By Joe Marconi
Let's face it, all of us were affected by COVID-19. Some more than others. One of the biggest issue is the feeling of uncertainty....what we call the unknown. But, humans are no strangers to tough times. Tough times brings clarity and opportunity. It forces us to create new strategies in an effort to improve both our business and personal life.
We cannot turn back the hands of time. 2020 will be behind us in a few days. Work hard now to make 2021 a banner year. There has never been a time so important as now. Learn from the events of 2020. Create your new goals. Work on your people skills. Work on the numbers of the business.
I am sure all of us learned many lessons this past year, and one of them was to be financially prepared for a crisis. While COVID was different, the financially-stronger shops did do better.
Lastly, have a positive mindset at all times. And set the right tone as the leader of your shop. Your positive attitude will create the right culture and a pathway to better times.
What lessons have you learned and would like to share?
By Joe Marconi
It's hard to believe that it's almost a year since COVID-19 hit. And for many businesses, and repair shops, it's been a challenge. While many areas around the country have not seen a downturn, there are other areas that have been harshly impacted.
Areas such as mine have seen a decline in miles driven per customer of up to 50% or more. Just consider working from home, the drastic decline of going out to dine and other activities, a decrease in after-school activities, a decease in youth sports, buying online and every other action that has become the norm, and it adds up to a negative impact for so many shops.
NOW, you know ME. I always put a positive spin on everything. At this too shall pass. COVID-19 will be behind us and we need to prepare for great times ahead.
I urge everyone to focus on people: Your family, your employees, your customers, and the community.
With regard to your customers, they will remember you and their experience long after the water pump or mass air filter you replaced in their car.
If you are having a decline in sales, here a few tips: Establish your new goals, look at your expenses, reevaluate your breakeven, make sure your labor and part margins are in line. BUT, never forget that your most important strategy is the culture of your business.
Lastly, cherish every minute with family. This Crisis has brought Clarity. And let's never forget the things that money cannot buy.
There are a lot of variables when we talk about shop efficiency. There is culture, environment, leadership and more. There is no single formula that can solve shop efficiency. But if there are the right guidelines, our panel today, certainly has the answers. A big thank you to Chris Monroe, Joe Marconi, and Kevin Vaught for sharing their expertise for you. So many small things done right makes for improved efficiency.
Chris Monroe is a coach who owns Monroe Tire & Service at Shelby, NC., Joe Marconi is a coach who also owns Osceola Garage at Baldwin Place, NY., and Kevin Vaught is a former multi shop owner and is an Elite Worldwide Business Development Coach
The key talking points from this episode are already done for you on the show notes page at https://remarkableresults.biz/a201
Our air compressor just gave out. I was looking around for a new one since the cost to replace the motor and pump is about $900.00. What brand air compressor would you all recommend that can put up with the heat and daily usage ?
Thanks for your help in advance.
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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
We all have those customers that focus on price alone. And we all struggle with our persistent attempts at converting them into believers. Believers of the concept that, while we cannot totally dismiss price, it’s the value of the product or service the customer needs to consider when making a purchase. What’s funny about these customers is that each visit tends to start with a complaint about price, even before the car is looked at. We recently had a situation that started off on the wrong foot, with price being the issue; but ended up a win for us, and for the customer.
Charlie Challenge (not his real name) arrived at our shop and asked for an estimate on replacing the timing chain for his Nissan Altima. My service advisor responded with, “Mr. Challenge, that’s a big job. How do you know your car needs a timing chain?” Charlie replied back, “Another shop checked it out and they told me it does. Can you please give me a price?” My advisor continued with, “Well, before we do anything, we need to perform a few tests to make sure you really do need a timing chain.” Charlie emphatically replied back, “And how much is that going to cost? All you guys want is my money! I asked for one thing; a price on a timing chain and you just want to make more money on something I already know I need!”
It took a lot of composure, but my advisor calmly stated all the reasons why testing is the best way to go, emphasizing the fact that if we replace the chain and it’s not the problem, the money spent would be wasted. Charlie shook his head, threw the keys on the counter and authorized the testing.
I’ve known Charlie for a long time. He’s not a bad guy. But price is always the topic of discussion. He has told me in the past that I should take a look at what other shops charge, and be more competitive with my prices. I have told Charlie that I don’t, and never will, price my services by what other shops are charging. I have also told him to look beyond price and look at the value you get. Besides, all the quality shops that I know are pretty much the same when it comes to pricing.
During the write-up process, Charlie revealed to my service advisor that the check engine light had been on, and that’s why he took his car to the other shop. The other shop replaced a valve timing solenoid, but that didn’t fix the problem. He was then told that the next step was to replace the chain.
Later that morning, the car was dispatched to a technician. A multipoint inspection was performed, along with all the tests related to the check engine light; which was a timing error. After the MPI and the tests were completed, we found a few things wrong with Charlie’s car. His Altima needed an oil change service, a battery, rear brakes, an air filter, the cabin filter had a mouse nest in it and the car needed an intake timing control sensor, not a timing chain. This engine has two intake control solenoids. One was supposedly replaced by the other shop. So, did this car have two bad sensors? Or was the wrong sensor replaced by mistake?
When my service advisor called Charlie to tell him the good news, he was silent for a moment. He was shocked that the car didn’t need a timing chain. He authorized the solenoid replacement, the oil change and replacing the mouse-infested cabin filter. He declined the other work.
I purposely did the follow-up call with Charlie a few days later. He was happy to hear from me and told me that car hadn’t run this good in years. I had to needle him a bit, “So Charlie, are we really expensive? We saved you a ton of money by doing the tests first and not just replacing the chain.” He said, “Ok Joe, I get it, I really do this time.”
During our conversation, Charlie did confess that he didn’t go to another shop, but actually went to that all-knowing, all-powerful place on the internet known as Google. It was Charlie that replaced the solenoid, not realizing there were two, and not knowing how to properly test the system either.
When I asked Charlie why he didn’t let us replace the battery, air filter and the rear brakes, he replied, “Joe, come on, I can do that work myself, and besides, you guys are expensive.”
Sometimes you win the battle, but it’s hard to win the war with some customers.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on October 1st, 2019
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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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