By Joe Marconi
There’s an old Japanese proverb that says, “The footsteps of the farmer are his best fertilizer.” In translation, this means that the closer you are to your crops and animals, the easier it is to observe and respond to their needs. Business owners, just as farmers, have a sixth sense about what’s happening within their company. And, for the most part, business owners are the driving force behind the success of their companies. And it’s not always because of any particular training. Many times, the mere fact that the buck stops with you gives you the mental fortitude to push forward and find solutions to daily problems. Your gut evolves into a very valuable management and survival tool.
The majority of business owners created their business with a dream and the passion to make a difference in their lives and in the automotive industry. They clearly understand the sacrifices that are needed to get a new business off the ground, and also the years of dedication it takes to reach a point where the business becomes financially stable. But, running a business takes its toll on even the toughest person, and time away from business becomes equally important. So, the question becomes, can you build your business to the point where your presence still remains when you’re away?
Before I go on, I want you to consider something—and that’s your future. I know that many of you have a young company and plan on working for decades to come. But life goes by quickly and it can also throw you a curveball. Please take my advice with this; if you’re a business owner and you are not planning for your future, you are making a big mistake. I know too many shop owners that were forced to walk away from their businesses after decades of work with nothing more than memories. Their dreams turned into nightmares due to lack of planning. Sit down and write out what your future looks like. You will probably need help with this, but you need to think about a continuity plan and an exit strategy.
OK, I got that out of the way; now back to the article. Here’s the bottom line. Taking time off and having your business run smoothly without you there should be one of your key goals. But the truth is, many shop owners can’t let go. They find it hard to take any time off, let alone leaving their baby in the hands of a manager or another key person. They even feel guilty when they’re away. And there are others who realize that in order to have a fulfilling life, the only way to continue the business is to step aside and stay away.
I don’t know what type of person you are. But what I do know with certainty after nearly 40 years in business is that, for the sake of your health and for the well-being of your family, you need to create a business that allows you the freedom to take time off. And that starts with hiring and keeping the right people; people that share your culture and work ethic. Free time away from the business also requires that you understand your numbers, can generate a consistent profit and establish strategies to continually grow the business.
Achieving your goal of taking more time off is more dependent on what you create than the actual work you do. Create a culture where people come to work because they want to. Create a management style that allows you to reach out to your employees and help them achieve the things they want out of life. Create a work environment where the people you employ feel they are part of a unified vision where everyone will enjoy the fruits of their labor. Lastly, create strong relationships with all your employees from the very first day they are hired. Building this culture will help to ensure that your employees will perform the same each day, whether you are there or not.
I know for many it will be hard to let go. After all, your business is your baby, right? You founded it; you worked hard for years and dedicated your life to it. But, every baby grows up and becomes an adult. And adults should become self-sufficient. If you build the right team with the right culture, you will gain the confidence that the people you employ can do an amazing job in your absence.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on September 5th, 2019
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Iv noticed over the years there are times when business/car count drops off by a huge amount all at once. Last year it was brutal in January and got worse in February. It got busier the 2nd week of March and was pretty steady the rest of the year with my best month ever in November then even topped that in December. But this year its back to the same. January came leads completely dropped out, February came and it got worse, just like last year. Now I know its just a waiting game and business will pick back up. Its not just me every shop in the area is completely empty. --- What triggers these pattern down turns? Has anyone ever figured that out? Thought?
By Joe Marconi
My son was an accomplished wrestler in high school, competing in the New York State Championships. He continued competing during his college years. At a major tournament, in which my son was ranked No. 1, the coached worried about his first match. In tournaments, the No. 1 ranked wrestler competes against the bottom-ranked wrestler in the first round. When I asked the coach why he worried about the bottom-ranked opponent, the coach replied, “Tough competition keeps you sharp. Weaker competition makes you complacent.”
In business, as in sports, complacency occurs when you fail to recognize the strengths of your competition—even if the competition is considered weaker than you. Complacency is caused by many reasons. It could be the result of being successful, which gives you a false sense of security that the good days will continue forever. Or, it could be that the business owner is so entrenched in the day-to-day operations that he fails to recognize the world around him. Complacency also lowers your drive and your focus. It spreads to your employees. Eventually, this will have a detrimental effect on your business.
However, loss of business due to complacency doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow, painful death. One day you realize that your car counts are down, your customer base is dwindling and your new customer acquisition is declining too.
Today, consumers have choice and competition is fierce. Every segment of the auto repair industry wants a piece of the service and repair pie. You need to take a long hard look at your competition, analyze it and study it. Then build a strategy around what you bring to the marketplace that will set you apart from the rest.
One thing to keep in mind: In the business world, competition is everywhere. And it’s not just other repair shops, dealerships or the tire store down the road. Your business is being judged and compared to by every experience the consumer encounters. In other words, if your customer had an amazing experience at a local restaurant, your business will be judged against that experience, too. But the question is: How should you compete?
In his book The Purple Cow, author Seth Godin makes the point that your business needs to be so remarkable, people will stop in their tracks to learn more about you. To make the cow comparison: Cows are essentially boring. They really don’t stand out. But, if you’re driving down a road and see a purple cow in a field, you’ll more than likely stop your car to take a closer look. Now ask yourself: Is your business boring? Does it have the look and feel as every other repair shop in town? What can you do to make your business so remarkable, so different, that people will stop in their tracks and take notice? This is a powerful marketing strategy.
No matter how successful your business may be, it’s wise to look at all prominent businesses in your area. Find out who they are, how they market themselves and what makes them stand out. Then, create a strategy that differentiates your business from the rest. By the way, never compete with another business by copying what it does or by the benefits it offers. Copying the competition is what many businesses do, and it’s a mistake. Studying the competition is more about learning what they do, and then finding out what makes you different. What can your business bring to the marketplace that will make people take notice? Think about the company Harley Davidson. When you drive a Harley Davidson, you drive a Harley. It’s not a motorcycle—it’s a Harley. Harley Davidson is a brand so strong, people will actually tattoo the Harley logo on their bodies. Consider Starbucks. People don’t say, “I’m going to get a cup of coffee.” They say, “I’m going to get a Starbucks.” These two companies have a unique brand identity. They stand out among the rest.
Competition is a good thing. It makes you stronger. It makes the entire business world better. It forces you to think about yourself and your brand. And by improving your brand, the customer benefits also improve, which, in turn, makes your business more successful. Never fear competition; rather, you should embrace it. Learn from it. But, remember, look for ways to set you apart from other businesses.
One last thing: Don’t focus on what you do. We all essentially do the same thing—oil services, brake work, suspension, tires and more. Think about why you are in business. It’s your culture. Think about what makes you special and communicate that to your customers and potential customers. Make that special something your purple cow.
By the way, my son took first place in that tournament. Although every match was a challenge, the two toughest matches were the final round and (you guessed it) his first match against a weaker opponent.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on July 31st, 2019
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By Joe Marconi
If you have a repair shop business in New York State that you are looking to sell, please let me know. I will keep this strictly confidential. Criteria required, shops with 6 plus bays. Other details to be explained. Please email me: [email protected]