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
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
Roughly a month ago, two events happened on the same day that reminded me that there are things that are so precious, you cannot put a price on them. Those events also reminded me that some of the things we stress over, really aren’t as important as we think. And in the end, it all comes down to the importance of life itself.
I got a call that day from Paul, the person who picks up our scrap metal. He asked if he could speak to me in private. Now, being a seasoned business owner, that’s usually not a good sign. But, this had nothing to do with business. I met Paul in my office a few hours later. He appeared very uncomfortable and upset. After exchanging a few words about business and the weather, he told me that his brother died last year. He was one of three other brothers that died within the past five years. He went on to tell me that none of his brothers had any savings or insurance, so it was up to him to take care of all the burial expenses for all the brothers. As Paul spoke, I could see that he was emotionally drained. Then he said to me, “Joe, I really hate to ask you this. I am tapped out. I cannot support all my financial obligations at this time. Would it be possible to lend me the money to purchase the gravestone for my brother? You can make the check out directly to the gravestone company, not to me.”
I have known Paul a long time. He’s one of those hard-working, tough-talking guys that you would never imagine asking for a handout. I didn’t hesitate and wrote out the check and handed it to him. He held back the tears as he shook my hand and told me, “Joe, I will never forget this, and I will pay you back.”
About an hour later, the owner of a local tow company walked into my office manager’s office to pick up a check we owed him for last month’s tows. I wasn’t paying much attention until I overheard my office manager say, “Oh, my God, I am sorry, Dave. I didn’t even know you were sick.” Dave is 42 years old, married with kids, and has brain cancer that is not responding to treatment.
Dave has a great attitude, but understands the reality of his illness. He’s doing his best while on the treatment, but admitted that, some days, he finds it hard to function. He told us how he started his tow company right out of high school and has worked hard his entire life. As he was leaving, I told him to reach out to us if he needs anything. He told me prayer might help. I told him I would do that.
Before the two events that day, I was dealing with a few business problems. And I need to be honest: I was not in the best of moods. After speaking to Paul and Dave, those issues that seemed so daunting before, didn’t seem all that important anymore. I sat back in my chair, looked over at a photo of my grandkids on my desk, and told myself that I need to do a better job at arranging life’s priorities.
As shop owners, we get caught up in the day-to-day struggles of running a business—sometimes at a cost to our families, friends and ourselves. We anguish over bad online reviews, disgruntled employees, slow days and declining car counts. We sometimes find it hard to sleep at night, reflecting over and over again in our minds, the problems of the day. And we repeat this cycle over and over, year after year. Let me tell you, no business issue is ever all that serious that it cannot be overcome. But, when life throws you a curveball, as in the case with Paul and Dave, those problems are not so easily overcome.
There are many reasons why each of us go into business. For many of us, it’s the passion for the work we do. For others, it’s the burning desire to improve the automotive industry. While I cannot say that we are in perfect alignment in every area of business, I do know one thing with certainty: We all need to stop and reflect from time to time on all the things that have nothing to do with business, but everything to do with life itself. Those are the things that no amount of money can ever buy. Those are the things that are priceless.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on June 1st, 2019
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By Brent J
Hi everyone, I’ve been a shop owner for 20 years, I have a small 3 bay shop in a small town of about 3,000 people. My question is how do I deal with being so busy all the time, I’ve been trying to find another experienced tech for about a year now. I’m so swamped all the time I can’t keep up, I’m 54 years old and just about ready to get out of the business because I can’t take it anymore. I’ve run ads online, in newspapers, on Facebook. No response ! I have 2 other techs. We’re so busy every day I’ve gotten to the point of leaving the phone off the hook for half a day. I used to work a lot of hours when I was younger and just refuse to do it anymore. Pretty much worked my life away. We’re scheduling 2 weeks out. I’ve even gone as far as telling people I’m not accepting any new clients. We do good work and have a good reputation, but sometimes I feel like I’m letting my good customers down cuz I don’t have time to get their car in the next day when they have a problem. I put an add online through a newspaper and it went to 20 different sites and papers for a month straight and got 2 applications out of it, neither one for the experience I’m looking for. I offer a great salary, I supply all the tools, contribute to retirement plans, paid holidays, don’t work weekends and contribute to health insurance plans. Still can’t find anyone. Anyone have any ideas?
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Another acronym being thrown around is ADAS, short for Advanced Driver Assist Systems. I think everyone is stuck staring at those four letters without understanding the liability that those 4 letters represent for the future of the automotive industry, regardless of how much safer they make vehicles on the road. As one of the first facilities in NJ to purchase and utilize the ADAS calibration system from Autel, we have some really unique experience with it and want to pass on some information you should be aware of when considering whether or not you want to jump in.
Facility Is Too Small - Size matters, A LOT with ADAS calibrations and if you have less than 2500 sf of space with a booming business... chances are you don't have the room to perform calibrations. Your exact business configuration will help determine this, but you ideally need a location where you can pick up 10 feet of open space all around a vehicle for most calibrations, but some calibrations may require 20 feet or more. Floor Isn't Level - If your floor is uneven, you can't perform ADAS calibrations, period. Can't Program? - If you are not experienced with programming modules or updating vehicle modules, you will not be able to perform a fair amount ADAS calibrations. Can't Diagnose? - If you don't have a team that can efficiently and accurately troubleshoot the vehicles already coming into your shop, ADAS isn't going to be any easier, it's going to be significantly harder. Who Needs OE Information, I have "X"! - Replace X with All Data or Mitchell or even the instructions in your scan tool. What happens when the manufacturer updated the information on the procedures yesterday and they didn't share that information with anyone yet? We've already encountered steps missing from the Autel scan tool... Minimum Insurance Policy Is More Than Enough - We have more than double the minimum and we are worried it's not enough. With lawsuits that settle into the tens of millions of dollars, we're not sure what enough is anymore. Don't Document Your Process? - This is where a lot of people will scoff. Who has the time? Save pictures and files, where am I supposed to do that? Who's gonna pay for this? We've figured this out and more importantly... we get paid for documenting. Do you? Mobile Calibrations? - Besides the fact that you're trying to transport $20,000 of equipment needed for calibrations in a van, this one is so serious... we couldn't give you a 2 sentence paragraph, read below. How are mobile glass services, like Safelite, performing calibrations on the go? We don't know, but we have A LOT of questions surrounding this. A recent calibration of a 2019 Toyota C-HR, after a windshield replacement, has some really interesting requirements. Requirements which we are used to, but we want to know... how is a mobile tech handling this? These are the requirements that must be met prior to starting a calibration:
It is our experience that once a windshield has been replaced, the vehicle should not be moved for a period of at least 2 hours (weather dependent) in order to allow the glue to harden properly. So, what's going on? Is the mobile glass tech filling up the vehicle prior to replacing the windshield? How many of you had a windshield replaced and a vehicle calibrated with a fuel tank that was not full? We don't know how many corners are being cut and where they are being cut... but what we do know is that the above requirements have been there in every vehicle we have calibrated at this facility thus far.
Lastly, pay particular attention to this requirement in this photo...
*Calibration should be performed in a window-less environment with no bright lights or reflective materials. Ensure no other black and white patterns similar to the calibration pattern should be behind the calibration pattern.
In a world where reducing liability is at the forefront of most public discussions, there are sure a lot of companies undermining their insurance policy in the field.
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