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Competing with the Competition? How?


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Hey guys,

 

So I am still working on a business plan for a central Kansas startup shop and I am looking around and am thinking to myself, how on earth am I going to rise to the top and be better than every Joe Shmoe that knows how to turn a wrench and has a garage on that busy little corner lot.

 

Before I go any further in planning my business, I want to decide whether or not I can compete with all the different competition and I would really like everyone's input on this.

 

We have everything from the "best price in town but here is a Ziploc with some extra parts we didn't know what to do with" to the "would you like a refill on that shade grown Columbian imported coffee?" shop in town.

 

Where can I fit in? How do i build my own niche to make money and gain market share? What can I do to compete or rise above the rest? How can I stand out from the rest and nudge my way in to gain some share in the auto repair industry?

 

I am planning for a slightly higher end shop, I don't want to be the lowest price shop in town for sure but I also don't quite want to be the most expensive. I want to charge a little more for a quality job, great customer service and a few extras like maybe pickup and dropoff services or free coffee and cable in the waiting area. How can I make sure I can succeed in an already saturated and very competitive market?

 

Thanks!

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All I can add is that if you go in with the mentality that you want to be like everyone else you will struggle everyday. You need to not let other shops dictate how you run your business. You alone know what you want to offer and at what price. You know what it takes to keep the lights on and what takes to keep food on the table. If you find yourself doing something a certain way just because it is how everyone else does it, then you will always find yourself competing.

Trendsetters find their way to the top quickly. Followers will always be left to fight over the scraps.

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That's the thing I don't want to be like anyone else I want to differenciate myself from the competition so that I can move in and gain market share. And while I totally agree that you can't constantly be trying to duplicate what everyone else is doing I think you really have to be constantly aware at least of where everyone else is at in the industry.

 

I'm looking at what little things everyone has done to differentiate themselves from their competition what has worked and what hasn't?

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I went into specialty services, brakes, trailer hitches and trailer repair. The only specialty brake shop in our town was Midas, and they gouge big time. Brakes are easy work and good margins. I do other auto repair work but I limit it to wheel bearings, front end work, shocks and struts. I did not want to get into general auto repair and diagnostics(mad props to those who are). I am very busy with brakes and have become THE brake shop to go to.

 

We didn't have a trailer and hitch shop in town so I offered those services as well. Hitches, trailer bearings, wiring, brakes, along with vehicle wiring for trailer lights and brake controllers is now nearly 70% of my business. It has exploded and I can barely keep up with the work. It's highly profitable too. Most hitch and wiring installs are around $500 and take 1 1/2 hours to install, most of that the wiring. My parts cost average $130 so I make $370 for an hour and a half. I did 7 hitch installs this week, plus other related work. I am now a Curt Mfg Platinum dealer and installation center and have overnight shipping from their factory in WI.

 

So what I'm saying is take a look at all the shops in town and what they offer for services. Look for niche markets that are unfilled. People like to deal with specialists and if you become an expert in the right field they will beat your door down. Worked for me and I'm in a small population area with a lot of shops, many of which are struggling.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Maybe take a look at what type repairs others are offering. If all are general repair then specialize in something. Like brakes, or electrical repairs, or exhaust work, or diagnostics, or transmissions, engines. Don't put too much focus on competition though. Yes you need to know what you at up against, but it can't define you. Example: competitors do brakes for $149. So you do $169.99 and offer better warranty or free gift w/purchase or better quality parts. I learned that price can't be your only factor or else cust can compare you to everyone else. Start with "what do YOU like to do with cars? Or what can make you the most profit on cars?" But i think youre doing good by planning things out ahead of time.

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You need a competitive advantage, but you also can't reinvent the wheel. There is a reason why we rotate bolts counterclockwise to loosen, because it works. Likewise, there is a reason why other shops do things the way they do them, because it works. But you need to figure out what you can do and say about your business that can't be said about anyone else. Like others said, we can't exactly tell you what to do, we don't know your market as well as you do. But what is the number one thing customers want? How many shops in your market claim to provide that? I suspect "Trust" is either number 1 or at least in the top 3.

 

One thing you can be absolutley sure of, your repeat customers all trust you. Until they don't. And often there will be nothing you can do to prevent it, unless you deliberately cheat and lie, which you certainly sound as if you never intend to do.

 

Unless you plan to compete on amentities that really mean nothing to the process of car repair, you need to find soemthing in your service where you can excel. Another consideration most marketing/management gurus claim is you can have the best techs, the most competent techs and do the absolute best work, but poeple won't care. What they will care about is their experience, namely at the front desk.

 

Sorry, if we knew the answer to your question, we'd all be posting from a vacation spot somewhere sipping cocktails by the ocean. But probablythe smartest move you will ever make, you already did, seek advice and ideas from others. No man/woman is an island. Kudos to you and good luck. Don't be afraid to take a chance or make a mistake. Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Just make the bad decisions/mistakes add up to less than the good ideas/sucesses.

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Figure out what you are really good at and advertise that service. Once you get a good reputation the rest is easy. We are good at diagnostics and from word of mouth we don't have to advertise at all. Other shops bring us their diag work. We are also good at being honest and doing the right thing. If we break something we fix it free. Example - we changed an alternator on a Toyota and broke the cam sensor, that was our fault so we ate it. Customer had to leave the car an extra day but he keeps coming back. We also admit defeat and send some cars to the dealer if we can't diagnose them. Customers appreciate that as well. Anyone can do brakes, and like the owner of this website says it becomes a race to the bottom on who can do it the cheapest and go bankrupt first. So what works for us is customers bring their car in for a check engine light, it gets fixed with no additional "guessed wrong" parts, then they like us and bring us their car for brakes and tires and all the other easy stuff. Treat your customers right and stand behind your warranty even when it hurts and you will stand out.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

         5 comments
      I recently spoke with a friend of mine who owns a large general repair shop in the Midwest. His father founded the business in 1975. He was telling me that although he’s busy, he’s also very frustrated. When I probed him more about his frustrations, he said that it’s hard to find qualified technicians. My friend employs four technicians and is looking to hire two more. I then asked him, “How long does a technician last working for you.” He looked puzzled and replied, “I never really thought about that, but I can tell that except for one tech, most technicians don’t last working for me longer than a few years.”
      Judging from personal experience as a shop owner and from what I know about the auto repair industry, I can tell you that other than a few exceptions, the turnover rate for technicians in our industry is too high. This makes me think, do we have a technician shortage or a retention problem? Have we done the best we can over the decades to provide great pay plans, benefits packages, great work environments, and the right culture to ensure that the techs we have stay with us?
      Finding and hiring qualified automotive technicians is not a new phenomenon. This problem has been around for as long as I can remember. While we do need to attract people to our industry and provide the necessary training and mentorship, we also need to focus on retention. Having a revolving door and needing to hire techs every few years or so costs your company money. Big money! And that revolving door may be a sign of an even bigger issue: poor leadership, and poor employee management skills.
      Here’s one more thing to consider, for the most part, technicians don’t leave one job to start a new career, they leave one shop as a technician to become a technician at another shop. The reasons why they leave can be debated, but there is one fact that we cannot deny, people don’t quit the company they work for, they usually leave because of the boss or manager they work for.
      Put yourselves in the shoes of your employees. Do you have a workplace that communicates, “We appreciate you and want you to stay!”
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