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Boggs: Rethinking History

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What do you really know? I mean, truly know inside and out? Of which you’re 100 percent certain?

Well, let me dispel a couple myths for you: 

  1. Napoleon was not that short—he was actually average height (5’7”) for his time. The nickname—Little Napoleon—came from his military friends teasing him about his low military rank. Two hundred years later, we all think he was a short guy. 
  2. David was the favorite, not the underdog, in his battle with Goliath. David used a slingshot (the equivalent of a sniper rifle today) to take down Goliath. He was going to be extremely accurate from a great distance, likely killing anyone he took aim at. Yet thousands of years later we still refer to an underdog winning as David beating Goliath. If you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath, you will learn all sorts of fascinating details about David and Goliath that completely destroy what perceptions we have in our head, including all of Goliath’s flaws.

Now back to my original question: What do you really know? Could there be industry-related things about which we are dead wrong? I’d say the likelihood of that is very high.

One of them might be that the MSOs are a Goliath with whom a small independent shop, aka David, can’t compete. There might be a chance we are as wrong about that as we are about David and Goliath. Sure, at first glance it might not seem like a fair fight when you compare the resources of a large MSO, but reality might paint a different picture. 

How can you compete against “Goliath?” How about holding onto our most precious resource, our technicians? Let’s pause and consider what is important to employees. First, they want to be known; they want to know they are appreciated and that they matter. That’s a lot easier to do in a 10-person company with one location than it is in a 1,000-person company with 25 stores. 

Feeling part of a team is something almost everyone values. That’s not easily accomplished in a corporation. Heck, today's fast-paced digital world doesn’t leave much time to interact with even our own families. Yet in the small independent shop, we have the opportunity to do just that. Order pizzas and play trivia during lunch one day and watch how quickly people bond. The smaller the group, the easier that task is to make people feel included. 

There’s plenty more advantages the small independent has over MSOs. I’ve written before about the benefits of specializing in a limited line of OE repairs. Can you imagine how efficient your shop could be if you only worked on one vehicle make? The smaller the shop, the easier it can be for you to specialize. The large shops typically come with high overhead, which means they have to take every job that comes their way. Those shops are big monsters that need to be fed with many vehicles. 

It can be easy to get stuck in the thinking that if you are a small independent shop you are fighting a battle you can’t win against the larger MSOs. I urge you to take a different approach to how you feel about that fight. You just might find advantages you didn’t know existed and all you need to do is exploit that advantage. 

Another area I think our industry has it all wrong is how much we value individual technician efficiency. Almost every time I’ve gone to a 20 Group and started talking numbers with other shops, I always get asked our technicians' efficiency numbers. Truth is, I have no idea. I know it’s a simple number to get, I just don’t think it has any impact on how successful our company is. Let’s say we hired a new painter and his efficiency was double that of our old painter, from 200 percent to 400 percent. What good would that do for our shop? It would either cause a big gap before or after our paint shop on the production line. If we didn’t double the number of vehicles entering the paint shop, the 400 percent efficient painter would run out of work. And if we could supply the paint shop with double the work, we would need to be able to handle double the number of vehicles that need to be built, likely causing a backlog in assembly. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a painter that’s 400 percent efficient, but I’d use him in lots of different ways, not just to paint cars (I’d need another page to explain that one).

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s quite easy to look at a situation or industry completely wrong. In fact, it happens more often than we realize. Just because everyone else thinks a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean they are all right. 

In the opening scene of the movie Moneyball, there is a Mickey Mantle quote that says, “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing all your life.” It’s remarkable to think that one of the all-time greats of the game said this. Get away from your business and see if you can find a fresh new view on whatever challenge you might be facing. You might find that a new perspective is in fact the correct one. 

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