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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.

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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      When I look back at my 40-years as a shop owner, there is one thing that stands out among everything else: It’s the people we surround ourselves with that will have the biggest influence in determining our success. Think about it, even the greatest NFL coach will never win a Super Bowl without great players. 
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      With regard to your customers, your business hinges more on the customer experience than it does on the equipment you have or the brand of parts you use. Of course, the parts you purchase matter. Of course, your alignment machine matters. But none of that is as important as what the customer sees.  The customer sees and judges you on her overall experience. Which is how she was greeted at the service counter, how she was spoken to during the sales process, the car delivery, and the experience driving away with a smudge-free steering wheel.  
      Lastly, here’s something you need to accept as a business owner. There isn’t a process anyone can create that will make up for mishaps caused by employing the wrong people. You do need to have processes and policies in place. It’s how you build a smooth-running and efficient business. However, we don’t run a McDonalds or a Dunkin Donuts. We can’t make up for poor customer service with a process or with a point-of-sale computer terminal. The processes and policies you create will only work the way they were intended to when you have employees fully aligned with your culture and have the right attitude. You need to have the right people. 
      There are many components of business. The financials, choosing the right vendors, training, equipment, and advertising are among them. The two most important components of your business are your employees and your customers. However, you have great control over who you hire. And we all know, great employees create great customers.  Assemble the right people around you and the rest will fall into place. 
      This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on August 5th, 2020

    • By Joe Marconi
      When I look back at my 40-years as a shop owner, there is one thing that stands out among everything else: It’s the people we surround ourselves with that will have the biggest influence in determining our success. Think about it, even the greatest NFL coach will never win a Super Bowl without great players. 
      I have worked with a lot of employees through the years, including technicians at all skill levels, bookkeepers, service advisors, managers, and support staff. I can tell you with 100 percent conviction that the years that were the most successful were the ones that I had assembled the best teams. Now, I am not just defining success by profit alone. These were also the years that were the most fun, with less stress and the years that we made the biggest positive impact with our customers and the community.  
      Let’s talk about production first. Highly motivated, skilled technicians with the right attitude produce more.  They also get paid more, and they should. The right team of techs will average higher labor hours. I learned many years ago, it’s not the hourly rate you pay a tech that matters, as much as the hourly labor dollars produced by that tech. 
      Next up are your service advisors. Here is where you can make or break your company. The service advisor is the face of the company. They represent you, your company and everything you do. The best brake job in the world means nothing if the service advisor doesn’t deliver a world-class experience that gives your customers a compelling reason to return.  
      The long-term damage from an incompetent service advisor is hard to recover from. For the most part, you don’t run a transactional business. Your company relies on strong relationships and a strong culture.  There isn’t a big-box brand name over your bays. It’s your name. And that means service advisors need to go above and beyond to exceed your customer’s expectations. If not, you lose. 
      For the success of any repair shop, I put great emphasis and responsibility on the owner when it comes to employee management. All too often, a poorly run, failing shop is the fault of bad leadership. The shop owner’s ability to lead and motivate is crucial with building a winning team and successful business.  However, I have also learned that sometimes we have the wrong people. And no matter what you do or how you try to motivate and lead, there are some people that just don’t “get it.” If it’s not in someone to begin with, nothing you do will change that person. 
      In today’s business world, you need a team of great players.  You need to hire people that can produce quality jobs, with minimal comebacks, have the right attitude, self-motivated, willing to attend training and have the willingness to work in a united, team environment.  You need to hire people that “get it.” 
      With regard to your customers, your business hinges more on the customer experience than it does on the equipment you have or the brand of parts you use. Of course, the parts you purchase matter. Of course, your alignment machine matters. But none of that is as important as what the customer sees.  The customer sees and judges you on her overall experience. Which is how she was greeted at the service counter, how she was spoken to during the sales process, the car delivery, and the experience driving away with a smudge-free steering wheel.  
      Lastly, here’s something you need to accept as a business owner. There isn’t a process anyone can create that will make up for mishaps caused by employing the wrong people. You do need to have processes and policies in place. It’s how you build a smooth-running and efficient business. However, we don’t run a McDonalds or a Dunkin Donuts. We can’t make up for poor customer service with a process or with a point-of-sale computer terminal. The processes and policies you create will only work the way they were intended to when you have employees fully aligned with your culture and have the right attitude. You need to have the right people. 
      There are many components of business. The financials, choosing the right vendors, training, equipment, and advertising are among them. The two most important components of your business are your employees and your customers. However, you have great control over who you hire. And we all know, great employees create great customers.  Assemble the right people around you and the rest will fall into place. 
      This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on August 5th, 2020


      View full article
    • By Joe Marconi
      January 2020 started without a hitch. We hit our sales and profit goals in textbook fashion. However, by the end of February, it was obvious that something wasn’t right. Sales for the month dipped by more than 30 percent. It was devastating. What we didn’t realize was that this was just the beginning of even greater losses. By the time Governor Cuomo of New York issued the stay-at-home order on March 22, sales had dropped 75 percent. With most of the country in lock-down, I didn’t know what to fear more—the coronavirus or the impending financial disaster the world was about to endure.  
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      When the impact of the virus first hit, emotions filled my mind every waking moment, mostly due to the uncertainty of the situation. Then, reality set in and all I could think about was my obligation to others. As an essential part of the community and the nation, it was my obligation to keep the doors open and be there to make sure that those that needed to get to work, could. If we were to win, survive and thrive, we had to create a winning environment. That meant that I had to elevate my leadership to a new level, put the health and welfare of my staff before anything else and realign my goals. In the coming days and weeks, I would get a working man’s PhD on how to win in times of crisis. 
      The first lesson learned in all this is to have the right mindset. We can’t look backward in time or wait around for a return to what we perceived was once normal. Looking forward and building a new future is all that matters. If you tell yourself, “the sky is falling.” It will.  Negativity spreads like a virus and infects everyone around you. Your mind shuts down in panic mode, clouding your judgment and mentally and physically paralyzing you. You must remain mentally strong and positive, even when you know the brutal facts of the situation. This is crucial. You, the leader of your shop, cannot lead others if you show fear and negativity. Be human, show emotions, but have the mental fortitude and show your team that we will get through this crisis. 
      The next lesson is to make sure you have the right people around you. A strong team with the right culture is important in business. In times of crisis, it’s the difference between success and failure. As the weeks unfolded, it became clear to me who my leaders were. It would be those employees that I would turn to in order to maintain morale and lift everyone’s spirit. Leaders cannot succeed without having the right team around them. Take a look around you. Do you have the best employees with the right attitude? If not, begin the recruiting process today. 
      Realigning my goals and understanding my new key performance numbers was next up. My 2020 business plan, created in December 2019, had little meaning by mid-March. I am not admitting defeat for the year by any means. Rather, we now have new objectives and a clean slate. From this point on, it is critical that we remain profitable: watching every expense, tracking production, keeping payroll within budget, and building for the future. The past is the past, it cannot be changed. What we have now is the opportunity to make each day better than the day before. 
      Perhaps the biggest lesson learned was more of reminder than a lesson. It’s that above everything else, people come first.  All the planning, goal setting, marketing and number crunching mean nothing unless you understand that you, as a shop owner, have the power to achieve great things by your words and actions. Yes, it all goes back to leadership and understanding your obligation you have to others. All of us will have different lessons learned from crisis.  Which means, there is great opportunity on the horizon. Use those lesson to make your tomorrow better than yesterday. 
      My hope is that by the time you read this article, COVID-19 will be well under control.  Human interaction is crucial to our overall well-being. We need not only, the emotional touch of another person, but also the physical touch of others.  While Facetime and Zoom will get us through, it will never replace a good old fashion handshake and a hug. 
      This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on June 5th, 2020


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    • By Joe Marconi
      Your lead tech is not performing up to expectations. Shop production is slipping and you’re not sure why. You hear through the grapevine that some of your employees are wondering when they will get their next pay raise. After a few agonizing weeks of pouring through reports, you make the decision to give across-the-board pay raises. Almost immediately, you see a boost in production. The shop is more upbeat and all is well. Your decision appears to be correct. Three months later, your shop is once again struggling to meet its sales and production goals—and morale has slipped, too. 
      I have seen this scenario all too often. And, while there are times that we need to give pay raises, if your shop is struggling to meet its sales and production goals, increasing pay to improve business is not the answer. The reality is you have deeper issues.  
      Let’s address employee compensation first. You must pay people a competitive wage with the opportunity to earn more. There should be incentives in place to reward your employees for reaching their personal and team goals. And, there needs to be a process in place where your employees understand how and when they will get a pay raise. 
      However, in terms of long-term company growth, a focus on pay alone will never be the formula for success. In other words, throwing money at a problem is a short-term fix. It’s putting a Ban-Aid on a more serious injury that requires much more care and attention.  
      About 10 years ago, Mercedes-Benz was struggling with its customer experience at many of its dealerships. In response to this, Mercedes decided to increase pay incentives, implement new policies and training programs. No improvements were realized. Mercedes top executives could not understand why customer service was not up to company expectations. After all, this is Mercedes, a car company that represents quality and sophistication. Why were their dealer employees so indifferent? 
      A senior leader at Mercedes recognized the problem and stated, “Pride in the brand was not quite as strong as we thought, the level of engagement with work was not as deep as we thought.” Mercedes finally realized that until the employees at Mercedes genuinely cared more, no amount of money, policies or training would make a difference. 
      Understanding the need to get front-line people more engaged and take pride in their work, Mercedes began to invite its dealer employees to spend 48 hours with the model of their choice. To experience not only the amazing performance and mechanical attributes of the vehicle, but also that they can turn heads as they drive through their neighborhoods or when they drive into the little league parking lot. 
      Mercedes also built its Brand Immersion Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2014, where hundreds of employees go each year to spend time getting to know how the cars are built, gain a deeper understanding of the brand, the history of Mercedes and experience the legacy of the company.  According to Philippa Green, brand immersion trainer for Mercedes-Benz, “The ultimate goal is to engage their hearts and minds around the brand. We’re teaching them about our legacy.”  
      As business owners, we track KPIs, set goals, work on marketing and refine our business plans. We also ensure that we provide our employees with adequate training and a well-equipped environment. These are the essentials of our business.  However, we must never overlook the importance of your employees taking pride in their work. And, pride comes from employees knowing who you are, what you stand for, what you do for your community and for the industry.  
      Giving people pay raises can motivate them. But the bounce you get from that is short-lived. Once people have gotten over the excitement of the raise and made the financial adjustments to their lifestyles, the raise is long forgotten. If there are no other intrinsic motivators, then shop morale, production and employee engagement will fall right back to where it was before the raise. 
      Anyone who knows me and has read my articles, knows how much I preach about leadership. The theme of this article also has its roots in effective leadership. You, the leader of your company, have the power to transform the people around you. Focus on the person, not the position. Recognize when your employees do things that are from the heart. Promote your company’s brand, vision and legacy. These are the keys to a long-lasting company. This is what will improve morale, not a pay raise. 
      This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on March 1st, 2020


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    • By Joe Marconi
      Can someone truly have two personalities? A real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—the one you see, and the one everyone else sees? I had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde employee a number of years ago; we’ll call him Dr. J. He was my shop foreman and helped the manager run the daily operations. Dr. J was employed about five years before things began to change.
      I first learned about Dr. J’s erratic behavior from a few of my employees. According to these employees, his behavior was destructive, disrespectful and rude. He never acted differently in front of me, so I had a hard time understanding what was going on. I talked to Dr. J about what others were saying, and he looked stunned.
      “Joe, I really can’t tell you why anyone would be unhappy with me. I get along with everyone,” he told me.
      I met with the employees who expressed concerns and let them know that I appreciated their feedback. I told them that Dr. J had been with us for a number of years and that I had never witnessed any unusual behavior from him. I tried to look at all sides and suggested that perhaps he was going through some personal issues, so let’s try to be a little more understanding.
      Out of respect, the employees agreed—but not for long. I was away on a business trip when I got a disturbing text message from one of my technicians. The text read, “Joe, if you don’t do something about Dr. J, we’ll deal with it ourselves.” It was late when I got the text, but decided to call the tech anyway. He told me in great detail what Dr. J was saying and how he behaved. I was shocked by what the tech told me. Could this person be a real life Jekyll and Hyde?
      It was early Monday morning, my first day back, when my office manager came into my office, closed the door behind her and said, “Joe, if you don’t do something about Dr. J, people are going to quit.” I knew at this point I had a real problem on my hands.
      I brought Dr. J into my office and told him everything that I had heard. I told him that the employees did not like the way he treated them and that the harsh words he used was causing a problem with everyone. Again, Dr. J was defensive and denied everything. However, this time he told me his perspective of the situation.
      According to Dr. J, the rest of the employees were not pulling their weight and that all he was trying to do was to motivate them. I tried to explain to him that criticism and harsh words are viewed as an attack. And if this strategy is repeated over and over, people will push back and shut down—the exact opposite of any intended good. I could tell by the look on Dr. J’s face that he really didn’t agree with what I was saying, but he told me that he would take my opinion under consideration.
      After that meeting, I paid careful attention to Dr. J’s treatment of others. All seemed good. Then one day, I witnessed the Jekyll and Hyde persona for myself. Dr. J didn’t know I was in the front office as he lashed out at one of the technicians. The tone and the words that came out of his mouth were unacceptable and appalling. I saw firsthand what everyone in the shop was experiencing. After repeated attempts to correct his behavior, his conduct never improved. It was time to let him go.
      I never found out what changed Dr. J, but I did feel confident that I gave him every opportunity to correct his behavior. While Dr. J may have fooled me initially, I have to admit that I did see that the mood of the shop was tense and morale was down. With Dr. J no longer employed, morale improved and everything went back to normal.
      The workplace environment is a delicate balance between culture and production. It’s also filled with emotions. People want to rally together for the greater good. But, they also need to know that their leader protects them from any threats that attempts to harm the team. It’s also wise not to readily dismiss the concerns your employees express to you. Be on the lookout in your shop. You just might have a Dr. J of your own.
      This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on December 7th, 2018


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