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 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?
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 know none of us wants to hear this, but there will be a next crisis of some sort. I have lived through many downturns in my 40 years in business, the COVID-19 was the worst. But, out of every crisis comes lessons to be learned. So create your Crisis Plan today.
Start by understanding your numbers and knowing your breakeven. Then add to your breakeven a percentage of profit you want to earn. Equally important is creating a cash reserve in a dedicated bank account that will be used only in a severe emergency. Set your financial goals and stick to them!
Often overlook is your staff. Assemble the best team around you. This is a crucial part to ensure your future business sucess.
Lower your debt, get your credit rating up and maintain a good standing with all vendors. Lastly, talk to your bank about a line of credit that can remain inactive until you need to use it.
What other key things can we all share to help us through the next crisis?
By Jeremy Glassco
I get asked this many times. How would I use a custom mobile app if I had one for my shop?
Take a moment to think about that.
Imagine what you could do IF you had a custom mobile app for your vehicle owner customers to download, interact with, and engage with your brand?
I'm noticing this trend in the food industry, retail industry, and now even in the medical industry.
What about our auto repair industry niche?
We're working on version 7.3, and part of what I love to do is get great feedback and build it into our upcoming versions.
What about you.
What type of features would an auto repair professional like yourself want in your dream app?
Please share your ideas here and my hard working team of app gurus will get on it!
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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
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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