Boggs: Break Away From the Pack

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In 2003 a fellow shop owner told me we’d either be out of business or fixing rust buckets unless we changed our business practices. When he found out we only use OEM parts and didn’t have any DRPs he thought I should be wearing a straight jacket. 

I’m happy to report at the beginning of 2022 we are still in business and have grown almost every year. I appreciated that business owner sharing his thoughts, and he had good intentions for sure. And it did cause me to evaluate our business model and make sure we were on a path to success.

A few years after 2003 we hired a consultant who told us we would not survive as a company if we didn’t get on three DRP programs of major insurers. We chose to continue on the same path and not add any DRPs, and fortunately we were able to succeed and grow.

Why am I telling you these stories? It makes me think how do we decide to behave in our industry? The answer is much larger than the collision industry. Why do companies always follow the trends? It pretty much comes down to survival. We fear if we are different we will be eaten alive. 

In 1999 Blackberry launched the Blackberry 850 and it took the business world by storm. Blackberry dominated the cell phone market in the early 2000s. In 2007 the iPhone was released, and we all know the history of that product. Blackberry responded with the mistake of adapting their device to be more like the iPhone instead of enhancing their product. One of my favorite personalities to binge watch on YouTube, Simon Sinek, argues that if Blackberry just focused on being a better Blackberry they likely would have continued to dominate the business world. SInek points out that there is plenty of space for both PC and Mac computers; why wouldn’t the cell phone industry have room for two uniquely different products?

Getting back to the thought of how we fear if we are different we will be eaten alive, why do we all feel we have to behave the same way? Jordan Peterson, another YouTube favorite of mine, points to a scientific study about the behavior of zebras that provides an answer to the question. Zebras survive from being eaten by lions because they are camouflaged when they stay together in a pack. Lions typically target one animal when they plan their attack. Zebras should clearly stand out with their color scheme, but it’s impossible to closely track just one because they all look so much alike. 

Researchers discovered this by mistake when they were studying the behavior of the animals. They could not focus on one zebra long enough to study Its habits so they painted a red mark on one to be able to clearly identify it from the pack. It wasn’t long after that the marked zebra was eaten by the lions; they easily picked out the one unique zebra and hunted it down.

We, too, can act like zebras. We are so afraid of being eaten alive by competitors, bill payers or other enemies that we all move in the same direction trying to blend in. The reality is there are no lions hiding in the weeds waiting to pounce on us if we stand out. In fact, I believe we get rewarded for doing just that.

Our shop has been unique for almost 50 years. Choosing to go without DRPs and only using OEM parts was our “red mark” that made us unique. However, it didn’t make us a target to get eaten. Instead, it helped us stand out when a customer was trying to choose a shop amongst the herd. 

The point is don’t be afraid to make your company unique. Humans behave like zebras more than we realize. Survival is a big driving force in our behavior. And don’t be unique just for unique’s sake, but become the company you truly want to be. We aren’t committed to OE parts to make us unique; it’s because my dad is an absolute car fanatic and couldn’t live with himself if he installed an aftermarket part on a car. 

I’m sure there are business decisions you’d like to make, but the fear of going out of business influences you to stick with the “pack.” I’d encourage you to think through the steps you’d need to take to get there, and after some evaluation be bold enough to take the first step. If 90 percent of your work is from DRPs and you don’t want to be a DRP shop anymore, don’t just jump off the cliff and terminate all your relationships. Start by strategically picking which insurer you could live without and make that first move. On a side note, you might be surprised how little work you’ll lose from that partner. 

Go forward with confidence knowing that you won’t get eaten by a lion; in fact, you’ll likely increase your chances of survival with each step you take. 

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