By Joe Marconi
For many of us, it's been a wild ride the past few months. We had to take care of everything, making tough decisions, dealing with banks and the SBA and running the shop from the trenches. But, with things looking better each day, it’s time that we get back into the role of building and operating the company.
For many, the COVID-19 crisis is far from over. However, the sooner we begin to adjust and build for the future, the better off we will be.
Shop Owners are among the hardest working people on the planet. We find ways to get through the most difficult situations. I have no doubt that the lesson’s learned from this crisis will make us stronger and more successful.
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
By Joe Marconi
I have been contacted by many shop owners about the decision to close or not. In most cases across the nation, Auto Repair Professionals are considered essential workers. Which means that we can stay open for business. However, even though we are essential, I personally will not demand my employees to come to work. If business fails because of this virus, it will fail in the short term. We will all eventually find a way to come back and rebuild our businesses.
Things are changing by the hour, and that makes our decisions as leaders even more difficult. I don’t want to get sucked into panic, but I don’t want to turn a blind eye to the fact that we are in uncharted territories and that we are all learning from this crisis together.
The decision to close your business is yours. There is no wrong or right decision here. The safety and well-being of our families are our number one concern. If it makes it any easier, make your next decisions from the heart, not from a business standpoint. Be strong, be a leader, and know that we will get though this.
When the dust begins to settle, we will have learned a lot about business and even more about who we are are as a culture and a society.
I cannot tell you what I am doing tomorrow. I plan on having a meeting with my staff, and a decision will be made to stay open, cut staff, cut hours or perhaps another scenario will surface. I will keep you updated and try to bring a little sanity to everyone during these crazy times.
You are all leaders; you are automotive shop owners. You are the toughest of the toughest. I know you and I will prevail through these troubling times and I look forward to the future when we can all look back and say…”We may it through, and we’re better off for it.”
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.
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By Joe Marconi
Each year at this time I advise shop owners to set aside time to look back at the current year and start planning for the year ahead. The more due diligence you perform, the more successful you will be. Below is a short list of things you need to do. Remember, the time you spend now, will pay off next year.
Review all your numbers, year to date - Did you hit your goals? Arrange a meeting with your accountant and review your projected sales and determine any tax implications Speak to your accountant about investing in any end-of-year equipment purchases or any other large purchases in order to save on taxes. Please do not listen to your tool truck guy or equipment reps. Sometimes having cash reserve is much more important that reducing taxes Have a meeting with your key employees; determine what you will need in the coming year and begin to create a budget Set your new goals for 2018 and beyond, both personal and business Create a Wish List, those things your would like to accomplish, both in business and personal - This will help keep you focused Consider needed future training for all employees Review all insurances: Life insurance, liability, etc. Perform a facility inspection: Identify any needed work, upgrades, OSHA concerns, etc Create an emergency crisis plan in case something happens to you or a key employee; and make sure your loved ones and family have a copy of the plan
By Joe Marconi
The day to day operations of running a business can take its toll on anyone. To be a business owner means to address problem after problem and finding the right solutions. Sometimes the decisions we make will be the right ones, sometimes not. If we are not careful, this emotional roller coaster we call being in business, can make us focus too much on the negative, and not the positive things that happen in our lives.
With nearly 4 decades as a business owner, I can say with certainty that one of the basic building blocks of being successful in business is having the right team of people around you and getting yourself in the right frame of mind.
You need to find and hire great people. But once you have them, you need to do all you can to take care of them, train them and make them successful in order for you to be successful. Is it easy? No. But it is essential.
Most important; you need to treat each day as if it were a gift from the heavens and base your entire perspective from a position of strength and remaining positive. I know it’s not easy, but I can tell you, it works.
By Joe Marconi
Got your attention? Good.
I often hear shop owners say, "I wouldn't ask any employee to do something that I would not do." While this may appear to be effective leadership, lets dig a little deeper.
Lets say you had an illness that required a specialist. You make an appointment to see the doctor and the day you walk into his office you find him scrubbing the toilet bowl? In defense of his actions, he says, "I can't ask my employees to do something I am not willing to do."
I use this ridiculous analogy only to prove a point. Effective leadership does not mean performing every required task in your company. Nor does it mean that the only way to get others to perform what's expected of them is to also perform their duties.
Effective leaders do go the extra mile and mentor the people they lead, but leaders also know what their true role is. And that is to coach their employees, set the goals, work on the business plan, and to ensure the success of the business.
As shop owners, clearly define your role as the leader of your company. Delegate tasks when needed and manage your time by working on the tasks that define you, the leader.