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Joe Marconi

Article: From the Heart

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There’s a lot of talk these days about the effect Amazon is having on businesses. Even Google has taken a hit. More and more people simply go straight to Amazon, instead of using Google’s search engine when looking for an item or product. Once-dominant brick and mortar stores are now ramping up to compete with Amazon’s online ordering service. Just look what Amazon did to the book industry. There is no doubt that Amazon has changed the way the typical consumer buys and searches for just about anything. 

But, can Amazon ever really become a major competitor with us; the independent repair shop? My conclusion is no. Let me tell you why.

It was the Saturday before Christmas, roughly 12 years ago. A man walked in my shop, visibly upset and holding an old Lionel train transformer. I asked him if I could help him, and he replied, “I was wondering if you could check out this transformer. This transformer has been in my family for over 50 years. Each year the family gets together to decorate the Christmas tree and set up the Lionel Trains. It’s a tradition we started a long time ago.” 

I stood before him a little confused, not really knowing what to say. Finally I replied, “Sir, I repair cars, not toy train transformers.” Getting more upset, he said, “Toy train transformer? This is a rare, vintage Lionel Duel Transformer, Type ZW!” I replied back, “OK; no promises. Let me take a look”

I set the transformer on the back bench and plugged the cord it into an outlet. The man frantically said, “See, there’s no light; it’s not working!” I turned the transformer over, and took the screws out to disassemble it. The man watched me as if I were a surgeon operating on his child. I poked around a bit and inspected the cord leading inside. I could clearly see a break in the wire. I cut the wire, stripped it back, attached the wire back to the terminals and reassembled the transformer. I plugged it in and the power light came on. “It working! It’s working!” the man said. He thanked me over and over and asked me what he owed me, and I told him, “It’s Christmas; just become my customer.” And he did. 

Another time, a young woman in her early twenties and her father came to me with an unusual problem. I could see that the daughter was crying and the father was trying to console her. The daughter told me that she was recently engaged. As she was driving this morning, her friend reached over and tried to take off the ring. As she pulled her hand back, the ring came off and flew across the top of the dashboard and disappeared. The father said, “Joe, could it have gone down the defroster vents?” I said, “It’s possible, but if you didn’t see where it went, it’s going to be a big job to find it.” The girl began to cry again and said, “Please, can you get the ring back?” I looked at her and said, “Sure, it will take time. It’s almost the end of the day. Let me clear up a few things and I’ll get to it.”

About an hour later, I brought the car in and begin taking apart the dash. The father and daughter stood there watching me as I carefully took apart the dash, piece by piece. After 40 minutes I had just about every piece of the dashboard apart, and no ring. I climbed out from under the dash to take a break and asked the daughter, “Are you sure the ring landed on top of the dash and disappeared?” She replied, “Yes, I’m sure. It has to be there. It must!” 

I went back to work, removing more parts of the dash. I finally got down to the lower center of the dash where the ducts split off and go to the floor vents. As I removed the left side floor vent, I heard a rattling sound. I carefully picked it up, turned it over and out came the ring! The daughter burst into tears and laughter and gave me a big hug. The father told me, “Joe, I will never forget this—never.”

These two stories are true. And I’ll bet a year’s pay that you have similar stories. Each day, we put our hearts and souls into helping people. We create a customer experience that sets us apart from most other businesses. We go above and beyond what’s expected of us, and we succeed. 

Let me ask you; could the “Amazon effect” ever compete with you? The only effect you should focus on is the effect you have on your customers and your community. This will always be your competitive advantage. Use it wisely. 

This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on July 1st, 2019

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      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.
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      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.  
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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. 
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      This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on October 1st, 2019


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    • By Joe Marconi
      We allow visitors to read the first post of each topic. To read this post, please login or register for a membership. 
    • 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
      We allow visitors to read the first post of each topic. To read this post, please login or register for a membership. 
    • By Joe Marconi
      We allow visitors to read the first post of each topic. To read this post, please login or register for a membership. 
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