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The Art of the (COVID) Comeback

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One of the good things about this season of the COVID shutdown for me has been extra time to spend at home with my teenage daughter. Now, I’m not sure it’s been great for her but the extra time has allowed me to introduce her to one of my favorite things: the Rocky movies. 

Yep, that’s right. 

We planted ourselves on the couch for one entire weekend and watched every Rocky movie. What I love about each and every installment is that Rocky is the underdog and somehow through grit, training and perseverance he comes out on top. Classic comeback stories, every one! 

As shop owners and managers, we are living in a time where a comeback is needed. Like many other small businesses, we are fighting for the livelihoods that we have worked for over many years. Unlike a movie, though, this fight is real and the stakes are high. Many even in our industry will lose this battle and, with it, all they have worked toward for a long time. 

Because of that, I want to be careful here not to trivialize that reality with “5 lessons from a movie that will guarantee a comeback.” This is not a movie. There are not five easy steps. And there is no guarantee. 

What I want to do, though, is to provide a framework that I developed with several advisors to navigate my shops out of this time. I will say, at the outset, some of these ideas are counter-intuitive, some may not apply to your context, and none of these are formulas with guaranteed outcomes. This is a work in progress and I’m in this fight with you. We are all just navigating this as best we can. 

So, cue the Rocky soundtrack, and let’s get to it. 

First, training. What I love about the Rocky movies is the training sequences. Yes, the fights are the climax of each movie but it’s the training that is decisive. How do we train when we’re just holding on for dear life and trying to stay afloat? There are some basic habits and routines that we can put in place. I’ve written about this before but if we win the morning, we can win the day. 

  • Spiritually, is there a routine of prayer or connecting with a higher power or, for some, simply a higher purpose? 
  • Relationally, are you encouraging your spouse and connecting with your team in ways that inspire them? 
  • Mentally, what does your mental diet consist of? Is it surfing the internet or social media only or are you intentionally engaging good books, articles, and podcasts? 
  • Physically, how are you fueling your body with food and movement? 

I have a morning routine that touches each of those domains and only takes me an hour but sets up the rest of my day and ensures that I start the day energized.

Next, mash the gas pedal. This is not a time to be timid. I have one advisor who, in the early days of running a shop, made very little money on his best months and, most months, lost money. But he refused to play it safe and decided he was going all in. With borrowed money, he decided to get OE-certified for several luxury car brands. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on new equipment and all the training for his technicians. But it paid off! Over time his shop grew from a million-dollar shop to a $5 million shop and he was able to keep his net profit margins close to 20 percent before selling his shop at a nice multiple to another independent, non-MSO owner.  

I decided to do the same. This past month I hired a COO to oversee my operations; improved the front of two locations with new landscaping and a fresh coat of paint; and we’re in the final stages of getting all four of our locations OE-certified. Do I think this is going to pay off? Yes. Did these decisions come at a time when our workflow was at an all-time low? Yes. Were they expensive? Yes. Are there guarantees that this is going to lead to future profits? Nope. But stayed tuned.

Finally, stay in touch with your “Why?” I know this is almost a cliche and it’s something that I have spoken about and written about for years. But without a guiding north star, a purpose that is bigger than just “making the donuts” or “fixing the cars”, we will burn out. 

For Rocky, in the second movie, it was winning. Not just for himself, but for his wife and newborn son, too. As Adrian, his wife, laid sick in bed, waking from a coma right after the birth of their son, she whispered to him, “There’s one thing I want you to do for me… Win!” That’s when Mick, his trainer, yells in his gruff, East Coast voice, “What are we waitin’ fer?” and the final round of training begins to beat Creed. 

I want you to win. I want you to play offense even when the chips are down. Get in touch with your deepest reasons for why you do what you do. Let that north star of purpose guide you and propel you to do the foundational work of training. And then fight for the win. 

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