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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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      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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