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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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    • By Joe Marconi
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    • By Joe Marconi
      As a young tech, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. I diagnosed every car with the accuracy and skill of a Greek god. My efficiency week after week was over 150 percent, and with no comebacks. As a shop owner, I sold every job, and at a profit. Each new day was better than the day before. Boy, when I look back, I was amazing. Those were days.
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      Oh, by the way, my approach with the way I handled the situation with Nick and the seized u-joint? Another mistake on my part. So even at 63, I am still making mistakes. Kind of humbling, right?
       
      This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on July 6, 2018


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    • By Joe Marconi
      I have never met a shop owner who didn’t have the desire to be successful. People go into business with dreams of changing the world and to make a positive influence in the industry to which they have dedicated their lives. They’re devoted, sacrifice time away from family and, at times, drive themselves to exhaustion—all in an effort to become the best they can be and make their mark. However, all too often, something happens along the way and the business begins to suffer.
      While shops owners may start their business with passion and vision, they tend to create a world in which everything revolves around them. When the business is small, the owner pays careful attention to every detail. Every car is repaired with the highest degree of excellence. Quality time is spent with each customer and a bond is created, which gets stronger and stronger as the years pass.
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      The owner recognizes that, in spite of the dedication to excellence, things are not right. The shop owner has established the goals of the company and put everything in place. Everything is attainable. But it’s not working. Frustration sets in, and it’s not long before the owner begins to complain about the lack of performance and drive from the employees, which is the perceived root of the problem.
      Well, the root of the problem is the owner. We all know that running a business is not a walk in the park, but if your business is struggling, you, personally, are struggling. If your people are not performing the way they should, then you are not performing the way you should. Granted, there are employees that are a problem, and if that’s the case, they need to go. But even superstar employees will turn sour under poor leadership.
      There are endless issues and problems you encounter each and every day, and some of those problems are out of your control. But, excluding a cataclysmic event, you can trace most of your problems back to you. You are the shop owner, you are the leader. The strength of your business begins and ends with you. Given two equally talented ball teams, the difference between winning and losing is usually leadership.
      Employees need to know you care about them. The people you employ have vision and goals, too. Not the same as yours, but real nonetheless. One of your jobs, as leader, is to align their goals with yours.
      We throw this leadership term around a lot these days, and for good reason. It’s the most powerful skill you have in terms of getting the results for which you are looking. The horrible truth is there are too many bosses and not enough leaders. Anyone can be a boss. Bosses order people around. And people will follow, but not for the long term. A leader motivates others by understanding what drives the individual. A leader gives credit to others, never seeking gain at the expense of others.
      Next time you walk through your shop, pay attention to the mood of your employees. Are your employees laughing and talking to each other? You know, having a little fun at work. Do your employees look to engage in conversation with you, or are their heads buried under the hood of a car as you pass them by? Even worse, does everyone stop talking when you are around? These are signs that your employees are not engaged, which means they are not aligned with the goals and vision of the business, and you are not aligned with theirs.
      A leader finds out what’s important to others, and works to help them achieve it. Aligning the goals of the individual with the goals of the company will achieve great things. When employees are respected as people, they become motivated and perform at their best; not because they are told to, but because they want to. This is the highest form of team spirit and becomes your driving force toward success.
      This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on October 1st, 2018


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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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