop is more upbeat and all is well. Your decision appears to be correct. Three months later, your shop is once again struggling to meet its sales and production goals—and morale has slipped, too.
I have seen this scenario all too often. And, while there are times that we need to give pay raises, if your shop is struggling to meet its sales and production goals, increasing pay to improve business is not the answer. The reality is you have deeper issues.
Let’s address employee compensation first. You must pay people a competitive wage with the opportunity to earn more. There should be incentives in place to reward your employees for reaching their personal and team goals. And, there needs to be a process in place where your employees understand how and when they will get a pay raise.
However, in terms of long-term company growth, a focus on pay alone will never be the formula for success. In other words, throwing money at a problem is a short-term fix. It’s putting a Ban-Aid on a more serious injury that requires much more care and attention.
About 10 years ago, Mercedes-Benz was struggling with its customer experience at many of its dealerships. In response to this, Mercedes decided to increase pay incentives, implement new policies and training programs. No improvements were realized. Mercedes top executives could not understand why customer service was not up to company expectations. After all, this is Mercedes, a car company that represents quality and sophistication. Why were their dealer employees so indifferent?
A senior leader at Mercedes recognized the problem and stated, “Pride in the brand was not quite as strong as we thought, the level of engagement with work was not as deep as we thought.” Mercedes finally realized that until the employees at Mercedes genuinely cared more, no amount of money, policies or training would make a difference.
Understanding the need to get front-line people more engaged and take pride in their work, Mercedes began to invite its dealer employees to spend 48 hours with the model of their choice. To experience not only the amazing performance and mechanical attributes of the vehicle, but also that they can turn heads as they drive through their neighborhoods or when they drive into the little league parking lot.
Mercedes also built its Brand Immersion Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2014, where hundreds of employees go each year to spend time getting to know how the cars are built, gain a deeper understanding of the brand, the history of Mercedes and experience the legacy of the company. According to Philippa Green, brand immersion trainer for Mercedes-Benz, “The ultimate goal is to engage their hearts and minds around the brand. We’re teaching them about our legacy.”
As business owners, we track KPIs, set goals, work on marketing and refine our business plans. We also ensure that we provide our employees with adequate training and a well-equipped environment. These are the essentials of our business. However, we must never overlook the importance of your employees taking pride in their work. And, pride comes from employees knowing who you are, what you stand for, what you do for your community and for the industry.
Giving people pay raises can motivate them. But the bounce you get from that is short-lived. Once people have gotten over the excitement of the raise and made the financial adjustments to their lifestyles, the raise is long forgotten. If there are no other intrinsic motivators, then shop morale, production and employee engagement will fall right back to where it was before the raise.
Anyone who knows me and has read my articles, knows how much I preach about leadership. The theme of this article also has its roots in effective leadership. You, the leader of your company, have the power to transform the people around you. Focus on the person, not the position. Recognize when your employees do things that are from the heart. Promote your company’s brand, vision and legacy. These are the keys to a long-lasting company. This is what will improve morale, not a pay raise.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on March 1st, 2020
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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
“Why are we discussing these issues when the people who need it the most are not here? We’re not reinventing the wheel. We get it. But the ones who don’t get it need to be here, too!”
Those were the words spoken by one of my service advisors during a recent meeting. We were discussing quality issues and ways to improve overall production, which, we determined, would improve sales and profit. I listened as Tommy (not his real name) continued for a few minutes. I could hear the frustration in his voice, so I let him speak until I felt he expressed all his feelings to the group.
I am a firm believer in holding regular meetings. And, while there are times when the group gives me feedback, rarely does anyone voice their opinion with such passion and intensity the way Tommy did that day. Drawing on experience, I thanked him for his openness and honesty. I also asked him if we could continue this discussion in the morning in private. He agreed.
The next morning, I paged Tommy and asked him to come to my office. I thanked him again for his openness and asked him to elaborate more on what he said the night before. Tommy hesitated at first, but slowly began to tell me his frustrations. It really boiled down to the level of commitment from a few techs. Tommy spoke in length about what he would like to change in the shop, and again repeated that we’re not reinventing the wheel. His words were clear and on point, “Joe, we all know what to do. We all know our goals. And we all know when we perform to the level we are supposed to. So, I just don’t understand why all of us can meet those expectations.”
Tommy’s insight into the work environment and the dynamics of people’s behavior was perhaps deeper than he even realized. When people within an organization feel that some of their coworkers are not pulling their weight, animosity begins to set in. Essentially, your top employees want to make sure that everyone is committed to the company’s success and doing their very best for the greater good of the team.
We also need to remember that people look at things from their own perspective. And their perspective becomes their reality. The key thing is to keep the lines of communication open, learn from each other and try to view different situations from the viewpoint of others.
After nearly 30 minutes of discussion, it was time to give Tommy my input on how I viewed the situation. I let him know that, while not everyone will be in total agreement with how he views these concerns, he has made a giant step forward at letting me know the issues we have in the shop. I then asked Tommy, “Out of our 16 employees, how many people in your opinion, without giving me any names, do not live up to the expectations of the company?” Tommy thought for a moment and replied, “Well, when I think about it, just a few. Two, maybe three.” Here was my opportunity to bring logic into a very emotional discussion. “So, what you are telling me is that the majority of your coworkers do live up to the company’s expectations and do a quality job?” Tommy replied, “Yes, I didn’t see it that way.” I let Tommy know that I would take his ideas and implement them into my strategy to improve the work environment. He appreciated the fact that I listened to his concerns.
Here’s the bottom line. When a person speaks up like Tommy did—listen to them. Don’t shut them down. They are expressing more than their frustrations over a few of their coworkers. They are giving you real-life, from the trenches information. And although it may be from their perspective, their viewpoint can give you valuable information that will help you and your company improve. Even a few people not pulling their weight can be enough to affect morale. And others may be feeling the same way.
What you don’t want are “yes” people who merely agree with you because you’re the boss. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, welcome feedback and criticism from your key people. We also need to listen more and speak less. And most of all, we need to understand that the solutions to our problems don’t always have to come from us. Sometimes, an employee’s outburst is just what we need to put things in the right perspective.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on January 1st, 2020
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