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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.  

Before we go on, it’s important that we all remember those that have lost their lives due to COVID-19.  As in any crisis, there will be suffering. However, as a society, we must not dwell on it or let the crisis beat us. We must find a way to fight it and succeed.  

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
      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


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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.
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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. 
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      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 Mark Johnson
      Are you a Iowa shop owner? If you have been affected by COVID-19, have 2-25 employees and have a location in the state you can get a grant of between $5,000 and $25,000 from the Iowa Small Business Relief Grant Program. (If you are not from Iowa please tell friend from the state)   YOU MUST APPLY NOW! (Deadline is March 31, 2020)   So what information do you need?   A LOT!   ●   Most recent Income Statement ●   Revenue Loss Analysis ●   Most recent Balance Sheet ●   Payroll Schedule And Analysis ●   Funds utilization report ●   Fill out All Paperwork   You need to apply now because applications close March 31, 2020.   This is FREE money, don't let it pass.

      We are currently helping business owners to access this grant.   For more info please call us at 1954-324-0803 or book an appointment at https://calendly.com/markjohnsontaxplanner/45min
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    • By Joe Marconi
      I will never forget the day I met Carlos. It was 13 years ago at a small business conference in New York City. The conference drew business owners from all types of industries throughout the greater New York area. Carlos was sitting next to me at orientation. The day was lined up with guest speakers, workshops and networking opportunities. By the third networking break, Carlos and I were hitting it off. We traded war stories, discussed business challenges and brainstormed new ideas. Carlos owns two Italian restaurants, one in Manhattan and the other in Brooklyn. His first restaurant was founded in 1986 when he was 27 years old. I finally asked Carlos, “What’s your background? Did you go school to become a chef? Did your family own a restaurant? Do you enjoy cooking?” Carlos turned to me, smiled, and said, “Joe, I am going to let you in on a little-known secret: I have never cooked a meal in my life.”
      Unlike Carlos and his business venture, most auto repair businesses are started by technicians and use their technical skills to run their companies. I was one of them. I spent years honing my technical skills from the time I graduated high school in 1973 to my first day in business, Oct. 1, 1980. I worked hard at becoming the absolute best automotive technician I could possibly become. I also spent another decade after starting my business improving those skills. That is, until one day I realized that while I may have used my technical skills to start and initially build my business, it wasn’t enough.
      In the first 10 years, I grew my business primarily with my hands, my strength and my determination. At the end of that decade, I hit a wall. Thankfully, that wall knocked some sense into me. My business was largely dependent on my abilities and what I could produce. After analyzing my business and realizing that it had plateaued for a number of years, I had to make a tough choice. It was time to put down the tools. I had to learn a different set of skills—the skills of running a company. This proved to be the right choice for me.
      I’m not saying I regret what I did in those early years. I didn’t know any other way. I loved the auto industry and I loved working on cars. However, when the day came that I decided to become a business owner, my life changed. And, my awareness of how to build and run a business should have changed with it.
      There are shop owners that were never technicians, and do quite well. It’s argued that they have an advantage over technician-turned-shop-owners. A technician’s brain is wired to look at the problem at hand, create a solution and move on. An entrepreneur looks at business from a different perspective: always looking to the future, at growth and what other greater things can be accomplished.
      I remember many years ago meeting a very successful shop owner from the west coast at a trade show. We were both standing at a booth that displayed emissions-related products. I picked up a sensor, turned to this shop owner and asked what he thought of the new air fuel ratio sensors. He replied, “I wouldn’t know an oxygen sensor from a spark plug.” I kept silent. This shop owner was, and still is, well known in the industry—and very successful.
      Here’s the bottom line: As a business owner, the skills of repairing cars have little to do with the skills needed for long-term business success. For many of you with a technical background, you may have come to the same conclusion. If you have not come to this realization, please take a long hard look at your life and your business. While you may love to be in the bays, your place it a helm of the ship. Use those technical skills, but understand that those skills may have gotten you this far, but they won’t get your business to where it needs to be. It will be your business skills and people skills that builds a sustainable company that continues to grow and becomes a source of enrichment for you, your family, your employees and their families.
      Carlos and I still keep in contact with each other and he still owns and operates his restaurants. Carlos called me the other day and told me that he actually had the opportunity recently to work in the kitchen at one of his restaurants. Perhaps even entrepreneurs can cross over into the world of technicians. I’m betting it did a world of good for Carlos.
      This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on November 1st, 2018


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